Finding the right way to heat your home can be a challenge. There are many options available on the market, and the best one for you is determined by your location, your budget, and your personal preference. One option you may not have considered is hybrid hot water heaters. These systems embrace the energy efficiency of electric water heaters while producing more hot water at any given time.
What Is a Hybrid Hot Water Heater?
Sometimes referred to as packet systems or heat pump water heaters, hybrid hot water heaters combine the energy efficiency of electric water heaters and the power of traditional systems. Like most systems, they have a water tank and a heating element, but the water pump is generally separate from the tank itself. It may sit atop it or completely outside the home (in the case of split-pump units).
The draw—pun intended—of hybrid hot water heaters is that, while maintaining a similar size to other water heaters, they have the capacity for more hot water because of how their water pump is designed. They work like refrigerators in reverse, pulling the heat out of the air around the unit and funneling it into the water. The result is dehumidified cool air around the unit and a hot shower in the master bedroom.
Comparing Water Heaters
While the design of hybrid hot water heaters is ingenious, you do not need to take it at face value. Here we compare the efficiency, initial and annual costs, and water volumes of the three main varieties of commercially-available hot water systems. Keep in mind that these are general estimates and each unit will have slightly different statistics based on manufacturer and model.
Standard Electric Water Heaters
Electric water heaters’ best feature is their energy efficiency. The best units can be up to 90% efficient on their energy return. Their biggest weakness is their recovery rate, which often amounts to only 14 gallons per hour. While tank size usually ranges from 45-65 gallons, electric heaters have trouble keeping up with households that require high first-hour hot water volumes.
Like most water heaters, they have about a 13 year life expectancy, especially if they are flushed as part of annual maintenance. They are an energy-efficient option if you need to replace a unit or are building a new home, but homeowners should be aware that they range from $300 to $2880 depending on what wiring and installation needs to take place, with a $420 estimated yearly energy cost.
Natural Gas Water Heaters
Natural gas is the traditional fuel used for water heaters. They follow the same 12–13 year life expectancy and have initial and installation costs that are smaller than electric water heaters ($250 to $1500). Gas water heaters have an impressive recovery rate, sitting around 50 gallons per hour, dramatically better than electric models. Perhaps most remarkably, they will still operate even if the power goes out, so even in an emergency, your home could still have hot water.
Where gas water heaters struggle is in their energy consumption. The water in these units is kept hot all the time, and while this makes accessibility to hot water excellent, it hurts gas water heaters in the efficiency department. Generally, a gas water heater will only be 60% efficient.
Hybrid Hot Water Heaters
Hybrid hot water heaters take all the best things about the other kinds of water heaters and combine them. They run on electricity instead of natural gas, and the unique reverse-refrigeration strategy of the heat pump pulls heat from the surrounding air, making them tremendously efficient (using as little as ⅕ the energy) and causing them to double as an air conditioning unit for the room they are in.
As for hot water return, hybrid hot water heaters take the cake. Because of their design, with the heat pump removed from the tank itself, hybrids have higher average tank water temperatures, more hot water available, and more evenly heated water than other water heaters. If the clearance needed for one of these units isn’t possible for the room you want to store it in, they also come in the split-pump model, which moves the heat pump outside where the temperature can be -20℉ and still provide heat.
It is true that hybrid water heaters have the highest initial cost, but their energy efficiency and overall impressive performance slice their yearly costs to values well below other water heaters, making them actually less expensive over their lifetimes. In fact, as a general rule hybrids are more than twice as efficient as the best hot water heaters on the market and consistently have the lowest 13-year cost.
Choosing a Hybrid Water Heater with Cache Valley Heating and Air Conditioning
General estimated yearly energy costs of standard hot water heaters sit about about $420. When you compare the $110 estimated yearly energy cost of hybrids, the implications are clear. In just five years, a hybrid hot water heater can save you $550–$1150, and over a 10-year period the savings are closer to $2100–$3330. They are also startlingly efficient with great hot water return. Truly, hybrid hot water heaters are the way of the future.