Hybrid heat pump water heaters are extremely energy efficient, since ambient air temperature does much of the work (instead of relying entirely on electricity or natural gas to heat the water). And hybrid water heaters are relatively inexpensive to install, which means they pay for themselves much faster than other energy efficient water heating systems.
Hybrid heat pump water heaters work on the same principle as a refrigerator or air conditioner, just in reverse. Refrigerant liquid in an evaporator coil collects ambient heat from the air, then the liquid is compressed and the heat is intensified. Hot refrigerant circulates through condenser coils to heat water contained inside the storage tank, and a secondary electrical or gas system typically provides supplemental heating when needed.
Solar hot water systems and tankless water heaters (also known as “on demand” water heaters) can deliver very efficient performance, but up-front costs are typically high enough that it takes a long while to offset the price with their energy savings. Hybrid heat pump heaters, on the other hand, are widely available in the $2,000 range.
That’s still a jump from an old-style hot water heater for a few hundred dollars – but homeowners typically save hundreds of dollars per year in energy costs. A recent Consumer Reports study found that three leading heat pump models broke even in less than five years – at which point, all savings are cash into a homeowner’s pocket. Tax breaks and incentive programs can further offset the cost, too.
Major manufacturers like Rheem and General Electric produce hybrid models, and smaller manufacturers are joining the market as well. Learn more about hybrid heat pump water heaters at the US Department of Energy website.