Are you looking to upgrade or replace the water heater in your home? If so, you should consider installing a hybrid water heater. Hybrid water heaters are becoming increasingly popular in California as they are highly efficient and much better for the environment. Learn more about hybrid water heaters, how they work, and the benefits that they provide.

What Is a Hybrid Water Heater?

As you might expect, hybrid water heaters, also referred to as heat pump water heaters, have two different heat sources that they can switch between under certain circumstances. These units primarily rely on an electric heat pump to provide hot water. They also have electric heating elements just like a traditional electric tank water heater, but they will only ever switch and use standard electric heating in very specific situations. This is simply because the electric heating elements use much more electricity than the heat pump and will greatly decrease the energy efficiency of the water heater.

How a Heat Pump Provides Hot Water

All heat pumps use electricity to move heat energy from one place and release it into another, and this is true both for HVAC heat pumps and heat pump water heaters. Inside the tank on a heat pump water heater is a large coil of copper pipe which the refrigerant in the unit flows through. On top of the unit is a compressor and evaporator coil that powers the water heater and allows it to remove or capture heat energy from the surrounding air. There is also a fan that pulls warm air into the unit and blows cold air back out.

Any time you use hot water, cold water will flow into the bottom of the tank and the water heater will turn on and start heating. The water heater will also need to run on occasion to reheat the water in the tank, so it always stays at the correct temperature.

When heating, a hybrid water heater starts moving refrigerant throughout the unit. The hot refrigerant inside the copper pipes in the tank first flows through an expansion valve that causes the pressure of the refrigerant to decrease and instantly makes the refrigerant much colder. The cold refrigerant then flows into the evaporator coil, and the fan pulls warm ambient air into the unit and blows it over the evaporator coil. The low temperature allows the refrigerant to absorb heat from the warm air flowing into the unit.

The refrigerant is then compressed, which instantly increases the pressure and “superheats” the refrigerant to where it is much hotter than the water inside the tank. The super-heated refrigerant then flows through the copper coils inside the tank. Since the refrigerant is much hotter than the water, most of the heat it contains flows out into the water to heat it.

This heat transfer process is extremely efficient and typically uses two to three times less energy than directly converting electricity into heat like the electric heating elements in a hybrid water heater do. However, it is important to understand that the heat transfer process will work less efficiently as the temperature of the ambient air being drawn into the unit decreases.

This is why a hybrid heat pump water heater should never be installed in colder areas like a garage or an unfinished basement. A hybrid water heater will also work most energy efficiently if it’s located in an area where the temperature stays around 65 degrees or higher.

Hybrid Water Heater Pros and Cons

When installed in a warmer location, a hybrid water heater will almost always be more energy efficient than any other type of water heater. Compared to a standard electric tank water heater, a hybrid unit will typically use around 70% less energy. The energy efficiency of tankless water heaters can come close, but a heat pump water heater will still be the most environmentally friendly option as long as it doesn’t need to switch and run on standard electric heat all that often. Heat pump water heaters are also safer as they don’t produce carbon emissions or carbon monoxide, and you also never have to worry about the unit having a gas leak.

An electric heat pump water heater will almost always be the most expensive option. However, there is a major caveat here as any new ENERGY STAR-certified heat pump water heater will automatically qualify you for a federal tax credit of 30% of the purchase and installation cost worth up to a total of $2,000. If you take advantage of this tax credit, then the total cost for the unit will likely be comparable to most other water heaters. The State of California has also partnered with many of the local utility companies to provide rebates for residents who purchase a new ENERGY STAR heat pump water heater.

Even without the available tax credit and rebates, a hybrid water heater will often be more cost-effective overall. This is simply because the unit will usually cost less to operate, and the amount it can save you on your energy bills will help to balance out the higher cost in the long run.

One drawback to heat pump water heaters is that they tend to heat more slowly than any other type of water heater, but this is mainly only an issue when you use lots of hot water in a fairly short time. If you don’t use most of the stored hot water, a hybrid unit will usually be able to reheat the water coming into the tank effectively using the heat pump.

Any time you use up most or all the water, the unit will typically switch and use its heating elements so that it heats more quickly, and your hot water is restored sooner. If you regularly use lots of hot water almost every day, a tankless water heater may be the better choice as it will still be quite efficient and make it so that you never have to worry about the hot water running out and then needing to wait for it to reheat.

Environmental Heating & Air Solutions is a trusted source if you need any water heater services in the Roseville or Benicia areas. We carry a range of high-quality hybrid water heaters from the top brands in the industry, and we can also help if you’re looking to install a tankless or traditional water heater. We also offer professional water heater repairs and maintenance and can take care of any of your other plumbing, heating, cooling or indoor air quality needs. To learn more about your options for a new hybrid water heater, give us a call today.

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