How a Heat Pump Hot Water Heater Can Help You Save – Even in Winter

December 04, 2018

As a homeowner, you have many options these days when it comes to your water heating needs. One of the most efficient types of water heaters is an electric heat pump hot water heater (HPHWH), which can be up to three times more energy efficient than a conventional electric resistance water heater.


The efficiency comes from how a HPHWH operates. It moves heat from the surrounding air to heat up the water in the tank. This process is less energy intensive compared to using electric resistance heating elements, thus saving you energy and money.


But what about in the dead of winter when it’s freezing outside? Well, there’s always heat in the air from which a HPHWH can draw from, even though there is less of it in the winter.


Location is Key

The placement of a HPHWH is one of the most critical factors that determine how efficient and effective it will be.


The EPA recommends your basement or any unconditioned space that maintains temperatures of at least 50F as the ideal location in our colder New England climate. There are a few reasons for this.


First, as a heat pump absorbs heat, it exhausts cool, dry air. In an unconditioned space such as your basement, this doesn’t really impact you too much. However, in a conditioned space, this would be an issue as the cool air coming from the heat pump would mean your heating system would need to work harder to maintain temperatures.


An ideal spot for an installation would be next to a furnace or boiler in a basement, according to ENERGY STAR®, as they operate most efficient with a source of heat nearby. Because it draws heat from surrounding air, a HPHWH should not be placed in a small space, such as a closet, even if it has louvered doors. It needs about 1,000 cubic feet of surrounding air (about a 10’ by 10’ area) to operate efficiently.


A final note about placement is to not install a HPHWH in a garage that is consistently in the freezing temperature range. A HPHWH would have a hard time operating efficiently if it’s struggling to find heat in the surrounding air.


Choosing the Right Equipment

In addition to placement, equipment selection is essential. HPHWHs that meet the Northern Climate Efficiency Specification, as developed by the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA) are rated for climates like ours. These models also carry the ENERGY STAR® certification, though it is important to note that not all ENERGY STAR HPHWHs are rated for cold climates.


Winter Usage

One concern some homeowners have is whether a HPHWH can provide enough hot water. Considering normal everyday usage, they can. However, if you have family visiting for the holidays or other situations where you have a higher demand for hot water, a HPHWH can switch to its backup electric resistance heating elements and operate like a conventional water heater. This will be less efficient and cost a little more to operate, so it is recommended to use “Heat Pump” mode when possible.



With all this in mind, a HPHWH can help you save some money on your water heating needs in the winter.


The summer is a different story. With plenty more heat to draw from, a HPHWH will save you much more. Looking at the big picture, a HPHWH is a year-round energy saver.


Looking for rebates on a HPHWH? Residential customers of the Mass Save® Program Sponsors can receive a rebate of up to $600. Click here for details.

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