Heat Pumps are for Water Heaters Too
By Craig Forman
The City of Newton has been promoting the HeatSmart program, facilitating the move to electric heat pump technology. Most of the focus to date has been on heating and cooling, but heat pumps also work great for hot water. Heat pump water heaters can replace direct or indirect water heaters, and run quite efficiently without burning any fossil fuels. HeatSmart Newton recently chatted with Newton resident Peter McPhee to discuss the heat pump water heater that was recently installed in his home. You can watch a video of the entire 30-minute interview, and can view a fact sheet on heat pump water heaters.
Peter formerly had an indirect water heater that was tied to his heating system, a steam boiler fired by heating oil. This means that the oil burner would kick on any time the system called for hot water heating. He wanted to start the process of moving away from fossil fuels, and his old water heater was failing. With the help of information on the HeatSmart Newton website, he decided to install a heat pump water heater. Some electrical work was done to upgrade the service in his home from 100 Amps to 200 Amps, and an auxiliary breaker box was added to handle additional circuits. He will eventually use this for other projects like an EV charger and a heat pump heating/cooling system.
The unit he installed was a Rheem ProTerra 80 gallon heat pump water heater. This is a larger tank than many families would need, but Peter has two kids at home and wanted to make sure that there was always enough hot water. There is a $600 rebate available from MassSave for heat pump water heaters of <55 gallons if replacing an electric or oil fired water heater. Peter was unable to use the rebate because the size was over 55 gallons. He used his local plumber to do the install, and he thought the installation was no more complicated than installing a conventional water heater. The only difference is that a condensate pump usually needs to be added. Peter purchased one himself on Amazon for less than $50.
Peter is an engineer at heart, and really enjoys the mobile app that allows you to monitor the water heater on your smartphone (these heaters have WiFi built in). Not everyone will do this, but Peter finds it useful to look at the daily graphs of energy usage that are provided by the app, which allows him to see how much energy is used taking showers, doing laundry, etc. It also helps him to find the water heater settings that help him get maximum performance and efficiency.
He has an unfinished basement, with an old steam boiler that unfortunately keeps the basement quite warm all year round. The water heater actually uses this wasted heat to save energy on heating hot water. This is an ideal situation for a heat pump water heater. Peter says that the noise level from the new water heater is much less than the noise from the old furnace. The only added maintenance is that he will rinse out the removeable air filter every month or two. But he no longer has to think about oil deliveries in the months when he is not heating his house. He also is trying to decide whether he can disconnect his dehumidifier, because heat pump water heaters do a very good job of dehumidification. He is really happy he made this decision and plans to move forward with more electrification projects in the coming years.