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How Should You Heat Your Water
May 4, 2014
Water heaters can be a large driver of a family’s electric bill, accounting for 14-18 percent of the total cost per month. However, thanks to several advances in water heating technology, families now have more options to choose from when installing a new water heater. Over the past few years, heat pump, tankless, and solar heaters have gained interest due to their energy efficiency and ancillary benefits.
Since 2010, heat pump water heaters have entered the market and gained in popularity. These systems look like very tall electric water heater tanks and make fan noises when running. As with any heat pump, these systems use electricity to move heat from one location to another, instead of generating heat itself. While moving the heat to the water, the system acts to cool the room it is housed in (typically the garage). Although these units are more expensive than a traditional water heater (from $600-$1200 more depending on unit size), they are two to three times more energy efficient, saving families an average of $300 per year.
In our latest project on Whitesell Dr., we installed a Whirlpool 80-gallon heat pump water heater in the garage. In this instance, the unit draws hot air from the garage to heat the water for the entire home, while also cooling and dehumidifying the garage at the same time – perfect for our hot and humid climate. Also, during the winter months, the heat pump utilizes a traditional electric heating element to heat water as needed to always meet the hot water demand.
Tankless water heaters are very common in newer homes of our area due to their space saving size. This on-demand type unit only produces hot water when needed and are approximately 20 percent more energy efficient than standard systems, resulting in savings of about $100 each year. The units also continue to provide hot water - even in the longest of showers or baths. Also, since the unit can be located outside it won’t take up valuable square footage within the home. I like the space saving and continuous supply of hot water features of these systems.
If you’re looking for the most energy efficient option for water heating, then a solar water heater is your best bet. Although the upfront cost is high ($4000-$5000 before tax incentives), these systems can save families 70 to 90 percent on their water heating costs compared to a traditional unit. Solar systems have been around much longer than heat pump systems and have the same storage tank and backup heating element to always provide hot water (even in extended periods of cold or shade).
It isn’t always easy to calculate the specific cost for water heating on each project, so I also look at the other pros and cons of each system. Here are a few things that I consider when making a recommendation to my clients about which water heating system is right for their home:
How many people will occupy the home? More people result in more savings from the most efficient models;
Is there space for a water heater tank in the garage or central location to each point of use within the home? If space is limited, tankless heaters may be ideal;
What times of day is the most hot water used? Daytime use is most efficient with a solar unit and results in maximum savings;
What tax credits are available? 30% tax credits are currently available for heat pump and solar units;
Do you have natural gas availability? TECO provides cash incentives for installing tankless heaters;
Keep in mind that conservation is always the first step in saving energy, so be sure to install flow restrictors and practice smart water use whenever possible.