Sometimes it seems like owning a house is like having a never-ending to-do list, from fixing that leak in the basement to buying new window curtains.
The last thing you want to worry about is a faulty, failing, or consistently expensive water heater.
Luckily, that can be avoided with some pre-planning.
There are a lot of factors to consider when buying a water heater: Do you want electric or oil or some other fuel?
Tank or tankless? Are you interested in a warranty?
The knee-jerk reaction for many people is to buy the most standard water heater, aka one that heats your water in a reasonable time for the lesser price of around $1,200.
But that low cost choice isn’t always the best one in the long run.
If you’re planning on staying in your house for a while (think over 10 years), the better bet is to make your choice based on the long term cost of operation. That might mean a heat pump water heater, explains Adrian Pinney of Pinney Heating and Plumbing.
A heat pump water heater works as a geothermal source, extracting the heat from the earth below and around your basement. The heat pump component sits on top of your water heater. It uses electricity to take in heat from the surrounding environment and upgrades the temperature to heat the water in the tank to 120 degrees or more.
Once you’ve made hot water, it is efficiently stored in the tank at that temperature until you’re ready to use it.
“Tanks in today’s world are so well insulated that they’re like thermos bottles,” Pinney says. “Also, a tank allows a pre-heated volume ready to use as fast as your piping system allows, letting you use hot water at more than one fixture at a time. You can’t do that with tankless water heaters”
Here are some reasons Pinney and other heating and plumbing experts suggest shelling out the extra money (at first) for a heat pump water heater with long-term benefits.
You’ll save on electric bills
Regular electric water heaters bring water into a tank and warm it with heating elements inside - pretty standard.
But heat pump water heaters take energy straight from the source. That is, the walls and floors of your basement, which are warmed by existing heat in the earth’s crust.
“The point of the heat pump water heater is that it’s able to get part of its energy from the earth,” Pinney says.
Because of that, they use just one quarter of the electricity used by a regular electric water heater, saving owners money overall on electricity costs.
“I have a separate electric meter for just my water heater and my monthly kilowatt usage went down by 75 percent (after getting a heat pump water heater)” Pinney says.
They’re environmentally friendly
There are three main ways to heat your water: oil, LP gas and electricity. Many people prefer oil because it heats faster than the other two sources. But that time really comes down to a matter of moments - moments that can be costly to the environment. Not only does oil release harmful carbon emissions (which electricity does not), but the process of getting it to your house is also destructive. Oil is transported in trucks on the road, sometimes hundreds of miles, burning gas all the way.
Electric water heaters still heat up your water tank, but they don't require the same
environmentally unfriendly mode of transportation. The heat pump water heater is an especially eco-friendly electric choice. Because it pulls heat from the ground, it uses 25-30 percent of the energy other electric water heaters use, Pinney says.
They’ll probably save you money in the long run
Yes, heat pump water heaters can be pretty pricey up front (around $3,000, including the water tank, warranty, and installation) but don’t be fooled by that ticket price. A heat pump water heater can actually save you some money in the long run says Pinney.
Consider a tankless water heater. Between installation and parts and materials, you can also easily spend $3,000.00 up front. But over the next few years, you’ll be spending a lot more.
“Gas tankless water heaters have sophisticated systems. They have safety features built in to make them work nicely, but water isn’t always the perfect medium,” Pinney says, adding, “There are minerals in water that, over time, can damage your water heater. We have found the maintenance costs to be too high.”
With a tankless water heater, that could mean spending $2,000 over 10-15 years on maintenance alone.
Failures with the heat pump portion of a tank system are rare. Like any similar system, it’s the tank that’s likely to fail, rather than the heating unit. Luckily, all tanks come with one or two magnesium anode rods which protect them from acidic water and other natural minerals. Check that rod once every three years, and you’ll have a water heating system that will require barely any maintenance, Pinney says. That $3,000 up front payment will pay off in the long run.
Bonus: They dehumidify your basement
Come summer you can save on some of your air conditioner costs, and probably leave the dehumidifier unplugged, too, because a heat pump water heater does the work of both.
“All summer long, I walk into the section of my house where the tank is, and it’s two to three degrees cooler,” says Pinney.
That’s because the heat pump water heater is constantly working to grab the warmer air from your basement, leaving it cool and dry. While that alone may not be a reason to buy, it’s certainly a boon in those sticky summer months.