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Heat pump water heater tips

​From free hot water in a Vancouver rental to owning home

One family quickly learns how to save hot water

Joan Churchill

 

My friend Martin does nothing half way. So when he uprooted his wife, dog and toddler from their Vancouver rental apartment and bought their first home, a rustic rancher on acreage in the Southern Interior, I wasn’t surprised. Martin was though when he realized that he’d have to pay for property taxes, maintenance and all their utilities.

In their Vancouver apartment, the only utility bill Martin ever got was a bi-monthly electricity bill for his lights, electronics and fridge. Space and water heating costs were covered in their rent.

No more hidden costs

“When you buy a house none of your utility costs are hidden anymore,” I explained. “And you’ve gone from a 900 square foot apartment in Vancouver with free heat and hot water, to a 2,000 square foot single family house in the Interior.
 
Realizing that living the dream life meant a few compromises (like giving up daily lattes), Martin and his wife decided they would do everything they could to conserve heat and hot water.
 

Water heater goes kaput

A year after purchasing their dream home, the electric water heater began to leak. It was a 13-year-old electric storage tank, so Martin was aware when they bought the house that it was past its prime. Since he had to replace it, he wondered if there were new models that were more efficient.

From almost 100 to more than 220 per cent efficiency

“Heating water with an electric water heater is almost 100 per cent efficient,” I told him. “But there’s a newer technology in Canada that can be up to 220 per cent efficient1 (meaning less electricity is used). It’s called a heat pump water heater.” Similar to a heat pump used for space heating, a heat pump water heater (HPWH) captures warmth from the ambient air and uses it to heat a home’s domestic water.

Is a heat pump water heater the right choice?

Before deciding whether to replace like with like or boost his efficiency and go with the HPWH, Martin looked at the pros and cons.

Cons

  • cost about twice as much as a standard electric storage tank model
  • are about 30 per cent taller than a standard electric storage tank model (not an issue for Martin)
  • must be installed in a heated or semi-heated space such as a basement or utility room (Martin’s home is rancher and has a heated utility room.)

Pros

  • will save a family of four an average of 1,100 kWh2 of electricity per year (about $145)
  • don’t require ducting, so are a good option for a townhouse or house where there is no access to an exterior wall
  • eligible for a $500 rebate through the PowerSense Heat Pump Water Heater Program if the unit is on the qualifying list

Other considerations

  • must be installed in a space large enough for good air circulation — a closet is too small
  • emit cold air which will cool the space around them if it’s not ducted outside (a con in winter, a pro in summer!) 

And the winner is…

In the end Martin and his wife decided to spend the extra money on the HPWH as they planned to expand their family (more babies to bathe!) and anticipated spending several years in the house. With the yearly kWh savings—and if Martin would quit washing his darks in hot—they would see a payback on their investment in about three to five years.
 

Is a heat pump water heater right for you?

If you’re considering a heat pump water heater, be sure to consult with a knowledgeable plumbing professional to ensure the unit is properly sized for your home and habits, as well as installed properly for peak performance. 

Learn more about HPWHs

1As determined by the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA) standardized test procedure to generate the Northern Climate Energy Factor (EF) that represents water heater performance for equipment installed in northern climates. Each unit on the specification list is tested.

2FortisBC PowerSense Regional Technical Forum HPWH Worksheet. Savings is based on a four person household.