How Your Location & Climate Affects Hybrid Water Heaters

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Hybrid water heaters are an increasingly popular energy-efficient option for homeowners. This newer technology can reduce energy bills and increase home efficiency. The system itself uses the heat from the environment or surrounding air to reduce the amount of electricity needed to heat water. While this is naturally more effective in warmer climates, they can have a huge impact and be an asset to homes in cooler climates, too.

For maximum effectiveness, there are some considerations that need to be made. These include the location of the water heater, the temperature in the area surrounding the water heater, and the height of the ceiling.

We discuss the different considerations for hybrid water heaters based on location and climate in detail below.

How Climate Affects Hybrid Water Heaters

Climate is an important factor if you are considering installing a hybrid water heater. The heaters themselves are designed to take heat from the air and utilize it to heat the water. This ultimately reduces the amount of energy needed to heat the water for your home. The more energy that can be taken from the air surrounding the water heater, the less electricity will be needed, saving more energy.

This would indicate that warmer climates are a better fit for hybrid hot water heaters. While this is mostly true, they can also be incredibly effective in cooler climates as well.

General Considerations For Installing A Hybrid Water Heater

No matter where you live, there are a handful of considerations that need to be made before purchasing and installing a hybrid hot water heater. EnergyStar offers a great informational page on general things to consider when you buy one.

A screenshot from Energy Star asking questions on the left side, with Yes and No columns on the right side running down the list of things to consider with heat pump water heaters.

Here is a quick breakdown of information you should think about when looking for a location for your hybrid water heater, no matter what climate you live in. If you can’t meet or exceed these standards, then the unit could be less efficient–or it simply might not fit.

The location chosen:

  • Should be unoccupied and have no noise or cooling restrictions
  • Should have at least 1,000 cubic feet of surrounding air
  • Should be tall enough to accommodate the unit
  • Should have a condensate drain or pump, or room to have one installed
  • Should not consistently have an ambient temperature below freezing
  • Should have an ambient temperature between 40 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit year round

These considerations apply to all climates. There are some specific additional recommendations for cooler climates, though.

Considerations For Cooler Climates

When you live in a cooler climate, there are a few additional potential issues. The first is that the units produce air that is both cool and dry. This is great when it helps keep the area cool in the summer (such as in the garage of our net-zero house in Florida), but may increase heating bills during the winter in a colder locale.

The second consideration for cooler climates is when it is winter, or a cooler time of year, the hybrid water heater might need to utilize the electric aspect of the heater more often. The unit is a hybrid, which means electricity backs up the more sustainable heat pump option when the ambient air surrounding the water heater is not warm enough.

Neither of these potential issues should set back your overall savings by too much, nor does it make the unit inefficient. It is just not as efficient in cooler months as in warmer months.

Luckily, there are some recommendations that the EPA has made to help minimize the impacts of colder climates on the efficiency of the hybrid water heater. These recommendations are mostly based on where to install the hot water heater. They include not putting it in a conditioned space or near a thermostat, in garages, or outdoors.

A picture of a hybrid heat pump hot water heater in an empty Florida garage.
The garage was a natural choice for location of the hybrid water heater in our Florida net-zero house. If you live in North Dakota, not so much.

One place that is good for hybrid water heaters in cooler climates is in a basement that is unconditioned or semi-conditioned. Any interior area of your home that is either completely unconditioned or semi-conditioned is a good location. In fact, one of the best places to put the water heater is near the furnace, which naturally is warmer and can increase the temperature of the air surrounding it. In this way you can use the naturally occurring heat let off by the furnace to heat your water.

The Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance offers some great resources. They have a northern climate efficiency calculator (PDF download) and a list of products that work well in northern climates.

In the end it’s best to check the manufacturer specifications of the specific hybrid/heat pump water heater you’re choosing, to make sure that the regular local climate and the location combined can allow your water heater to operate efficiently.

Considerations For Warmer Climates

Heat pump systems are designed to work even at the coldest of temperatures. But at the opposite end of the scale – the warmer/humid climates are near perfect for these types of systems to use for water heaters. It is actually one of the most exciting parts of the net-zero home project mentioned above, and here’s a quick list of why:

  • It takes the warm, humid air from the stifling hot garage (especially in the summer), and converts that to heat in your water tank.
  • From there, it emits cold air like an air conditioning system would, and cools down the garage.
  • When you look up the average ambient water inlet temperature for the area, the water temperature was supposed to be already coming in at 84 degrees or so. That means the delta of the temperature change, or work that the water heater has to do it really not much. To get to 122 degrees in the tanks, that’s only heating it up another 38 degrees. This all leads to less energy used, in addition to the already $300+ a year savings vs. a conventional water heater.
  • While it does make some noise and needs a larger open-air space to operate, the benefits (in my opinion) far outweigh the higher upfront cost or these inconveniences.

Conclusion

The best thing to remember is that no matter where you live, a hybrid hot water heater can add value. They work at maximum efficiency in areas that are warm year round, but hybrid water heaters can still have a very positive impact on a home’s efficiency in colder climates as well.

For colder climates, the placement of the water heater and the unit purchased can help bridge the gap in efficiency. You might need to do a little more research; however, there is still great value added to any home that has a hybrid hot water heater.

These water heaters have a positive impact on the environment because of their lower energy use and longer lifespans than normal water heaters. Potential rebates and tax credits are a bonus on top of the monthly energy savings. No matter where you live, heat pump water heaters can save money and increase your home’s efficiency.

Erin Shine

Erin Shine

Founder | Attainable Home

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