a heat pump hot water heater installed in a garage corner with the words 120V and a picture of a regular outlet in the middle

Conventional electric water heaters are notorious for needing the rewiring to provide a 240-volt outlet capable of powering them. Not only is this bad for the environment, but it is also a hassle to install and costs a lot to run. 

Thankfully, new developments in water heater technology are changing this—they’re called heat pump water heaters.

Read on to learn more about this new technology and why you should consider installing a 120V heat pump electric heater to replace your current model. 

Can You Plug a Heat Pump Water Heater Into a Regular Outlet?

You can now plug a heat pump water heater into a regular 120-volt outlet, making installation easier and reducing running costs.

Four manufacturers (A.O. Smith, GE, Nyle Water Heating Systems, Rheem) have developed this technology to meet the retrofitting market’s needs.

The Advantage of Using Regular Outlets

If you are in the market for an upgrade, you’re likely to come across heat pump water heaters as an option. 

Besides the old gas-powered water heaters, there are two types available nowadays: 

  • Electric
  • Heat pump 

Heat pump water heaters (HPWHs) used to require installing a special 240-volt outlet to power them.

Recently, manufacturers have developed models that plug into regular outlets (120-volt). 

Below are the advantages of this innovative development.

Less Rewiring, Easier Installation

Older heat pump models required much rewiring to install a 240-volt outlet safely.

Not only was this costly, but it was also a hassle to install. Since it costs much more to install these higher voltage outlets, homeowners tend not to install them unless necessary.

Many homes in the U.S. still have gas-powered water heaters installed, as homeowners fear the rewiring required to install high-voltage outlets.

However, new heat pump water heaters (HPWH) can run efficiently at 120 volts. This is the voltage of a standard U.S. outlet, making rewiring unnecessary.

Thus, you can actually install the unit by plugging it in yourself if you can handle the plumbing! 

A homeowner makes adjustments to the foam insulation attached to the pipes atop his water heater tank

Safety and Reduced Risk of Electrical Fire

Rewiring can be dangerous if not done right, which is a major cause of electrical fires.

Since new heat pump water heaters can run on a regular outlet, there is less risk of electrical fires from faulty wiring that can’t handle the added voltage. 

In other words, it’s like plugging in an air conditioning unit or a large refrigerator to your typical outlet. It’s safe and reliable, with a lower risk of electrical or gas fires. 

Lower Energy Consumption

If you switch from a gas-powered water heater, the immediate change in your utility bills might not be noticeable.

However, regardless of which system you upgrade, you will reduce your carbon footprint. 

This reduction is because 120-volt water heaters use less energy than the 240-volt equivalent.

Additionally, the new technology is far more efficient—the hybrid water heater can heat water at a fraction of the energy cost. 

Given the state of climate change today, we should all be moving towards reducing our carbon footprints and running a greener household, and this is an excellent way in which to do so.

Reduced Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Overall, all heat pump models release fewer greenhouse gasses than conventional gas heaters.

You might have noticed that there is no need for extra venting to release gasses from the combustion process typically used in gas heaters. 

A heat pump water heater with a chrome top in the corner of a garage.
Heat pump water heaters can help to reduce your carbon footprint and save you money, too.

So what’s new? The new models use even less energy, which means fewer resources (in the form of your energy consumption), further reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

In other words, because you are saving energy, your local government will burn less fuel to provide you with that energy. Thus, it will release fewer greenhouse gasses on your behalf.

That means reducing your overall carbon footprint instead of changing something you would notice on a personal level. 

Home Electrification Tax Credits

Governments have been pushing toward using electricity over combustible fuels for years now, and one of the ways citizens were encouraged to do this was through tax credits and incentives

Switching to a lower-voltage heat pump water heater is just the thing that would allow homeowners to benefit from such tax credits and incentives.

So, in addition to saving on your utility bills, that’s proper financial motivation to get a 120-volt hybrid water heater! 

How Does the Heat Pump Operate on a 120-Volt Outlet?

New heat pump models can run more efficiently because they can safely store water at hotter temperatures of around 140°F (60°C) and include an integrated mixer to lower the temperature before it leaves the heater. 

Even though the water is stored at a higher temperature, there is no risk of scalding because the water is cooled down using the mixer.

Additionally, there is no risk of legionella because the system is airtight and sanitary. 

Overall, this means that these new models can easily provide the equivalent of 80 gallons (302.8 liters) of hot water. For most families in the U.S., that’s more than enough for a day. 

Will Your Utility Bills Decrease With a 120V Water Heater?

Your utility bills will decrease if you switch to a 120-volt heat pump water heater from a 240-volt model.

If you’re retrofitting from gas, the decrease is not so noticeable because gas is still cheaper than electricity in the U.S.

However, you can expect lower utility bills if you make the switch while having solar panels installed in your home. 

A solar heat pump water heater with orange trim on a beige floor.
Solar water heating is very efficient, provided you have sufficient sunlight.

Even though electricity is more expensive than gas in the U.S., technological developments like these new HPWH models will encourage local governments to give grants for green homes that run more efficiently on electricity. 

Who Shouldn’t Get a 120V Heat Pump Water Heater?

No new technology is perfect. If you already have a heat pump water heater installed, it is understandable if you do not want to switch to the new model.

Manufacturers developed this new technology specifically with older homes in mind, where gas-powered water heaters are the norm.

Upgrading from a 240-volt heat pump water heater to a 120-volt one simply doesn’t make much sense for many homeowners, and that’s okay.

If you’re more concerned about the environment, maybe you’re willing to take on the extra cost of upgrading.

Otherwise, we wouldn’t recommend the switch to homeowners with a heat pump water heater installed. 

The new HPWHs are comparable to the older (240-volt) models in that they have a lower impact on global warming to the same degree and operate at the same noise level.

But if you live in a larger household and require a larger tank, we suggest upgrading to a larger HPWH if you intend on using the plug-in models (120-volt). 

By design, the plug-in models cannot recover at the same rate as the direct-wire counterparts, which means larger households may need bigger heaters or more than one unit installed.

This can make installation more tricky and, in some cases, more expensive. In other words, plug-in heat pump water heaters are better suited for smaller households.

Considerations Before Plugging into a Regular Outlet

Before plugging your HPWH into a regular outlet, consider the following factors:

  • Electrical load and outlet compatibility: Verify whether the electrical load of the unit is compatible with the capacity of a standard household outlet. Most heat pump water heaters require a dedicated circuit with higher amperage than what typical household outlets provide.
  • Voltage and wiring: Most traditional HPWHs require a 240-volt electrical supply, which is different from the standard 120-volt outlets found in most homes. Plugging a 240-volt appliance into a 120-volt outlet can result in malfunction or damage.
  • Circuit protection and overloading: Heat pump water heaters draw significant electrical power during operation, especially when heating water. As such, adequate circuit protection is essential to prevent overload and electrical hazards. You can install a dedicated circuit with a circuit breaker or fuse.
  • Compliance with local regulations: Electrical installations, including those for heat pump water heaters, must comply with local building codes and regulations. These codes dictate requirements for wiring, outlets, circuit protection, and overall electrical safety.
  • Manufacturer’s recommendations: Make sure to heed the manufacturer’s recommendations and guidelines for installing and operating the heat pump water heater. These instructions provide valuable insights into proper setup, maintenance, and safety precautions.

Final Thoughts

The new 120-volt heat pump water heaters are easier to install and safer to use.

You can plug them into practically any outlet in your home, and they work well in smaller homes. 

You should switch to a heat pump water heater to reduce your carbon footprint and potentially reduce your utility bills, especially if you’re also using solar panels.

In that case, you are installing the water heater of the future in your home.

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