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Thursday, June 1, 2023
June 1, 2023

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Energy Adviser: Heat pumps heat water efficiently


Besides your home heating system, the hot water tank is the most energy hungry appliance in the typical household. Homeowners can cut their water heater operating expenses by about half by upgrading to a heat pump water heater and current utility rebates can cut the cost by hundreds of dollars.

Heating water is one of the largest drivers behind your monthly utility bill, and traditional electric water heaters require a lot of energy to do the job. An electric hot water heater can account for about 15 to 20 percent of a home’s annual energy consumption.

“That’s why switching to a heat pump water heater is a great investment for most homeowners,” said Matt Babbitts, Clark Public Utilities energy resources program manager. “They use less than half the annual electricity of a standard electric water heater and our $500 rebate brings the purchase price down to a similar price of a standard electric water heater.”

A typical electric water heater uses a submerged metal element to heat the tank. A heat pump water heater, sometimes called a hybrid water heater, uses a small heat pump mounted on top of the tank to heat the water inside, a submerged element acts as backup for those rare Northwest days when the surrounding air is too cold.

Essentially, heat pumps are heat exchangers — they extract heat from one area and force it into another. It’s a proven technology used the world over to heat and cool spaces while using little energy in the process.

While a traditional electric-resistance 50-gallon electric water heater might cost between $400 and $600 a year to operate, a heat pump water heater will almost always cost about half as much.

Heat pump water heaters are larger than standard electric water heaters, but can fit in most homes. But because the heat pump emits cooled air and is a little noisy, the ideal location for one is in an unconditioned space, like a garage or unused basement.

Like many appliance replacements, it’s important to plan for the day a new water heater is due. Heat pump water heaters can cost close to three times more than traditional electric hot water heaters but the operating cost savings are immediate and it’s common to recoup your investment in a few years thanks to utility incentives and lower energy bills over the lifetime of the tank.

Current Clark Public Utilities incentives include a $500 rebate for a new hybrid water heater. If you purchase your heat pump water heater in Oregon at a retail location, your $500 incentive is applied at the time of purchase.

Customers can qualify for an $800 rebate if they purchase the even more efficient split-system heat pump water heater. Split systems place the heat pump outside the home and connect it to the water tank inside. Not only is it more efficient, it’s quieter and cool air inside is no longer an issue.

“Many homeowners may be able to do the installation on their own, but several local contractors participating in our utility Contractor Network offer professional installation of HPWHs,” Babbitts said. “Contractors participating in our network are able to apply utility rebates directly to eligible project costs for instant savings, and may offer additional promotions for utility customers so it’s good to get more than one bid.”

Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98688.