opinions about buying a new water heater?

After doing some online research I found this article. Near the bottom is a chart showing the 13-year costs for many different types of water heater. The best one seems to be a heat pump electric water heater, sometimes called a hybrid water heater. These cost more initially but use significantly less energy. Some places say 70% less energy.

This fits in very well with my situation, since I just had solar panels installed and I’m trying to reduce my overall electric usage.

So I have found several different companies that make hybrid water heaters:

A.O. Smith
Bradford White
Rheem
Stiebel Eltron

My online research on these models directly contradicts what my plumber is telling me. I DO trust my plumber and I have been using his services for years and I’m trying to resolve this cognitive dissonance.

Does anyone have any experience, good or bad, with hybrid water heaters from these companies?
Any you would buy again or would never buy again?
Which companies have you had good or bad experiences with?
Any recommendations for hybrid water heaters not on this list?

Thanks for you opinions,
J.

I think you can get conventional electric hot water heaters for much less than the prices shown in their chart. The heat pump price looks about right but I haven’t shopped around for one of those, they’re probably available for less also.

Your electric company might offer you something for installing an energy efficient device. There are also tax credits but I don’t know if they apply to water heaters.

ETA: Costs there included installation, they may be pretty close to reality.

I’ve checked for federal, state, and my power company rebates. Unfortunately, none apply.

J.

IME, Both A.O. Smith & Rheem make good conventional water heaters. A.O. Smith is of a slightly higher quality than the Rheem. But just slightly. I have used both & I was/am very happy with their products.

I have zero experience with a “Hybrid” water heater.

I am curious, what does the plumber disagree with your on-line research about specifically?

I am trying not to prejudice the opinions, which is why I didn’t mention it initially. After I get a few more replies, I’ll let you and everyone know.

Thanks for your reply.
J.

I’d be curious about the life of a heat pump. Conventional water heaters have no moving parts.

Usually when one has solar panels installed it is rated to zero out one’s electric bill. Once your at zero bill you can’t go much lower. In many places you can only get a credit for future usage, not money back. Some places when you can actually sell your excess power to the utilities for cold hard cash, it is usually at something like 2 cents per KWH while the going rate is 10-12 cents per KWH.

So just realize that you won’t reap the cost benefit of a more efficient hot water system as you are already paying zero. That link you sent has to do with standard electric rates, not zero’ed out solar installs. The math will be far different.

This would all be true under normal circumstances. And, in fact, I wanted to get a solar system large enough to “zero out” my energy usage. Unfortunately, my roof had too many obstructions and they could only install a system to cover 60% of my current power usage.

So I am trying to reduce my usage so that my current solar panels will actually zero out my usage.

J.

All of the hybrid water heaters I’ve looked at have had warranties of at least 10 years.

J.

Conventional water heaters don’t have a great life expectancy, though: getting 8 to 10 years in service is doing pretty good, especially in areas with hard water.

IME, I get at least 15 years out of mine. In one house that I maintain, the electric water heater was in the house when I bought the property. It was replaced due to leakage twenty one years later. When I removed the old heater I actually found the warranty page with a very fancy shield on it in the electrical box. It was dated 30 years before I bought the house.

I could not help myself, I framed this warranty & displayed it with all of my degrees, accolades, certificates, & diplomas on my “I Love Me” wall. It was centered among them. I got quite a few laughs out of that. Heck, I got a few laughs just out of having said wall.:slight_smile:

I do flush all of the water heaters every year. I also check the zincs on them at that time. both of those maintenance items help.

Jharvey: the problem with advice from someone like a plumber - or a doctor for that matter - is their experiences are biased. They don’t get called for equipment that is still working. They know an electric hot water heater is far simpler to fix. Dead simple - there are like 4 things you can even replace or you just replace the heater.

Anyways there are some unanswered questions in your post.

  1. Intake water temperature?
  2. Natural gas service?
  3. Where is the main electric panel with respect to the hot water heater?
  4. Number of household members?
  5. Energy saving showerheads or do you like full flow?
  6. Electric kwh rate?
  7. Natural gas therm rate?

With this information it is possible to actually run more detailed numbers.

I will say that in my situation - in a household with just 2 people, Texas climate, cheap electricity- the tankless electric heaters were a no brainer. They also save energy and unlike a heat pump unit don’t maintain a hot tank of water that is always leaking heat.

They are less efficient than heat pumps per gallon used but are extremely cheap to purchase or replace. Under $400 total on Amazon and while you might want to pay someone to install one properly the first time they are trivial to diy replace.

Ok, now that a few replies have come in, I can tell you about the disagreement. My plumber is recommending a Bradford White hybrid heater. I haven’t been able to get online reviews of the specific hybrid heater we’re considering. It is not sold by Amazon, Home Depot, or Lowes. However, I have been able to find Bradford White water heater reviews and the reviews are AWFUL. Here are couple of sources:

https://www.consumeraffairs.com/homeowners/bradford_white.html

Reviews of the Rheem hybrid water heater from Home Depot are very good.

My plumber says that he only recommends Bradford White because he thinks they are the best on the market and because of previous bad experiences of water heaters purchased at big box stores.

I’m trying to make a judgment. Should I take the advice of my plumber (who has served me honestly and well in the past) and install the Bradford White one? Or should I listen to my doubts and move on? The decision is complicated by the fact that the other hybrid water heaters I’ve found don’t easily fit in the space available for it. So it may be the Bradford White heater or staying with my existing water heater.

Does anyone have experience with Bradford White water heaters you can share?

J.

Oh, my old one was 25+; my parents just replaced one that dated to the mid-1970s.

The life expectancy, however, is going down on new water heaters. Once upon a time, ten years was the standard warranty term, and fifteen- or twenty-year warranties could be had. Now, the standard is most commonly six years, and some are only three (although longer warranties are sometimes available, I’ve not seen any with a 15-year warranty in a long long time). Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Yes, that definitely helps.

Harvey, I can help you with this question. I’ve spent the last 10 years working in this industry and introduced the first Energy Star Heat pump water heater for GE in 2009. Bradford White bought the GE plant and moved it to Michigan to continue making the only HPWH NOT made in Mexico or Germany.

A standard electric water heater has a UEF OF .93, making it about 93% efficient. You lose about 7 cents of every dollar spent heating water. And the energy guide show an annual operating cost of $419.

A HPWH like the Bradford White AeroTherm has a UEF of 3.39, that’s about 339% efficient. You get over $3 in hot water for every $1 spent. The energy guide shows the annual operating cost of only $115. You save over $300 a year. It also comes with a 10 year warranty so the savings is about $3,000 over the guaranteed life. Not to mention all the utility rebates available. You can visit Bradfordwhite.com and click on Product Rebates, then your zip codes. Rebates are as much as $800 depending on your utility.

HPWH’s are the only form of hearing water that can actually pay for itself through energy savings. All other water heaters are less than 100% efficient.

Many plumbers have believed some of the myths about these products. Things like:

  • takes longer to recover - FALSE
  • Steals Heat from the house that must be replaced by the furnace - FALSE
  • Not reliable because it’s a HEAT PUMP and more complicated - FALSE

These products have been in the US market for 10 years and have a proven track record. Most people don’t realize they already have 3-5 heat pumps in the home already - refrigerator, freezer, dehumidifier, and HVAC system.

I would be happy to help you learn more and answer all your questions. Reach out to me or visit Bradfordwhite.com. My email is Gholladay@bradfordwhite.com

Thanks!

I checked Consumer Reports and interestingly, they do not compare brands for water heaters. Rather, they compare types with categories for both gas and electric. Here is what they say about why they did that that:

.

And here are the rankings:

96 - electric heat pump
68 - gas tanked
56 - electric tanked
55 - electric tankless
51 - gas tankless

I had no idea what an electric heat pump water heater was, so I looked it up.

Wouldn’t the efficiency of the thing depend on the climate? Most of the year in Minnesota you’d be just putting heat generated by the gas furnace into the water heater, so why not keep it simple and just use a gas flame to heat the water? Florida where the air conditioner runs most of the year would be different story.

Yes. Conservation of energy means that every joule of heat it is compressing to a higher temperature must have come from the air in your house, and in turn must have come from the flame burned by your furnace. The poster GHolladay is not factually correct in his claim. (and no, his claimed expertise is irrelevant, this is a fundamental law of physics)

You can’t install a heater like this in an outdoor vented area in Minnesota because the condensate dripping from it will freeze, and it will stop working in the winter. (there are backup electric heating elements but now you just have a complex electric heater)

For Minnesota, plain tanked gas heaters located inside the heated building envelope are probably pretty optimal. The reason is that any heat that leaks through the tank walls is simply reducing the heating demand for the dwelling. (and the tanked gas heater is about as efficient as converting natural gas to heat as the furnace is)

For Florida, the groundwater coming in is already warm. It doesn’t need as much additional heating as other climates. In that case, electric tankless may be optimal -> some efficiency advantages, and electric tankless heaters are the same cost or cheaper than electric tanked heaters.

About stealing heat from the furnace, well yes and ‘know’. Yes the heat that was pumped into the water came from the air heated by the furnace. But that may be OK in certain circumstances - even in cold climates. If the furnace room is at a higher than desired temperature is one such case. This system would use some of that unwanted heat in the furnace room to heat the water instead, the colder it gets outside, the more the furnace runs, thus the hotter the furnace room, thus the more excess heat produced to heat the water. So yes it is stealing, however you are getting a more balanced temperature, and running the water heat pump in a optimal location as it is very warm.

Also In steady state it would not steal heat from the furnace, as the amount of heat lost from the water tank would equal the heat input. So all in all it’s not as bad as it seems.

Both bolded items are bad assumptions.

  1. How is there “unwanted heat in the furnace room”? If people are in there maintaining the equipment, they can turn it off if they need to be in there a long time. Second, all that heat, assuming the room is central-ish and inside the insulated building envelope, will again diffuse around the dwelling and reduce the total need for additional heating. (and thus fuel burn)

  2. This is also incorrect. The problem is that as heat is being lost, you are using electricity to pump the heat back in. De facto in steady state you have a resistive electric heater wasting power all day. This is less efficient than if a natural gas heater were in the same spot, with a similar efficiency to the furnace. (there are condensing natural gas tank heaters, in cold climates you want a condensing furnace)

  3. Don’t just consider steady state. Consider when using the hot water for showering and washing. During that time, hot water is going down the drain, and the energy in that water (relative to ambient) is (1) from fuel burned by the furnace (2) Compressed to a higher temperature using electricity.

So for each gallon of water used, you paid 1 unit of heat in the form of burning gas to heat the air which heated the water, and about 0.3 units of energy in the form of electricity to compress the heat into water.

In dollar amount, it ends up being roughly twice as expensive as a natural gas heater because electricity is typically about 3 times as expensive per joule as natural gas. We can do an exact calculation to show this, just name a specific state please.