Heat Pump Water Heater vs. Gas: Major Differences

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Charlie Hardcastle

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The choice between heat pumps and gas water heaters is one of the most challenging decisions you’ll have to make when it comes to water heating projects. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but it is a critical decision to make when purchasing a new water heater. Water heaters are a need in our everyday lives. They make showering, as well as other domestic activities, more enjoyable.

On the other hand, heating water can use a lot of energy and account for a significant portion of your energy expenses. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, water heating accounts for 14-18% of your utility expenditures. As a result, it’s understandable that you’d want to save money by choosing an energy-efficient water heater. We know how complicated it can be, so we’ll go over the benefits and drawbacks of each type of water heater. You should be ready to make informed decisions once you’ve finished reading this.

How Does a Water Heater Work?

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The water that enters your home travels through a network of pipes and is usually chilly or cool, depending on the season. A water heater is required to have warm water for a hot shower or bath, as well as to operate other appliances such as your dishwasher or washing machine.

Most people are familiar with water heaters. They resemble large metal cylinders and tall drums frequently relegated to the laundry room or basement. Although newer models allow you to eliminate the tank in favor of water-on-demand, the classic, dependable water heater design still extensively used in the United States today is a relatively straightforward piece of equipment.

It’s essentially a water-filled drum with a heating device built into the bottom or interior. Water heaters are great, despite their lack of intricacy. They are unique because they use the heat-rising principle to supply hot water to your faucet with no effort. Don’t be fooled by the basic shape encased in its wooly warming blanket. For something that appears so conventional on the exterior, water heaters have an innovative design on the inside.

Heat Pump Water Heater 

Heat pump water heaters extract heat from the air and use it to heat water. As a result, they’re also known as ‘air-source heat pumps.’ They run on electricity, but they’re about three times more effective than a standard electric water heater. Due to their energy efficiency, you can save money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions when used in the correct environment.

Heat pump water heaters are hybrids since they heat water using two different processes. A heat pump extracts heat from the air and converts it to useful energy. 

How Do Heat Pump Waters Heater Work?

Let’s look at how heat pump water heaters function before we get into the benefits and drawbacks. Heat is normally generated by gas or electricity in most water heaters. However, heat pump water heaters are unique. They don’t produce any heat at all immediately. Instead, they move heat from one location to another to complete the task – but how does this work?

Heat pump water heaters take heat from the air around them. The water in the unit’s storage tank is then delivered to it. As a result, they may not perform effectively in colder areas or spaces that are not heated or insulated (such as an unfinished basement).

Fortunately, some parts of the United States experience mild winters, letting a heat pump water heater perform adequately.

You’ll need at least 1,000 cubic feet of air space surrounding your heat pump water heater for it to perform properly and safely. You’ll also need a condensation pump or drain. These requirements, unfortunately, can be challenging to meet in smaller dwellings.

Pros#1: Heat Pump Water Heaters Are Efficient

Heat pump water heaters are extremely energy efficient by design. Rather than exerting effort to generate heat, they extract it from the air around them – that may include excess heat from a nearby furnace!

As a result, heat pump devices can provide two to three times the energy efficiency of traditional electric water heaters. ENERGY STAR-rated devices can save you over $300 per year on your electric expenses. Best of all, heat pump water heaters have a lifespan of 10-15 years if properly maintained.

Pros#2: Heat Pump Models Are Environmentally Friendly

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Have you ever tried to relight a water heater’s pilot light? Have you ever been concerned about gas leaks or other potentially harmful emissions? That’s something you don’t need to consider with the heat pump model. Furthermore, the device will not be hot on the exterior, making it a safer choice for pets and children.

According to research, “if all residential water heaters under 55 gallons sold in the U.S. were ENERGY STAR certified HPWHs, annual energy cost savings would grow to nearly $12 billion, and 140 billion pounds of annual greenhouse gas emissions would be avoided, equivalent to the emissions from more than 13 million vehicles.”

Cons#1: Heat Pump Water Heaters Are More Expensive

Get ready for sticker shock. Why? Heat pump water heaters can be twice as expensive as gas and electric-resistant ones. That alone may cause you to reconsider if this is a realistic alternative, but sometimes you have to consider the wider picture.

The upfront expenditures of a heat pump water heater are more significant, but consider how much less money you’ll spend on electricity each year. The unit might pay for itself in as little as a few years, giving you a decade or more of savings. A heat pump type may be a sensible investment if you can afford it, but it is not in everyone’s budget.

Cons#2: When demand is high, it may not keep up

Large amounts of hot water can take a long time to produce with heat pump water heaters. This isn’t that much of a challenge in the summer when the unit can readily draw warm air, but it can be a problem in the winter when the air is chilly.

This type of water heater may not keep up with demand during peak periods. This is especially aggravating if you have a large family and everyone wants (or requires!) a shower. You’ll need to give your heat pump model some time to recover if this happens.

Gas Water Heater

Two distinct mechanisms work together to provide hot water in a gas water heater. The energy for heating comes from a gas system that connects to a propane tank or is supplied by a utility company. The plumbing system flows cold water into the tank and hot water out of it, with a safety device to prevent explosions.

Pros#1: It’s a lot faster.

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Compared to other types of water heaters, gas heaters heat water twice as quickly. While some heaters take an hour to heat 100 liters of water, gas can heat a 200-liter tank in less than an hour. You’ll be less likely to run out of hot water as a result of this.

Since electric water heaters may struggle to keep up with enormous demands for hot water, a gas heater is usually the best option for larger families.

Pros#2: Lower Energy Costs in General

Electric heaters are much more energy-efficient than natural gas heaters since gas storage units lose heat through the tank walls and exhaust fumes. However, electricity is more expensive than natural gas. More than balancing out the heat loss, gas heaters are more inexpensive to operate in terms of energy expenses.

Pros#3: During blackouts, you won’t be without hot water

Even if the power goes out, gas water heaters that use a pilot light rather than an electronic ignition will work. Some households are accustomed to power failures, and having hot water even when the lights are off can be highly beneficial.

Cons#1: Higher up-front cost.

While a gas water heater would certainly save you money on energy bills, it will also cost you more in the long run in terms of installation and maintenance. Despite the higher initial cost, most gas water heaters pay for themselves within a year if they are correctly maintained.

Cons#2: Lifespan is a little shorter.

The lifespan of a gas water heater is slightly less than that of an electric water heater. If you install both a gas and an electric unit simultaneously, the electric unit should last roughly a year longer than the gas counterpart.

Cons#3: Installation is more difficult

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Gas water heaters necessitate a more elaborate setup, which involves a ventilation system. PVC pipes will have to be installed to vent through the roof if the home has never had a gas water heater. This ventilation system will need to be maintained or repaired regularly, which may be done when the water heater is changed.

Operating Costs of Gas Hot Water vs. Heat Pumps

Because the initial cost of a heat pump is more than that of a standard gas system (although rebates assist! ), many homeowners question if heat pumps will genuinely pay for themselves (and more) over time.

Yes. The following are the reasons:

The average expense of running a hot water system costs around $410 annually for hot water systems installed in U.S. homes. On the other hand, high-efficiency heat pumps may do the same function for the same dwelling for around $185 per year. Please keep in mind that actual operating expenses vary depending on each household’s electricity rates, pump model, and hot water demand.

Although a heat pump costs more upfront than a gas hot water system, lower operating expenses save the average homeowner up to $225 per year and $3,375 throughout its 15-year lifespan.

And the gap is only expected to widen as the gas market evolves, which could result in the majority of our gas resources being transferred overseas, making gas much more expensive for you.

Final Thoughts: Is a Heat Pump Water Heater Better Than a Gas Water Heater?

We can’t tell you which one to choose because your choice should be based on your specific requirements. However, after going over the benefits and drawbacks of each type of water heater, hopefully, making a decision is now easier.

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