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Table of Contents

Understanding Heat Pump Water Heaters

Installation and Price Factors

Performance and Upkeep

Environmental Impact

Compatibility and Suitability

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Unpacking the Downsides of Heat Pump Water Heaters

7 min readUpdated Mar. 20, 2024Lyle WeischwillWater Heater
Disadvantages of a heat pump water heater

Heat pump water heaters offer a greener, more efficient solution compared to your standard water heaters. However, there are certain drawbacks you need to be aware of before installing one in your home. In this article, we'll delve into the disadvantages of heat pump water heaters, equipping you with all the facts you need to make a well-informed decision.


  • Heat pump water heaters help the environment and can save you money on energy bills but upfront investment costs can be significant.
  • You’ll need to consider the extra costs associated with installing and maintaining a heat pump water heater to decide whether it’s right for your home.
  • Not all homes are suitable for a heat pump water heater due to various factors discussed below.

Understanding Heat Pump Water Heaters

Heat pump water heaters have gained popularity as a more energy-friendly alternative to conventional water heaters. These units work by using a refrigerator compressor and sealed system to heat the water. This innovative process brings several benefits, such as improved energy efficiency, cost savings, and a smaller carbon footprint.

But how exactly does a heat pump water heater operate? The system has an evaporator, compressor, condenser, and an expansion valve. The compressor raises the pressure and temperature of the refrigerant, which goes to the condenser. Here, the refrigerant releases its heat into the water, warming it up. Next, the refrigerant goes through the evaporator where it cools down and returns to its liquid state. The refrigerant then moves into the compressor to start the cycle over again.

The energy savings from a heat pump water heater can be significant. Compared to traditional water heaters that use electrical resistance or gas burners to heat water, heat pump water heaters can be up to three times more efficient. This translates into lower energy bills and a reduced carbon footprint, which is not only good for your pocket but also for the planet.

When it comes to comparing heat pump water heaters with traditional models, there are a few key distinctions. Traditional water heaters directly heat water using electrical resistance or gas burners, while heat pump water heaters transfer heat from the air. This makes heat pump water heaters more efficient, but they might not perform as well in colder climates or in poorly insulated spaces. Also, heat pump water heaters tend to cost more upfront than traditional models, but the long-term energy savings can help offset this initial expense.

Installation and Price Factors

Before deciding on a heat pump water heater for your home, it's important to understand the installation requirements and costs involved with this kind of system.

Installation Requirements

Firstly, let's look at the installation requirements.

  • Heat pump water heaters need a well-ventilated space with enough room around the unit for adequate airflow.
  • The ideal ambient temperature range for the system is between 40 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • The unit also needs to be installed near a drain or equipped with a condensate pump to eliminate any excess water produced during operation.
  • A heat pump water is taller than a conventional water heater because the compressor is mounted on top of the tank.

Price of a Heat Pump Water Heater

Now, let's discuss the cost of a heat pump water heater. The price can vary depending on factors like the brand, capacity, and complexity of the installation. On average, you can expect to pay between $1,000 and $3,500 for a heat pump water heater. While the upfront cost can be higher than traditional water heaters, the energy savings over time can help balance out this initial investment.

Extra Costs for Installation

It's also crucial to consider any extra costs associated with owning a heat pump water heater. These can include electrical upgrades, like installing a dedicated circuit, or plumbing modifications to accommodate the unit. Regular maintenance and filter replacements are also necessary to ensure the system runs at peak performance and efficiency.

If you're considering a heat pump water heater, it's a good idea to consult with a professional installer who can assess your specific needs and provide accurate cost estimates.

Rebates and Tax Credits to Defray Some Project Costs

Keep in mind that you may be able to get rebates from energy providers or local governments for installing a heat pump water heater in some areas. Use the ENERGY STAR rebate finder to see if rebates are available in your local area. The federal government also offers a tax credit for 30% of the project cost (up to $2,000) for installing a heat pump water heater. Rebates and tax credits helps defray some of the extra costs of buying and installing a heat pump water heater but they take time to get. You typically will face significant investment costs upfront that won’t be completely covered by rebates and the tax credit.

By understanding the installation and cost factors, you can make an informed decision about whether a heat pump water heater is the right fit for your home.

Performance and Upkeep

While heat pump water heaters offer a variety of benefits, there are also certain factors that may make them unsuitable for everyone.

One potential downside is the higher initial cost. The technology involved in heat pump water heaters is more complex, which can result in a higher price tag – even taking into consideration rebates and the tax credit if you qualify. However, these systems are very energy-efficient, which can lead to long-term savings on your energy bills.

Another factor to consider is how well a heat pump water heater performs in different climates. These systems rely on the ambient air temperature to draw heat, so their efficiency can be affected by extreme temperatures. In colder climates, the heat pump may need to work harder and may not perform as efficiently. In warmer climates, the heat pump may have an advantage as it can draw heat from the air more easily.

Regular maintenance is essential for the optimal performance and longevity of your heat pump water heater. This includes :

  • Cleaning or replacing air filters regularly.
  • Inspecting and maintaining the condensate drain line.
  • Periodically draining the tank to eliminate residue.

Here’s a DIY video that shows how to drain a water heater tank:

It's also important to have a professional technician perform periodic inspections and tune-ups yearly to catch any potential issues early on. This will add to the cost of owning a heat pump water heater.

Environmental Impact

Opting for a heat pump water heater can have a positive impact on the environment due to its energy-efficient operation. Unlike traditional water heaters that burn fossil fuels, heat pump water heaters use electricity to transfer heat from the air to heat your water. This process significantly cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions and helps fight climate change.

One of the main advantages of a heat pump water heater is its ability to cut down greenhouse gas emissions. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, heat pump water heaters can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 60% compared to standard electric water heaters. This reduction in emissions is achieved by leveraging heat pump technology to efficiently heat water, minimizing the need for electricity generated from fossil fuels.

Compatibility and Suitability

Before deciding on a heat pump water heater for your home, it's important to assess its compatibility and suitability. Not all homes are suitable for this type of water heater due to various factors.

Firstly, the size and layout of your home can impact the suitability of a heat pump water heater. These units require a certain amount of space for installation, both indoors and outdoors. Ensure you have enough space available for the unit, as well as adequate ventilation for optimal performance and efficiency.

Additionally, the climate where you live is an important factor. Heat pump water heaters perform best in moderate to warm climates, where the ambient air temperature stays above a certain level. In colder climates, the unit may struggle to draw heat from the air, resulting in decreased efficiency and performance.

Another factor to consider is the demand for hot water in your household. While heat pump water heaters are more energy-efficient than traditional electric water heaters, they may have a slower recovery rate. If you have a large family with high hot water usage, a heat pump water heater may not be able to meet the demand.

It's vital to evaluate your home's characteristics, climate, hot water demand, and existing HVAC system before deciding if a heat pump water heater is right for your needs. If you think that a heat pump water heater is right for your home, consult with a professional can help you make an informed decision and ensure a smooth installation process if you move forward with the project.

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