Replacing electric hot water heater - should I go hybrid?

jjinbrooklynAugust 6, 2014

Hi all -

Recently, the 16 year old 50-gallon hot water heater in our summerhouse has started leaking and I think it's time to replace it. We got a quote from a local plumber to replace it with a similar tank. However, I've been reading about these "hybrid" hot water heaters and am wondering if it might make sense to use one of those.

Here are some details:
The house is in Long Island, NY - hot summers, cold winters. We use the house all the time in the summer and only rarely in the fall-winter-spring. We have electric baseboard heaters, electric stove, etc. No gas or oil in the house at all. The hot water heater is in the basement. When we leave at the end of the season we generally drain the outdoor shower, close the main water valve, and shut off the electric pump which pulls our water from a well. Our current hot water heater (as well as the one that the plumber is proposing to replace it with) has no thermostat and heats the water to the same temperature all winter long, even though we are not there.
Also good to know: we are a family of four, including two teenagers who sometimes take very long showers.

Any recommendations for what to install would be most appreciated! Thanks!

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I doubt you'd ever recover the difference in initial cost.
I drain my electric WH for the 7 months that it's not in use each year. What happens to you plumbing if the power goes out during the winter?

    Bookmark   August 6, 2014 at 5:37PM
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You'll never recover the capital outlay premium those type of heaters command.

You may not care about that though. They are a LOT more efficient, which means your usage costs will be less.

Keep in mind that these things produce a good bit of heat into the air / room they are in. Good for humidification in a cold damp basement - probably not so good for a summerhouse mechanical room where the xtra load on the A/C will negate some of the savings.

Me, I'd just get a super insulated electric tank heater and call it done.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2014 at 7:50PM
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I thought they produce cool air ? (take heat out of the air for the water, the output is cooler air, the opposite of a refrigerator).

    Bookmark   August 6, 2014 at 8:23PM
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The answer to your question is that it depends on the difference between the installed price of both - however, the payback looks very good.

Xedos is exactly wrong: These units cool and dehumidify the surrounding space - great in warm weather climates in the summer. Not great for cold weather climates. It would make sense in your case.

They save a very substantial amount of money - but again, depends on installed cost.

Just for example: Rheem 50 gal Hybrid - $191 est ave annual cost vs $555 for Rheem standard 50 gal tank electric or about 364 a year.

The difference in price of the heaters is about $800 ($400 vs $1200) so payback is a little more than 2 years. Not bad!


    Bookmark   August 7, 2014 at 10:08AM
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I've been the owner of a GE GeoSpring 50 Gal Hybrid Hot Water Heater for 3+ years.

It is in my basement and there are just two adults here. No tots, no teenagers.

When I see posts such as the query here, inevitably there are well intentioned posts from people that have never owned one that frequently provide bad info.

These heaters can be set to "Hybrid Only" or any of a few other modes. The hybrid heater includes two electric anodes that can be used in an identical fashion as were the heaters in your old heater. OR, those heater elements can be set to come on to supplement the heat pump if the heat pump can not keep up with the demand.

With just my wife and I we use "Hybrid Only" and our experience says that we have plenty of hot water with our schedule. When four young granddaughters and their parents come to visit, we set it to allow the resistance elements to assist in meeting demand.

The unit is noisier than a traditional heater... mine is in the basement next to the home's A/C and furnace - the hot water heater is about as noisy as the A/C.

The heat pump does transfer heat from the basement air to the water in the tank and thus produces some condensate. This water must be directed to a drain or, as in my case, to a condensate pump for disposal. (The amount of water is small - less than a couple of cups a day - and the heat removed has no effect on room temperature.)

As far as payback, our electric bill has been reduced by approximately $25-$30 per month. Here in MD Sales Tax was not collected on a hot water heater with a Coefficient of Performance above 2.0. Also, electric company rebate applied as it a Count Property Tax credit. (When I installed mine, there was a Federal Tax Credit available - not sure if still applies.)

I jokingly told my neighbors that I would buy all of them one of these if I had some way of being sure I would pocket their savings - and I meant it!

By the way, any heat lost from the water tank to the basement will simply be (heat) pumped back into the water - not by electric resistance heat.

There is a vacation setting on the unit... I forget the details. I think it maintains water temp at 55 degrees. The unit is and was available at Lowes and some other stores.

This post was edited by saltidawg on Sun, Aug 31, 14 at 16:47

    Bookmark   August 7, 2014 at 10:23AM
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"Just for example: Rheem 50 gal Hybrid - $191 est ave annual cost vs $555 for Rheem standard 50 gal tank electric or about 364 a year.

The difference in price of the heaters is about $800 ($400 vs $1200) so payback is a little more than 2 years. Not bad!"


I agree 100%!!!

Take a look at my post above and you'll see my electric savings matches your assessment.

I would add that the additional cooling and dehumidification of the surrounding space is not very great and the effect on a basement is not measurable.

If you think about it, if you hypothetical use zero hot water the heat pump will simply serve to return to the water any heat that is lost to the basement. Yes, a small operating expense, but no net effect on heat BTUs in the basement and no contribution to cooling. The only net additional heat extracted from the space is the BTUs lost down the drain of the sink or shower.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2014 at 12:51PM
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Yeah, I think we've had that conversation before.

I don't have one of these - but I don't understand why some of the commenters couldn't look up the information before saying that the payback isn't there.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2014 at 2:42PM
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FWIW - Lowe's currently has this model on sale for $999. Sale ends 9/7/14.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2014 at 11:12AM
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Nice find on the On Sale at Lowes.

Many of the One Star Reviews are based on Heat Pump Failures and poor GE Service.

The model I have is three years old - it preceded the current model being sold.

I did have a heat pump failure under GE Warranty - and then a second failure about a year later. I NEVER purchase extended warranties, however I did for this purchase.

Glad I did. GE covers the parts for ten years, and Lowes covers the Labor for the 9 years after GE's 1 year.

I think I would get the Extended Labor warranty if I were buying one now. (BTW. When the heat pump failures occurred, the unit beeped telling me it had switched the unit over to the electric elements. Never lost hot water.

Purportedly, the defect was eliminated with the introduction of the newer model. AND, there are other brands out there... be careful, not all of the others have Coefficients of Performance (COPs) identical to these.

This post was edited by saltidawg on Sat, Aug 30, 14 at 21:33

    Bookmark   August 9, 2014 at 3:38PM
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And my power company, Entergy, is giving a $350 rebate for the purchase. Can't beat that. Didn't get the extended warranty though. (fingers crossed)

    Bookmark   August 11, 2014 at 12:35PM
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Check your county and state also for rebates.

As I said, I NEVER get an Extended Warranty - in this case I am glad I did. (It was priced the same as all of the other heater's warranties. The difference was that my heater cost $1500 and all the others were in the $400-$600 range - this was the reason I purchased the warranty.)

This post was edited by saltidawg on Mon, Aug 11, 14 at 20:07

    Bookmark   August 11, 2014 at 6:55PM
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Aren't there additional savings if you replace the electric baseboard with hot water supplied from the new water heater?

    Bookmark   August 11, 2014 at 8:14PM
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No, there isn't.

The water heater works by removing heat from surrounding area and using that to heat the water. They work best in warm weather climates or when there's a large heat sink, such as a basement from which to pull heat.

If it can't get that heat from the surrounding area it will use resistance heat.

So, to use the heater that's pulling heat from surrounding air in the house to heat the house would be self defeating. What's more, these heaters aren't designed for the higher water temps used by hydronic heating.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2014 at 8:42AM
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There is no NET heat removed from the space if no hot water is used. The only NET heat removed from the space is to replace the BTU's lost down the drains.

There will be no MEASURABLE effect on either temperature or humidity in a basement.

These units can be used in a basement in the colds of Canada or the heat of Florida.

This post was edited by saltidawg on Tue, Aug 12, 14 at 9:50

    Bookmark   August 12, 2014 at 9:47AM
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Settle down SD... the specific question was if it could be used for space heating. The answer is no - I think you will agree with that.
I wanted to explain to him why this was the case.

I agree these heaters will work anyplace - since they have backup resistance heat. They will switch to electric resistance heat if the ambient temp goes below 45 F.

Assuming that people are purchasing these for their energy savings, they will get the most benefit in warm climates or where they have a larger basement that can act as a heat sink.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2014 at 11:48AM
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You're simply mistaken. lol Climate has nothing nto do with these UNLESS you plan to locate them outdoors.

Just trying to help the OP and correct some mistaken notions held by people that have never owned one of these.

That would include you, I see.


    Bookmark   August 12, 2014 at 1:21PM
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Thank you for the information. We are building a home in GA with a basement. We are considering buying the Geospring unit but were scared when we read reviews about all of the electronic panel failures.

We also NEVER buy extended warranties, but will consider based on your recommendation and the history of electrical problems on the unit.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2014 at 11:37AM
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To be clear. The two problems I had were on a discontinued version of the GE GeoSpring Hybrid - don't know about the reliability of the current model.

Also, the two failures I had were identical and were mechanical in nature... specifically a braze in tthe same location on the condenser.

In each case I did not lose hot water. Simply got a beeping alarm and on-screen instructions to switch to the electric heaters.

The extended warranty was way under-priced when I got my unit from Lowes... I don't know if that is still true. Also, the cost of the GeoSpring at Lowes is down $500 from when I bought it.

I just checked. My Electric Company is offering a $500 Rebate on any hybrid hot water heater, and the state excuses th Sales Tax and there are numerous tax credits at the County, State, and Federal level here in MD.


    Bookmark   August 30, 2014 at 3:31PM
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The hybrids have a maximum water temperature of what for the heated water?

Update. Some brands have upper limits of 140 degrees while others have 150 degrees.

This post was edited by bus_driver on Sun, Aug 31, 14 at 16:10

    Bookmark   August 30, 2014 at 5:30PM
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The GeoSpring has a top temperature setting of 140.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2014 at 4:33PM
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All of their performance projections are based on an assumed 135 degree setting. Operating below 135 will result in a greater "efficiency" (COP)

The unit ships set to 120 and that is the temperature that we operate at.

This post was edited by saltidawg on Mon, Sep 1, 14 at 16:50

    Bookmark   August 31, 2014 at 4:45PM
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My GeoSpring has a low temperature setting of 100.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2014 at 4:37PM
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I stand corrected. I'll edit my post re minimum set temperature. Indeed 140 is maximum and 135 is temp for performance claims.


    Bookmark   September 1, 2014 at 4:48PM
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saltidawg - Thank you for that great review, especially your comments on temperature change in the basement. I've been looking at these hybrids for a while. My basement stays between the upper-50's and 70 degrees year around. Should I assume that is ideal for a hybrid WH and that the temp will not change much if I had one?

One comment on rebates: I noticed that my utility would not give a rebate if the hybrid was installed in conditioned space, i.e., basement. That's something to verify before anyone buys one.

This post was edited by rmtdoug on Thu, Sep 4, 14 at 16:07

    Bookmark   September 4, 2014 at 4:01PM
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My basement is in the 55-60 range year 'round. No measurable change in temperature and only a couple of cups of condensate per day.

I'm surprised at your power company not offering a rebate if your hot water heater is in a conditioned space. Per GE, "This unit is designed for any common indoor installation including: garage, utility room, attic, closet, etc."

It would take a very special climate to allow outside or breezeway installation if one wants hot water 365/24.

This post was edited by saltidawg on Thu, Sep 4, 14 at 18:36

    Bookmark   September 4, 2014 at 6:30PM
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Thanks, saltidawg, for clearing that up. My basement sounds like a good place for one.

It would make sense to put it in the warmest place in the house, but utility companies dance to their own tune. Perhaps they have modified that restriction by now. I will certainly check when it comes time for me to make a firm decision.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2014 at 12:49AM
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The "conditioned space" issue is because of something that I have said before, but Saltidog disagrees with me on: If you install one of these heaters in a space that's heated much of the year, you are taking heat from the conditioned space to heat the hot water. The overall system efficiency gain is not as great as when the heater is used in 1.) an environment that is normally cooled. 2.) a garage or such in a warm weather area 3.) a reasonable sized basement where it can exchange heat with the surrounding earth.

These heaters will work in most any environment because they also have a resistance heater. But for the best efficiency I recommend them in warmer weather areas or in homes with basements.

If you are in a northern climate, your utility company may recognize this issue whereas a utility company in Florida, for example, wouldn't have an issue with it.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2014 at 8:38AM
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The power company restriction on rebates re location of heater makes absolutely no sense from a thermodynamic perspective nor an energy savings point of view.

There is absolutely zero thermodynamic basis to believe the usefulness of these heaters is somehow limited by local climate... in no case have I made statements about performance based on the resistive heating elements contributing heat energy.

In my situation, we view the resistive elements as emergency backup - like when granddaughters and their parents visit - they NEVER are used due to room temperature or local outside temperature.

The trend continues wherein folks that have never owned and operated one of these units and don't have a background in thermodynamics continue to misstate the effectiveness and energy saving characteristics of these units.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2014 at 9:15AM
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But, you have to admit that the power companies give credence to this by their requirement that the WH not be placed in a conditioned space to qualify for the rebate.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2014 at 12:27PM
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Dude, chill.

I was respectfully saying you had a different opinion - not what your opinion was or that it had anything to do with the heating elements.
You can disagree without being disagreeable.

I do understand thermodynamics very well, thank you. There is no "trend" and no misrepresentation.

Yes, the units have resistive elements as backup, for high demand situations, and when the ambient temperature gets low enough that enough heat can't be extracted using the heat pump (for geospring unit that's 45 degrees F)

Saltidog, I don't know what you are getting your panties in a bunch about... yes, I understand your heater works well for you. I would expect that. It's installed in a basement that's at least 700 cubic feet of space. Because it's underground it will maintain a temperature of around 50 - 55 degrees or more if there are other heat sources in the basement. That's enough to allow the heat pump to work just fine.

The water heater will work in almost all situations / applications where one would normally install a tank heater. It will even run on the heat pump in most situations. The question is when you have the water heater in a fully conditioned space (not basement) and that space is being heated. At that time, one is shifting the heating load of the water heater to the furnace - which may or may not be more cost effective.

I think the water heaters are great - esp if they can work out the reliability problems (which I think are teething pains, not inherent problems). I stick by my assertion that there are three applications whereby they produce the most system efficiency / cost effectiveness.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2014 at 2:05PM
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Had my GeoSpring for one month now. Works great for the two us on Heat Pump mode @ 120 degrees. Drilled a hole and inserted the 3/8 inch condensate tubing through the cap on a one gallon plastic vinegar jug. Just checked it and it was 3/4 full. I just wanted to share this in case anyone else without access to a drain was considering buying one of these. Once a month emptying of the jug is a much cheaper alternative to buying and installing a condensate pump and running it to a drain.

Still waiting on my $350 rebate check but I've been told "It's in the queue."

    Bookmark   September 16, 2014 at 12:18PM
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I am building a home. We are planning on having Geothermal and a desuper heater installed. Would it be worthwhile to install a hybrid electric water heater in conjunction with DSH? The water would already be warmed up I wonder if that would diminish any savings.


    Bookmark   October 2, 2014 at 3:51PM
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Because my question is different than the original topic - I am going to repost as its own thread.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2014 at 4:36PM
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Heat pump water heaters do well in summer when it is easier to collect ambient heat so it looks like a good idea to me to install a hybrid in a house that will mostly be used in summer. A gas water heater would compete with that concerning costs but that does not seem like an option for you. Hybrids are also noisy but since it is going to stay in the basement, you can skip that issue as well. All these factors added up make it a decent choice for you to hybrid.
There is one thing you need to keep in mind though. The savings estimations on heat pump water heaters assume that only the heat pump will work to heat the water and no electric resistance heating. If kids take long showers and they do that when other people are also using hot water, the unit will most probably be overwhelmed and get the electric heaters running to keep up. When that happens you are the same as using a normal storage water heater and you will not be saving as much. I suggest you make a careful assessment of the hot water use for the whole family and compare that the first hour rating of the hybrid youâÂÂre planning to get. The following article explains the first hour rating and other things you might want to know about hybrid water heater heaters.

Here is a link that might be useful: heat pump water heater review

    Bookmark   October 13, 2014 at 3:36PM
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The above suggestion about basement located hybrid hot water heaters is simply mistaken about "do well in summer when it is easier to collect ambient heat".

The ambient temperature in my basement differs by only a few degrees summer versus winter. There is a massive heat sink in the form of the earth banked up against the basement walls and the massive walls themselves.

My 50 gallon heater is set for heat pump ONLY when my wife and I do not have granddaughters and family visiting so full benefit is derived.

When granddaughters are visiting we change to heat pump with electric resistance backup. Obviously the efficiency in this mode, IF the resistance heaters kick in, is somewhere less than heat pump and better than straight electric resistance.

And of course, I do not have NG available.

This post was edited by saltidawg on Mon, Oct 13, 14 at 17:52

    Bookmark   October 13, 2014 at 5:29PM
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I just wrote my first blog post about replacing a tank system with a tankless water heater.

It has some good info about what questions you should ask yourself in order to help guide your decision. One thing not included is the complexity of providing gas to a tankless system, so if you are upgrading from electric, you should defiantly factor in the additional plumbing expense of providing a high output gas line to the new tankless system.

Here is a link that might be useful: Replacing your tank type water heater with a tankless water heater

    Bookmark   October 31, 2014 at 3:38PM
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Max Dichter - Is it that you are illiterate and unable to understand the site TOU, or are you generally dishonest in your business dealings?

    Bookmark   October 31, 2014 at 4:17PM
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