The new year brings with it an exciting new technology for homeowners, a 120-volt heat pump water heater. While the efficiency improvements and environmental benefits of existing 240-volt heat pump water heaters are well documented, this lower-voltage development will make the technology more accessible to homeowners, owing to reduced installation costs.
The new 120V heat pump water heaters do not include the backup electric resistance heating element that’s found in their 240V counterparts, allowing them to operate at a lower voltage. This eliminates the cost for the electric panel upgrade that’s often needed when installing a 240V system and which can add anywhere from $1,000-3,000 to the total cost of the system. This is especially beneficial to homeowners currently using natural gas water heaters because approximately 50% of those gas systems already have an electrical line running to the ignition switch. Over 50% of existing water heaters in the country are gas powered, so this technology will make the switch to heat pump water heaters significantly easier.
However, it is likely that some customers will be skeptical whether these systems can provide an adequate supply of hot water to their homes. These concerns are unfounded, as water heaters can be set to varying temperatures. Geoff Wickes from the NEEA states that for every 10 degrees a water heater is turned up above 120F, an equivalent of 10 gallons of hot water storage is added. This is because at higher temperatures, less hot water is required to maintain a warm outflow temperature. The hazard associated with this is that water may be hotter than usual and could scald the users. To circumvent this issue, 120V heat pump water heaters contain an integrated mixing valve which will mix in the exact amount of cold water needed to ensure the water exits the system at the desired temperature.
With several manufacturers such as Rheem and GE intending to launch their 120V heat pump water heater appliances in early 2022, it is essential for contractors and consumers to be aware of their existence and best use cases. This will not only help drive the transition to decarbonized homes but will also help low- to moderate-income homeowners gain access to a technology which was previously out of reach.