New Rules for Large Electric Water Heaters
A new rule from the Department of Energy (DOE) that goes into effect April 16, 2015, requires that water heaters with a capacity of at least 55 gal. have an energy factor (EF) of 2.05. Conventional electric-resistance heaters have an EF of about 1. The new rule essentially requires bigger electric water heaters to be heat-pump water heaters. Realizing the sales opportunity in the new law, GE has launched an 80-gal. version of its popular GeoSpring heat-pump water heater.
Sometimes described as hybrid water heaters, heat-pump water heaters use a refrigeration cycle to heat water. They also have a resistance element that kicks in during times of high demand. Not surprisingly, these water heaters are more expensive than resistance-type heaters, but they’re also more efficient, which saves energy and energy dollars. GE claims that the average household can save $388 annually by switching from a similarly sized resistance heater to an 80-gal. GeoSpring. You can read more about the energy costs and payback times for various water heating options here.
According to GE product manager Tom Zimmer, the new heater uses the same refrigeration unit as GE’s 50-gal. heat-pump water heater and has a first-hour rating of 92 gal. When asked about noise complaints with the first generation of GE’s 50-gal. GeoSpring Water Heater, Zimmer says the company has made the unit quieter. He also said the company is working on an optional ducting system that will dump outside the cool air coming from the refrigeration unit. Unwelcome cooling has been a complaint of some users in cold climates who have heat-pump water heaters.
One potential problem I noticed when I first saw the 80-gal. unit is its height: about 6 ft. I can imagine scenarios where the unit simply won’t fit, so if you’re considering an installation, make sure there’s enough headroom where you plan to put it. Another possible snafu is not planning for condensate. The refrigeration unit creates a steady stream of drips when it’s running. If you don’t have a drain nearby, you’ll need to install a condensate pump to send the water to a remote sink or drain. The suggested list price of the 80-gal. unit is $2099, although I found it online for $1690. Additionally, many states and the federal government offer incentives for installing heat-pump water heaters.
GE's new 80-gal. GeoSpring water heater has an energy factor of 3.1, making it about 3x as efficient as an electric-resistance water heater. Other features include multiple modes of operation, an anode-depletion sensor to protect the tank from corrosion, and conventionally placed water connections.
This cutaway shows the top-mounted refrigeration unit and the heating coils around the bottom of the tank. The unit uses 550w of power when heating water with the heat pump alone, compared to 4500w for the resistance elements.