Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Heat Pump Water Heaters and Residential Engineering Departments

A few weeks ago the US Department of Energy finalized efficiency requirements for residential electric tank water heaters. The efficiency requirement was last updated in 2010 and is supposed to be revisited every 6 years, but was not done during the 2016-2020 Presidential term. The new requirement will take effect in 2029, and should result in substantially more effort to make heat pumps the default choice for electric homes. The regulation does not mandate heat pumps specifically but most manufacturers will decide that heat pumps, a proven technology, are the most sensible way to increase the efficiency of their product line.

The push by manufacturers is important because water heaters are frequently replaced with little time for the end user to investigate alternatives because the old unit has already failed. We replaced the water heater in our home in 2021, moving from a gas appliance to electric. We had enough time to find an installer in our area familiar with heat pump installation — emeraldECO, in our case — but not everyone will have that amount of time to make a decision.

Having manufacturers make heat pump water heaters be the default means that contractors will need to train their crews to be ready to install heat pump water heaters, or risk losing business. They have to be prepared to explain the technology to their customers, and to help navigate available in incentives and rebates for the devices. It is a way to incentivize the entire supply chain from manufacturer to distributor to contractor to end-user.

Revisiting an earlier topic: a more sophisticated product installed in the residence brings more complexity in operating the infrastructure. Our heat pump water heater has a Wi-fi connection. It can notify us of faults... and has. It has signaled a blocked overflow pipe as a problem, but following up showed no blockage and no sign of a problem. The design of infrastructure for residential use has to take into account that the property owner won't be knowledgeable about its operation. There won't be an engineering department.