Most people don’t give their water heaters a second thought until they fail or leak. But exciting technologies like ENERGY STAR certified heat pump water heaters (HPWHs) are showing how an important decarbonization solution can lie hidden in plain sight. These energy-saving workhorses are two to four times more efficient than traditional models. That savings is significant because water heating is one of the biggest energy users in the home, second only to space heating. By changing to HPWHs, households can reduce their carbon emissions and save money— between $230-$470 a year.
To celebrate this game-changing yet overlooked technology, the Advanced Water Heating Initiative is teaming up with partners to launch the first-ever Heat Pump Water Heater Day On October 26, a multitude of organizations and individuals will take to the social media airwaves using the hashtag #HeatPumpItUp to share HPWH resources, products, cost information, professional practices, projects, and the ways HPWHs help create a better future.
Resources to support sharing on social media are available to participants. There will also be special events including a HPWH Manufacturers Round Table at 12 noon (Pacific). During this hour-long event, major manufacturers of ENERGY STAR certified heat pump water heaters will present an overview of how heat pump water heating works and how it saves money. Each manufacturer will also spend a couple minutes sharing product information and answering questions.
Why is this needed right now?
The extreme weather events of this summer have showed us that climate change is upon us, and fast action is needed to curb the worst effects. The good news is that many clean energy technologies, including advanced water heating, are quickly ramping up to respond to the crisis and decarbonize. Transforming the water heater market in favor of HPWHs for example, would cut emissions by nearly 100 tons of carbon and 300,000 GWhs of energy per year, enough to power 25 million homes. With new rebates in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) for HPWHs and the California Air Resources Board’s decision to prohibit combustion appliance sales past 2030, we are driving towards a world where the de facto water heater for homes and commercial buildings comes with an efficient heat pump.
New 120-volt plug-in heat pump water heater from Rheem
A critical barrier to HPWHs is that most need a 240-volt plug, which can require an electrical panel upgrade. But in July 2022, the first 120-volt plug-in HPWH was released from Rheem. The need for this technology was identified in 2019 through an AWHI led working group that found if a water heater could just be plugged into a typical outlet, consumers could switch from gas to more efficient electric water heaters more easily. Lots of organizations, from utilities to nonprofits to manufacturers, began meeting regularly to dream and design this 120V HPWH into existence. Manufacturers then built demo products that are currently being evaluated in New Buildings Institute’s California field study. While still new to the market, the 120V HPWH is not available for everyone just yet. However, the arrival of the first Rheem 120V model is exciting, it offers more households an opportunity to move to vastly more efficient water heating and with the IRA’s rebates for heat pump water heaters the upfront costs should also come down.
Advanced Water Heating in New Construction
Homebuilders, like others, are worried about economic trends. The National Association for Homebuilders last May issued a press release about those concerns. AWHI’s Home Builder Engagement task group decided to make summer 2022, a summer of connecting with home builders to learn how we could help meet the challenge of higher first cost for efficient water heating in a challenging new construction marketplace. Research shows that constructing all electric homes saves builders on average $7,000-$8,000 from not having to add a gas line so there are also opportunities for them to save on costs.
On July 8, 2022, AWHI partnered with the nonprofit Energy and Environmental Building Alliance (EEBA) on a webinar entitled “Heat Pump Water Heaters, Builders Share Their Experience.” The webinar profiled builders who are installing and loving HPWHs. Next, AWHI partnered with ENERGY STAR to organize a HPWH Forum on August 18. This forum brought homebuilders and HPWH manufacturers together to explore potential solutions to encourage HPWH installations. Over 15 homebuilders were represented at the forum among others, with ten of the top 30 builders representing 60,000 homes built per year in attendance. Then, in late September, AWHI attended EEBA’s annual High-Performance Home Summit. While there, the team connected with dozens of builders on water heating. All these engagements have helped AWHI identify ways to remove barriers and apply solutions to increase heat pump water heater adoption. For now, advocates need to raise the profile of HPWH and share information about their incredible energy savings.
The Advanced Water Heating Initiative is helping to accelerate the momentum of HPWHs through a multitude of approaches. Whether celebrating HPWHs with a day dedicated to the technology or studying the new 120V HPWH that can be plugged into a standard outlet or engaging with home builders we hope you will join us. On HPWH Day, October 26, we will hug our water heaters that are helping to cut carbon emissions and save the planet.
by Joe Wachunas, Project Manager
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