Heat pump water heating

Heat pumps are a popular way to heat homes and offices in New Zealand, and the same technology can also be used to heat water. Heat pump water heaters are generally a more efficient way to heat water than standard electric cylinders.

I have personally used the system for the last 5 years in my prior house and was overwhelmed with the power bill's demise and the huge volumes of water that could be heated in such a short period of time.The return on investment for this type of hot water heating for me was approx 3 yrs.

Heat pump water heaters use energy from the outdoor air or ground to heat water, which is stored in an insulated hot water tank.

What to be aware of

  • Some systems are better designed for operating in cold climates than others - check with your supplier or manufacturer.
  • Some systems use an electric booster or backup element in cold conditions. These can be more expensive to run.
  • The upfront cost of heat pump water heating is relatively expensive.
  • In a minority of cases you may need a building consent to install a heat pump water heater. Check with your local council.

Considerations when buying a heat pump water heater

Types of heat pump water heaters

There are two different types of heat pump water heater:

  • split systems; and
  • all-in-one units.

Split systems have the compressor unit outside and the hot water tank generally inside although the tank can also be located outside the house separate from the compressor. In some cases you can use your existing tank.

All-in-one units have the compressor and tank together and the whole system usually sits outside.

How heat pump water heaters work

A refrigerator moves heat from inside the fridge to the outside - keeping the inside cold. A heat pump water heater uses the same principle in reverse. It transfers heat from outside air into a hot water tank.

The outside air gets heated up by energy from the sun all year round. So even when the sun is not shining brightly, or it is the middle of winter, there is still solar heat energy in the air that is available for use.

Heat pump systems only use electrical energy to ‘move' the heat - they don't actually ‘make' heat. This makes heat pump systems much more efficient than traditional electric or gas water heaters.

Some systems incorporate an electric element booster, for when the air is too cold for their heat pump to extract heat efficiently, while other systems can operate at very low temperatures and still produce enough hot water at good efficiencies. There are also systems that are designed to be used only in warmer areas.

The actual efficiency that you would get from a heat pump water heater depends on the make of the system, the quality of the installation, the average temperatures where you live and the location of the compressor unit.

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