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The adoption of heat pump water heaters is continuing to gain momentum, especially as the variety of ideal applications broadens with new, even more effective technology being released to the market.
The benefits of these devices will often speak for themselves, but that requires both proper installation and some extra communication with the customer.
As former owner of a plumbing company, a master plumber and now having the privilege of working with plumbers from across the country through Rheem's industry-leading training programs, here are a few tips that every plumber should keep in mind for their next HPWH install:
Location is Key
Speaking with your customer and finding out where they would like to install their HPWH is of the upmost importance. There are guidelines for each unit that outline ideal locations for that HPWH to be installed so that peak performance is achieved.
These places include areas with ample space, like a garage, attic or basement because large spaces allow the HPWH enough make up air for the unit to perform properly while heating the water.
Installing a HPWH in a room with less than the recommended cubic feet could suffocate the unit and will prevent it from reaching full efficiency.
Always remember to also consider other equipment if the installation is indoors, as those items will cut into the available cubic feet of the space. Ducting and/or louvered doors are also options for many HPWH units, if an application falls below the minimum space that is required.
Another factor when considering location should be condensate management, as HPWH’s produce non-acidic condensation as a byproduct of the heating process.
Finally, and often most noticeably to an unfamiliar customer, is the noise consideration of selecting a location for a HPWH.
When the unit is in heat pump mode, it produces a sound equivalent to a box fan that could be disruptive when near certain areas (i.e., the bedroom or living room) of a home. I believe it’s important to help inform your customer that these noises are a function of the HPWH’s process and should be expected, both because it helps educate them about the functionality of their equipment and as a way to help mitigate unnecessary service calls to properly functioning units.
Communicate the Unique Benefits of HPWHs
Don’t hesitate to call out the cost-saving benefits of these units. Standard electric water heaters have a UEF of 0.93 compared to the Rheem ProTerra Hybrid Electric Water Heater that has up to 4.0 UEF.
While the unit may cost more than a standard water heater, there is a $300 federal tax credit and up to $1,000 in local incentives in many municipalities that can help offset cost difference between a standard electric and a hybrid electric model, potentially allowing homeowners to purchase a more energy efficient unit at a lower price than it is more traditional counterpart.
Since HPWHs are more efficient, they can produce more hot water than a conventional electric water heater. But a HPWH can also offer some extra perks for homeowners.
A HPWH exhausts cold air as a byproduct, which can be ducted into a living space to help with air conditioning with no extra energy costs, especially in hotter areas of the country. A HPWH also can act as a dehumidifier since they pull air from around the unit and extract condensation as part of the heating process.
Although not every homeowner will see value in these extra benefits, certain installations (i.e., in a damp basement) might offer the prospect of additional cost or energy savings even beyond the HPWH’s traditional functionality.
Embrace Mutually Beneficial Technology
The technology included in many HPWH's can be a mutual benefit to you and the customer. The ProTerra Hybrid Water Heater with LeakGuard, for example, is the industry’s first hybrid water heater with built-in leak detection and auto-shutoff that limits water loss from the tank to no more than 20 ounces. Internet capabilities also can give homeowners status updates, error warnings, service reminders and more right from their smartphone.
Another technology enhancement is Rheem’s Contractor App that is meant to serve as a hub that allows plumbing contractors easy access to all things Rheem – from product information, to live technical support and training opportunities – from anywhere their job takes them. This library of troubleshooting resources places a growing range of resources at contractors’ fingertips, while enabling them to build and utilize an instant support structure of their peers in the field.
The trust between contractors and their customers can be challenging and time consuming to build, which I know firsthand from my time as a plumber in the field.
By embracing and discussing these factors with your customer prior to an installation of a HPWH, not only are you more effectively evaluating their needs, but also continuing to build the all-important trust that leads to long-term, repeat customers.
About the author: Master plumber Tom McConahay is the national plumber support manager for Rheem. McConahay started as an apprentice shortly after he got out of the service in 1993, and eventually went into business for himself in 2001. In 2016, McConahay took his talents to Rheem to help plumbers become more efficient and better prepared through education, training, and building strong relationships.