For those who use oil heat and in other situations where gas is not practical, the most popular option is to use an electric water heater. While standard storage tank electric water heaters are cheaper up front than gas water heaters, their energy consumption is much higher. These types of electric water heaters use an age-old technology: They pass electricity through heating elements that in turn heat the water.
Modern technology offers a better way. Hybrid electric water heaters still use electricity as their power source, while integrating heat pump technology to greatly improve efficiency. The staff at the Energy Star website explain the concept as the reverse of how a refrigerator or air conditioner works. "While a refrigerator removes heat from an enclosed box and expels that heat to the surrounding air, a [heat pump water heater] takes the heat from surrounding air and transfers it to water in an enclosed tank."
This set up lowers the electric draw during times when demand is low. When demand goes up, standard electrical heating elements are activated to meet that increased demand. Hence, the term hybrid, because two different electric technologies are in play. These types of electric heaters are also commonly called heat pump water heaters (HPWH).
Heat pump water heaters cost more initially than standard electric water heaters, but that cost will be recouped over time by their energy savings -- up to 50 percent or more compared to standard models. Also, while hybrid electric water heaters are an option for any capacity, current NACEA regulations make them a requirement for heaters larger than 55 gallons as other types of storage tank electric heaters simply can't meet that efficiency standard.
Among hybrid electric hot water heaters, we see strong feedback for the GE GeoSpring GEH50DFEJSR (Est. $1,000) 50 gallon hybrid water heater. It has a high 3.25 Energy Factor, and is rated to be 70 percent more efficient than a standard electric heater. According to the Energy Star web site, an Energy Star Qualified heat pump water heater like this GE model can save a family of four up to $330 per year in electricity costs -- paying back its initial cost premium in under two and a half years.
The GeoSpring GEH50DFEJSR gives owners a choice of four operating modes plus a vacation setting, which turns the water temperature low to conserve energy while you're away for a few days -- no need to heat water you won't be using. It works in the hybrid mode by default, but you can also set it to heat water via the heat pump only, to rely more heavily on the standard heating elements for times when demand is expected to be high, or to use the heating elements only -- though at the expense of any energy savings. Note that when it is either very cold (35 degrees or less) or hot (120 degrees or more), the water heater will work only using its standard elements. The GE GeoSpring has digital controls, so it's easy to view and change settings when needed. Water and electrical connections are at the top, so swapping in this HPWH in place of an existing standard electric water heater is relatively simple.
This hybrid water heater is also Wi-Fi connectable, though an optional GE PBX10W00Y0 Connect Plus (Est. $65) is required for that. When so equipped, you can control the modes and settings of the water heater remotely, and receive alerts and notices, via a GE or Wink smartphone app.
The GEH50DFEJSR has built up a very good track record. We spotted nearly 750 reviews at Lowes.com, where it gets a 4.5-star rating and recommendations from 90 percent of owners. Many of these reviews can also be seen at the GE web site, but you can find some additional ones as well. Overall there are nearly 810 reviews at the GE site, and a rating of 4.7 stars. The GeoSpring GEH50DFEJSR is backed by a warranty that covers parts for 10 years, and labor for one.
If you need a large capacity electric hot water heater, The GE GeoSpring GEH80DFEJSR (Est. $1,700) is similar to the GEH50DFEJSR, but with an 80 gallon capacity. It's attracted nearly 135 reviews at Lowes.com, and an equally impressive 4.5 star rating, with recommendations from 91 percent of owners thus far.
While the energy savings that hybrid/heat-pump electric water heaters offer make them a better buy in the long run, their high initial cost can be a barrier for many. If that's your situation, conventional water heaters in the Rheem Performance series look like a good alternative. Rheem Performance water heaters are the top rated water heater for 2016 according to user reviews posted at FurnaceCompare.com. These heaters are available in capacities from 20 to 50 gallons, and in tall, short and medium form factors to fit a variety water demand and installation requirements. Examples include the Rheem XE40M06ST45U1 (Est. $330), a 40 gallon electric water heater that can provide enough hot water for household of two to four people. In addition to the overall rating for the series at FurnaceCompare.com, this particular model draws solid feedback at HomeDepot.com, earning a 4.1 star score, with other Rheem performance series electric heaters scoring similarly (Home Depot is the primary retailer for this series)
Efficiency is, of course, the big issue with conventional storage tank electric water heaters, but the Rheem XE40M06ST45U1's ER of .95 means that it complies with the latest NACEA efficiency standards. Up front cost is this electric water heater's biggest virtue as it's otherwise devoid of bells and whistles.