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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.
But despite that, options remain somewhat limited. Our top rated line of hybrid hot water heaters from last year, the GE GeoSpring, has been discontinued. Still, those wanting to get the most energy efficient water heater have a few good models to choose from.
Leading the pack, based on feedback, is the Rheem XE50T10HD50U0 Performance Platinum 50 Gal. (Est. $1,200). This Energy Star qualified electric hot water heater is approximately 4 times more efficient than a standard electric hot water heater. It has a high Energy Factor (EF) of 2.45, which, the maker estimates will translate to a savings of up to $340 in energy costs per year (compared to a standard electric water heater). The design also delivers more hot water faster than most standard electric water heaters -- up to 73 gallons in the first hour.
If you have a higher need for hot water, the company also offers the Rheem XE80T10HD50U0 Performance Platinum 80 Gal. (Est. $1,900). It, too, has 2.45 EF. It can deliver up to 86 gallons of hot water in the first hour, but otherwise, the two Rheem water heaters are similar.
Features include an LCD control panel that will let you set and monitor things like water temperature, heater settings, operating mode (such as high demand, vacation, energy saver and more), the heater's status, and troubleshooting information in case a failure condition is detected. It will also detect and alert you (with audible beeps) if conditions such as a water leak or below freezing ambient temperatures are detected. The Rheem water heater is also EcoNet enabled for integration with other Rheem EcoNet products, and will allow you to monitor and control the water heater via a mobile device if an optional Rheem REWRA631EWH Home Comfort WiFi Module for Electric Water Heaters (Est. $100) is installed. These Rheem hybrid electric water heaters are covered by a 10 year warranty, with one year for in-home labor.
User feedback, while not super extensive, is strong. HomeDepot.com is the primary seller of these two hybrid electric hot water heaters. The Rheem XE50T10HD50U0 garners around 150 reviews (including some originally posted at the maker's web site), and an overall rating of 4.4 stars. Around 90 percent offer it a recommendation.
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. $345), 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 4.4 star score based on around 1,300 reviews, with other Rheem performance series electric heaters scoring similarly (Home Depot is, once again, 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. The warranty is for six years, with one year for in-home labor.