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How Do You Heat Your Water? It May be Time for a Change!

Barnett plumbing serving a customer

The cost of heating water makes up about 20% of a typical household energy bill, which means how you heat your water – for showers, laundry, doing dishes, and other activities – can have a significant impact on your energy usage. Most water heaters in California run on natural gas, but there are efficient alternatives that can provide utility bill savings because they use less energy. Heat pump water heaters (HPWHs), which use electricity instead of natural gas, are up to four times more efficient than standard gas water heaters because they move heat from the surrounding air to the water, rather than using gas to generate heat. This efficiency, combined with the option to be powered by renewable electricity, means it takes less energy overall, and uses cleaner energy to operate.

Like most households, you may not think about your water heater until it needs to be replaced.  Approximately 800,000 water heaters are replaced every year in California, and because the majority are upgraded due to a last-minute failure, many are often quickly substituted with yet another gas water heater. Planning for this upgrade can help you evaluate your options and pick the appliance that best works for you. Because HPWHs are newer alternatives to gas water heaters, contractors are not always familiar with them, or aware that they are available. In some cases, electrical panel upgrades are also necessary, making the upgrade process slightly more complex. Still, the energy bill savings of HPWHs might just make the upgrade worth it.

Local BayREN contractors, Barnett Plumbing and Water Heaters (Barnett Plumbing) know that last-minute failures are unexpected annoyances that often result in the installation of a replacement gas water heater. Learning from their experiences, they sought to create a practical solution. In February 2022, Barnett Plumbing piloted their Emergency Replacement Program with the objective of avoiding the installation of more gas-powered appliances during emergencies. Funded by TECH Clean California (TECH), the pilot program allowed customers to receive a temporary gas water heater while the contractors worked on retrofitting the home to ensure a seamless transition away from gas. “We blew through our TECH budget because we were able to offer electric water heating replacement for the same price as a gas water heater,” says contractor Ben Foster from Barnett Plumbing. Through the program, the company was able to install 177 HPWHs. “When we presented the option to our customers, it was a no brainer for many because we explained that they can save money on their utility bill in the long run.” While the grant money has ended, the Barnett Plumbing continues to offer this service due to their initial success. “Heat pumps are the future, that’s the direction California is going. Fuel switching takes time, but we have a solution that works for the customer and the contractor.”

In the Bay Area, BayREN is helping homeowners make the switch from gas water heaters to electric-powered HPWHs through rebates and resources. We offer up to $2,000 in rebates to qualifying homeowners if they work with a BayREN contractor. The BayREN website offers the Find an Energy Professional tool that will connect you with local, knowledgeable, and qualified contractors to guide you through the process. 

With more incentives on the way, now is a great time to assess your current water heater’s lifespan and make a plan. “We are expecting to see the Self Generation Incentive Program (SGIP) Heat Pump Water Heater rebate start in the summer. Bay Area residents will be able to stack this rebate with BayREN incentives for additional savings,” says Jeffery Liang, the Single Family Program Lead for BayREN. Are you wondering how to get started? Reach out to our no-cost Energy Advisors for more information: 

Contractors that are interested in learning more about installing heat pumps water heaters in emergency replacement situations can watch the recorded webinar session hosted by Barnett Plumbing on April 12th. Watch recording.