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Q&A Spotlight

Seeking Quiet Heat Pump Water Heaters

Is noise part of the bargain for a HPWH?

Complaints of heat pump water heater noise is not unique to Rheem models. Photo courtesy of Scott Gibson.

GBA community member “acrobaticnurse_Eli” (Eli for short) wants to replace the electric resistance water heater located in his encapsulated crawlspace with a Rheem heat pump water heater (HPWH). However, he is having second thoughts based on complaints he has read from Rheem customers regarding the latest generation of models. Excessive noise seems to be a regular gripe.

Eli wonders if the noise issue has been solved in the last few years, or whether there are other HPWH brands he should consider. He writes, “My main concern is adding something that will produce irritating noise throughout the house and/or will break in 5-10 years. In the meantime, I’m maintaining a 25-year-old electric water heater while contemplating future options, aside from another silent electric resistance heater.”

Eli shares some crawlspace specifics: It measures 1200 sq. ft. and 4 ft. tall with a small section just tall enough to fit a heat pump water heater, while allowing access to the filter on top. It equates to roughly 5000 cu. ft. (He thinks most HPWHs require about 1000 cu. ft.) His crawlspace is usually about the same temperature as the rest of the house year-round; it is inside the building enclosure.

Regarding noise

One reader installed sound-absorbing cork insulation panels between his HPWH and the walls around it, and that seemed to handle most of the noise. Another suggests that because Eli’s HPWH won’t be touching any of the building structure, which could carry sound, the noise level should be fine.

Reader recommendations for alternatives to Rheem HPWHs include the Stiebel Eltron Accelera 300E—the listed operating sound level is 60 db.—and A.O. Smith models. Eli wonders why the Accelera 300E doesn’t have an Energy Star rating, but he likes the fact that it uses a powered anode, rather than a sacrificial anode. The…

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  1. acrobaticnurse_Eli | | #1

    I appreciate all the feedback. With proper soundproofing it's possible the noise level would be ok in my situation. My biggest concern would be reliability. I would not want to install a 200-300 pound water heater in a tight crawl space and need to replace it in less than 5 years. I've seen a number of people mention getting warranty replacements, but with an old fashioned electric resistance water heater as long as I keep the anode replaced or put in a powered anode I can just focus on occasionally replacing a $20 heating element, maybe a $40 thermostat, and never have to deal with replacing the whole thing.

    While I would like to get a 66 or 80 gallon heat pump to optimize efficiency, I'm more likely to get a 40 or 50 gallon tank that I could realistically uninstall/reinstall myself if needed. I think my next step will be to monitor my water heater's energy use by adding a direct circuit ct sensor on my emporia vue energy monitor to see how concerned I should really be regarding heat pump vs electric resistance in terms of energy costs. 

    1. Chris_in_NC | | #2

      If you wanted to go the "buy it for life" route with an electric resistance heater, a Rheem Marathon with a polymer tank is a good but expensive choice. Just stay away from the 'compact' 50 gal model, which for some reason has a really low first hour rating. Likely something to do with the short/fat tank with round ends, which probably messes with stratification. The rest of the model lineup is perfectly normal first hour rating.

      1. acrobaticnurse_Eli | | #3

        Thank you Chris,

        I almost installed a rheem marathon a couple years ago when I thought that surely my then 23 year old water heater must be on its last legs. Replacing the anode and one of the heating elements in the old heater gave me a little more time, and I was turned off of the marathon upon realizing that for whatever reason it uses a different size heating element from most every other water heater so it's a special order item that not only costs more but I can't just go to a store and pick one up like for every other electric water heater. The lifetime warranty also only covers the tank itself, and the connections get complaints for being fragile since it's plastic rather than metal. With no anode the non tank parts also seem more prone to failure. 

        I eventually decided I'd be better off with something like the basic tank I already have plus a powered anode and a full bore brass drain valve I could install before placing it in the crawlspace. I've since come across other promising options such as a stainless steel tank that not only would have similar protection against corrosion but be stronger than the marathon and still take regular heating elements. Lowes sells a few such models under the Ariston line. The Ariston Suprema includes a mixing valve that lets the tank store water as high as 170F while the output can be 120F. There are different models with or without anodes, so I could readily add a powered anode for extra protection of hardware other than the tank. 

        I'd really like the efficiency of a heat pump water heater if I could expect it to be reliable. I already have a Miele heat pump dryer and a central heat pump for heating/cooling my home, so adding a heat pump water heater would seem to make sense. If the gen 4 rheem model or something similar were still available I'd buy it, and I just keep hoping something like that will come out again. 

        I've even considered the Sanco2 with my main misgivings being the price and that in order to get warranty coverage I would need to have it installed by one of their approved installers, not just a regular plumber much less a DIY install. The Sanco2 might never make financial sense at its current price point but I'm hoping to see more split pump options. It seems that a decade or so ago there were some available that could work with a regular tank but none appear to be readily available anymore. Their efficiency was only about half that of modern heat pump water heaters, but still twice that of standard electric resistance heaters.

        1. Chris_in_NC | | #4

          I'm somewhat in the same boat. I either have to expand our laundry room footprint to house a full height water heater (of any variety), or get a rather expensive Sanco2 with the short tank, or just "kick the can down the road" and replace with another lowboy electric heater and see what shows up in the pipeline for better options later. I think the latter is the choice for now.

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