Project: Heat pump water heater
Customer: E.J. Klock-McCook
Home: Townhome, built 1978
E.J. Klock-McCook is no stranger to energy efficiency projects.
He leads the transportation electrification division at the Rocky Mountain Institute and has spent the last six years going through a checklist of energy efficiency upgrades on the townhome he bought with his wife.
“When we bought the house we did a top to bottom renovation,” E.J. said. “That included switching from electric resistance heat to air source heat pumps. Insulation and air seal in the attic and LED everything down to the lights in the microwave.”
They also installed new windows and switched to an induction range.
“The water heater was the last significant thing that could be done,” he said.
With his connections and knowledge, E.J. was able to find great contractors for his previous projects.
But when it came time to get rid of his old water heater, things got more complicated.
“There was a real question about whether the room was big enough without ducting it,” he said. “And how cold would it make it and would it be shutting off?”
He started talking to contractors a year ago and received unsatisfactory results. But this year, the old water heater was officially past its life and it was time to make it happen.
E.J. heard about Elephant Energy in a heat pump forum he participated in at work and decided to reach out for help.
“They were super responsive and knowledgeable and they came over and did a thorough evaluation of the house and we talked through a lot of things,” he said.
But the quote was higher than E.J. wanted so he called some other contractors to compare his options.
One didn’t understand how a heat pump water heater worked, while another was familiar with them, but didn’t think it would work in the smaller room.
“He was like, ‘this room is too small and you’re going to have to put a louvered door on here and you’re going to have to sign this waiver about the noise it creates and it’s going to switch out of heat pump mode all the time,’” he said.
“That technical issue was not cut and dry because that room, the volume of it is on the line of what the manufacturer says is the limit.”
After asking friends at work for advice, he went back to Elephant Energy.
Water Heat Solution
After another conversation with Elephant Energy, E.J. received a plan that put his worries to rest.
“They basically said, we think it’s gonna work, but here’s the plan if it doesn’t,” he said.
Doing the project during a cold weather month would allow them to immediately see if the unit would make the room too cold. If it turned out to be a problem, there were steps to address it.
“That really helped,” he said. “And we negotiated down to a good price.”
“Then from there, the whole actual experience of what they did here was fantastic.”
One of E.J.’s concerns was that the only way to get down to the mechanical room was a very expensive flight of stairs they’d had installed during their renovations. He expressed his worry that carrying a big water heater and tools down the stairs could damage it.
“And they’re like, ‘we’ve totally got it’,” he said. “‘We told the contractor up front and we’ll be on top of it during the day’ and they were.”
“There was no issue with that whatsoever. They got an extra guy to help bring it down without ever having to set it down on the wooden steps.”
There were also additional touches that went above and beyond what he’d expected.
“The plumber they used did a fantastic job and you can tell just by looking at the work,” he said. “He did a beautiful job and added some details that weren’t in the scope of work that will make it more user serviceable down the road.”
“It was definitely one of the best contractor experiences I’ve ever had and I’ve had plenty,” he said.
Results – Improved Water Heat!
Two months after the heat pump water heater was installed, E.J. is happy with the results.
“You shouldn’t have to think about a water heater much and that’s certainly the case,” he said. “It outputs plenty of hot water.”
His biggest concerns about how the unit would perform in the small room have been relieved, too.
“The whole concern about the room getting too cold turned out to be a total non-issue,” he said.
“It was pretty cold when they installed it. The baseline temperature in that room is about 58 degrees and the lowest I ever saw it was 50, which is still 5 degrees above the cut off for the unit.”
E.J. has already seen a significant drop in their energy use compared to last year at the same time, but it will take a few months to accurately see the effects.
“In the winter, the heat pump’s working really hard, but now that we’re into the mild months where it’s not doing anything on heating or cooling, then the water heater is the biggest load and it should become apparent,” he said.
The total cost for the heat pump water heater project was $5.126, which included the water heater, an electrical disconnect, and a thermal expansion tank to bring it up to code. The rebates came to $1,450.
Elephant Energy handled all of the paperwork for the rebates and made the whole process much easier than his previous renovations.
“They know what they’re talking about which is really critical,” he said. “They made the whole thing super easy from being really responsive with all the questions up front to the actual delivery of the project itself to the rebates.”