Heat Pumps, Continuous and Storage Hot Water Systems: What’s the Difference?

If you are someone who is looking to replace your water heater, you’ve probably already come to find out that there are tons of options on the market. There are gas water heaters and there are electric water heaters. There are instant hot water systems, storage hot water systems, and even heat pump water systems. It can get complicated quickly and make you wonder what the best option is. We’re here to provide the information you need to determine that on your own.

Understanding Heat Pump Systems

A heat pump water heater is able to take heat from any heat source and transfer it from the original source to a storage tank which creates hot water. This involves a reverse refrigeration process where the heat is transferred to a storage tank using refrigerant hot gas instead of actually creating the heat in a direct way as with other water heater systems.

A heat pump can take heat from ground water or, in some cases, from the air, but may require electric heating components which work as a backup when lots of hot water is needed or it is the winter months.

How Storage Hot Water Systems Work

A storage water heater is a bit different. These heaters have a storage tank and a burner assembly or an electric heating element in or underneath of the tank. These heaters have a low energy input and allow the water being stored to heat up gradually over a longer period of time. The stored water is typically enough to meet the needs of a family or business for a certain amount of time.

Depending on the water heating needs, the peak demand for this kind of heater can vary between 15 minutes and multiple hours. Most residential water heaters of this nature can easily provide the needed amount of water for the average family. Storage hot water systems include any that offer the addition of a storage tank.

The largest benefit of choosing this type of water heater is that it has a lower need for electrical input. However, the disadvantage is that the water has to be circulated to avoid problem. If not circulated, the water on the bottom may remain cool while the hot water rises to the top of the tank. This problem can be eliminated by having a circulation pump installed with the storage water system.

What a Continuous Hot Water System Is

Continuous hot water systems, also known as tankless water heaters or on-demand water heaters, heat the water in a direct manner without the need for an additional tank. While they are called tankless, that isn’t completely true. The instant hot water system still needs to have a small amount of storage available. However, the storage receptacle is much smaller than with other water heaters. Tankless is the term used to indicate that there is no need for a temperature or pressure relieve valve, although the latter is still useful to have.

When it comes to heat input for this type of hot water system, there is a maximum indicated by the manufacturer but otherwise the amount of hot water is determined by the use of water. Some instant hot water systems offer sophisticated controls that can easily vary the energy input. There are also models with no limits on temperature that use a simpler flow switch.

The small, simple option is best for small flows and temperature rises. They heat the water up in the branch piping but can have issues if the water is quite cold. Most tankless water heaters don’t heat water beyond 105 degrees Fahrenheit, but this varies. These work for small applications rather than more massive ones.

The biggest advantages of an instant hot water system are that they take up little space and have very little stand-by heat loss. However, these heaters can be more expensive to purchase and have installed, which is a disadvantage.

Deciding Which Water Heater is Right for You

If you have extra money in the bank and don’t mind investing in your new system, an instant hot water system will often make up the cost over time. However, those who have less money to spend but need a water heater quickly may be better off with a storage hot water system.

Now that you know the pros and cons of these options, talking to a plumber is a good step to take to decide which is right for you.

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