Replaced my failed gas water heater with a much more efficient Rheem hybrid electric with WiFi, its quiet heat pump is also dehumidying and cooling my basement

Posted by Paul Braren on Jun 23 2019 (updated on Jun 27 2019) in
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  • IoT
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    Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Residential Energy Consumption Survey 2015 "Space heating and water heating account for nearly two thirds of U.S. home energy use"

    I've written many articles about various ways I've been trying to reduce my family's electric bills and carbon footprint. For many households in the US, water heaters are one of the top 3 energy consumers in their home, right behind heat and air conditioning for monthly utility costs. It makes a lot of financial sense to consider the total cost of ownership, even if the initial price tag is higher. I was quite relieved I found a solution for my family that is both efficient and affordable. Only time will tell for sure whether it turns out to be reliable, but the tech has been around since at least 2010, with WiFi added in 2017.

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    Yes, this article is about a WiFi connected "Smart" water heater. Shopping for a replacement for the oft-maligned failed water heater every dozen or so years when the warranty has expired isn't fun. The wait aggravates all household members until it's fixed, but the costs associated with an inefficient unit purchased in haste go on for years.

    Four days ago, I noticed our shower's hot water valve needed to be cranked further than usual, and I knew that was a bad sign. I immediately suspected a failed water heater tank, but I also knew any associated flooding couldn't be that bad. I have recently installed a Ring Alarm Flood & Freeze detector near my passively drained sump pump hole, and it hadn't alarmed. Even if that alarm had failed to signal, those 50 gallons of water would drain out that hole anyway before doing any real damage to the unfinished portion of my concrete-slab basement.

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    Rusty wet puddle under the failed water heater was not a good sign.

    Sure enough, what was waiting for me in our basement was a puddle of rusty water below our 12 year old guilty looking water heater. It was last replaced by Connecticut Natural Gas in May of 2007, and our house was built in 1994, so we seem to have a pattern of 12 to 13 years between heater failures. Maybe I should have listened better when I was reminded by family a few months ago that my water heat was due for replacement soon, if I wanted to avoid the trouble of a leak when it invariably fails.

    This time, I was eager to go with a far more efficient solution, with less emissions too if possible. Despite the rush to find a solution, I really wanted to be sure I'd be comfortable with my choice long-term. What I quickly discovered was a deep rabbit hole filled with endless dead-ends and out of stock items. Poking around Home Depot and Lowes for local inventory didn't go well, with all the efficient gas models being special order which would take over a week. That kind of wait wasn't going to go over well with family.

    Do I really want another natural gas water heater

    I started looking at efficient units with low CO (Carbon Monoxide) and low NOx (Nitrous Oxide). Good luck finding ultra efficient models in stock, at least outside of California. If I was going to go with gas again, I'd still be spewing pollution right into my local neighborhood. Spent hours searching anyway, and came up empty. I'm not a contractor, which complicates things because you can't easily check inventory at local plumbing and HVAC supply houses. Unless...

    What about tankless

    The installation labor and cost is considerably more for any tank-less system. I really wanted to see if I could retire my dehumidifier too. By the way, tankless doesn't mean instant, the hot water still has to travel through the pipes, wasting the cold water ahead of it. Instant requires a recirculating pump, not another point of failure we're particularly interested. Anyhow, the cost, and the many hours of labor to try to schedule such an extensive retrofit were not appealing. Next.

    What about a hybrid

    Having family in the HVAC business has its perks, and I gave my brother-in-law a call. I was told I should consider a hybrid model that uses a heat pump instead of traditionally energy-thirsty heating elements, and encouraged to do a little research on the various models. He also mentioned a side benefit of extracting heat from the ambient air in the unfinished area of my basement would be moisture removal, emitting only clean and cooler exhaust. This got my attention, as I checked in on the energy consumption of my dehumidifier using my Sense Energy Monitor, which pegged my annual consumption at around $110 per year. Wow. It's only running on a timer for 2 hours in the middle of the night from June to August. And it blows out hot air, in the summer. Sure would be nice to retire that bill. You can read all about the different types of water heaters at Consumer Reports.

    Even in winter, this room where my furnace and heater are located is too warm, so it's unlikely I'll have any need to duct this air outside my home, given how infrequently the heater will be needed since this room never dips below 65°F anyway, even in the winter. More likely would be for me simply switch my unit to its electric element heating mode if necessary, which could double the energy use, but would avoid the dehumidification and cooling effects of heat pump.

    Your installation situation will vary from mine, please ask your installer for details.

    Why WiFi

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    SScreenshot of Rheem mobile app, 5 days after installation.

    Personally, I would have preferred an ethernet connection, but WiFi signal is plenty strong enough in my basement too, thanks to my eero. The idea is that you can change modes for your water heater anywhere at any time using the Rheem app, as well as keep an eye on your actual energy usage in kWh. You'll need to calculate what that means in dollars for yourself, since it depends on your local electric utility company's rates and schedules.

    Anything WiFi and running an embedded OS is a very real security vulnerability. So is the data it emits, as it's cloud connected. I put mine on the guest WiFi, since it has no need to be on my primary WiFi network, and this mitigates the risk somewhat.

    It is convenient to be able to change to a less efficient mode when guests are coming over, for example. I left mine on on Heat Pump mode for now and I'll probably leave it there, unless I run into issues when family visits. You can read about the various modes in the manual here, in the Rheem video, and at Energy Star's How it Works - Heat Pump Water Heaters.

    WiFi-setup
    Quick tip - when done with the initial power-up that includes joining your WiFi network using the app, don't tap on 'setup complete' on the LCD, instead, use the left arrow.

    You can also read all about Rheem's EcoNet, with iOS and Android mobile apps, and you can read all about this product line at Rheem on the Hybrid Electric Water Heaters page.

    Being a cloud connected device via EcoNet allows integrations such as Alexa skills and Works with Nest.

    $110 Estimated Yearly Energy Cost

    Sense-view-of-dehumidifer-cost--TinkerTry.PNG
    My current annual cost of running my dehumidifier in the summer is around $119.

    Interesting. I could have a zero dollar gas bill during the summer, and heat the water in my house for roughly the same amount as I was paying before just for dehumidification. My hybrid electric heater has only been operation for 2 days when first publishing this article, but so far, my basement seems quite comfortable, and it was pretty hot and humid these past 2 days. I'll need more days and more time to really know for sure. Also worth noting that my TinkerTry lab workbench/recording studio is down there in my basement about 25' away from this unit, and I don't have any air conditioning on that level of our hose. So cooler and less humid air sure sounds good to me, as well as keeping things quiet. By the way, these systems are Energy Factor (EF) of 3.5, seen here.

    No gas bills in the summer

    I have a furnace that is gas powered, but it's completely off (other than the pilot light) from May to September. Now I'll enjoy some summer months of near-zero charges from Connecticut Natural Gas, furthering my savings by going hybrid electric for water heat.

    Prerequisites for hybrid electric water heaters

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    You really need to have several of these circumstances to be eligible for installing such a hybrid water heater:

    1. large enough area for the installation, at least 10' x 10' x 7' high / 700 square feet
    2. a convenient way for the condensate (water) to be drained out of the home
    3. a willingness to rinse the air intake filter every few months
    4. ambient air temperatures between 37°F and 145°F
    5. for much faster recovery time between showers, a 30 amp / 240V dedicated circuit is recommended, but 15 amp variants are available
    6. PEX or flexible plumbing when joining existing copper lines, to avoid transmission of (small) vibration

    See also many more details from energy.gov, including energy savings and payback calculations.

    Home Depot just started stocking these units on June 21 of 2019, which is good for those with the DIY skills. If you're replacing a natural gas system, remember, the gas line and flue vent must be capped, and that should be done by a professional, which is the route I went.

    These Rheem units have been available to consumers via special order since the product line was launched back in 2017. But it's the only such unit with a very reasonable 49dB noise level, as seen on the comparison table (from 2017) here. It also has the advantage of begging readily available to many local HVAC & plumbing contractors at supply houses, with my brother-in-law finding my Rheem PROPH50 T2 RH350 DCB here at Sid Harvey Industries, Inc. in nearby Hartford CT.

    Rheem's contractor locator is found here.

    There's the consumer model, and there's the professional model for contractors

    I contacted Rheem customer service by phone. The representative was helpful, and confirmed that the specifications are the same for each unit, they just come with different packaging and emblems. The specs listed and shown below seem to confirm this, with identical shipping weights as well.

    Price - $549 after rebate!

    At Home Depot, the unit is $1299 - $750 rebate = $549 (plus install/parts), your state rebates will vary, see also energy star utility partner list.

    In Connecticut, turns out $750 rebates were available for either the consumer or the professional versions of the same product. A rather nice perk for the professional version, but only in the 50 gallon capacity. That's right, no rebate for the 65 or 80 gallon versions. So we chose the 50 gallon professional version available to contractors only. Installation parts & labor cost extra, of course.

    At Home Depot, the consumer version is currently $1,299.00, and it just became a stocked item this week, which my local Berlin CT store confirmed. This is good, as long as folks notice the $750 Energize Connecticut rebate slip, but I'd need to wait for a bit to get my check. We decided to go with my HVAC contractor picking it up and installing it instead. So far, so good!

    Specs and Manuals

    Consumer
    Here's the Rheem product page:

    Performance-thumbnail
    Rheem-Performance-Platinum-specs
    Notice the difference in the recovery time for the 15 amp versus the 30 amp models.

    Professional - My Choice (bought and installed by contractor)

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    2019-06-23_20-24-31
    Notice the difference in the recovery time for the 15 amp versus the 30 amp model I went with.

    Buy

    Consumer (Home Depot)
    Here's Home Depot's order and local inventory checker page:

    home-depot-logo

    Here's Home Depot's order and local inventory checker page:

    home-depot-logo

    Consumer (Online)
    If you found this article and choose to buy online, please consider using these Amazon Associate links. Consider signing up for Amazon Prime if you haven't already, since the free shipping will really help on these units that range between 218 and 244 pounds of shipping weight:

    Professional - My Choice (bought and installed by contractor)
    My contractor bought the PROPH50 T2 RH350 D for me at the after $750 CT rebate price, which is a pretty awesome.

    Rheem's contractor locator is found here, they get any eligible rebates when buying, registering, and installing the unit for you.

    Parts needed for my install

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    Some of what I needed to complete the installation.

    Of course, your needs will vary, have your professional installer take care of this. Here's just some of the parts:

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    Rheem-partner-logos

    Video

    Paul Braren - Jun 25 2019 - Close look at water leak detection & noise levels of Rheem Prestige Professional Hybrid Water Heater
    Rheem - Aug 28 2018 - How it Works: Rheem Prestige Series Hybrid Heat Pump Water Heaters
    Matt Risinger - Jul 06 2018 - $1500 Heat Pump Water Heater - Worth it?
    Matt Risinger - Apr 20 2018 - Water Heater Tank Autopsy: You won’t believe what’s inside!
    Matt Risinger - Jan 19 2017 - 2017 Rheem Hybrid Electric Water Heater - Whats new from the International Builder Show

    Photos

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    Jun 25 2019 Update

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    After a lot of humidity and heat outdoors yesterday and today, the basement is staying quite comfortable, this is good.

    With some more days of data now under our belt, guestimating what our energy use will be per month is easier, at least for summertime. We're at 13.41 kWh after 5 days of time. So multiplying by 6 to estimate what 30 days would cost equals roughly 80 kWh per month.

    So I take my last Eversource bill, and take the total dollar amount of the bill and divide it by the number of kWh used, and I get $0.19, meaning, 19 cents per kWh.

    Now multiplying 80 kWh per month by $0.19 = $15.00 dollars per month. That's $180 per year for hot water for my sinks and shower, and for dehumidification of my basement. Awesome! Pretty much what the yellow ENERGYGUIDE sticker claims (pictured above) of $110 per year, if my electric rate was 12 cents per kWh.

    When signing up for an EcoNet account, they only asked for my zip code.

    Today, my installer also registered my system with Rheem under my name and address, presumably for warranty coverage and/or recall notifications.

    Looking at my wifi status menu, I see I'm currently at:
    EcoNet Wifi SW Version - RH-WIFI-02-01-05
    WiFi Module SW Version - 14.76.36.p103

    Looking at my service menu, I see I'm currently at:
    Software Version Number: WH-HPW4-H3-01-27
    as seen in my video above.


    See also at TinkerTry

    All articles about Efficiency.

    ring-alarm-first-look

    I'm using this system to monitor for leaks:

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    Turns out this Rheem tank also has leak detection and alerting built in, seen pictured above.


    See also

    powerwall
    • Tesla Powerwall

      When the grid goes down, solar energy will continue to power your home and charge your Powerwall.

    solarroof
    • Tesla Solar Roof

      Solar Roof integrates with the Powerwall home battery, allowing you to use solar energy whenever you choose and providing uninterrupted electricity during grid outages.

    CO2-Integrated-Heat-Pump-Water-Heater-Performance-Report-FINAL

    logo

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    energy-star
    HeatPump_Works
    • How it Works — Heat Pump Water Heaters (HPWHs)

      During periods of high hot water demand, HPWHs switch to standard electric resistance heat (hence they are often referred to as “hybrid” hot water heaters) automatically. HPWH come with control panels that you to select from different operating modes 1, which include:

      Efficiency/Economy – Maximizes energy efficiency and savings by only using the heat pump to heat water
      Auto/Hybrid – The default setting is ideal for daily use, providing energy-efficient water heating with sustained heat
      Electric/Heater – This high-demand setting is the least energy-efficient, using only the electric element to heat water
      Vacation & Timer (not available on all models) – Save on your energy when away from home by placing the unit in "sleep" mode until you return


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