Heat pumps help keep it cool

Posted Aug. 21, 2009, at 7:36 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:28 a.m.

In keeping with the theme of water-related problems and the all-too-soon-gone sticky summertime weather, we installed another heat pump water heater.

This one is the second-generation unit developed by Nyle Corp. in Brewer. The company is manufacturing it for North Road Technologies, which is marketing the unit across the United States.

We are installing it in my shop. We don’t use a lot of hot water in the shop, but we spill a lot of it in the process of messing with tanks and boilers. So in this hot, sticky weather, it is a little muggy in there.

Today, it was 90 degrees out and it seemed like a good day to install it.

I had preplumbed the connections to our 40-gallon electric water heater and the installation only took about half an hour. It would have taken less time, but I installed the unit on a shelf in the shop so we could help chill the area where we work. The heat pump is up in the air about six feet, where the cooling effect can drop by natural convection toward the floor. If we had installed it on the floor, the cooling effect would tend to stay there and we would have had to use fans to move the air around.

What I find intriguing about this unit is that it has been refined quite a bit.

It is simpler to install than the first-generation heat pump, which has been out for about four or five years. The original had to be wired to 220 volts, while the new one plugs into any 110-volt wall outlet. There is a control lead that will switch on the electric water element for backup, but I did not use this.

Our hot water use in the shop is low enough that I have shut off the electric elements completely.

The first-generation unit we had installed three years ago originally was tied into an 80-gallon tank at my home with no backup. We never got close to running out of hot water with a two-person household. The larger tank was important in this regard.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about tying that original unit into a 345-gallon tank that we built for a wood boiler. This is working well and the electric consumption is the same as years gone by, since the tank is highly insulated.

The Geyser, being a second-generation technology, also seems to be quite a bit quieter. I wondered about it operating in a shop where I, on occasion, walk around on a cordless phone. This will not be a problem.

I have to wonder about the possibilities that this hardware can afford people who want to fool around with moving heat and cool around houses and other buildings.

I think this thing is unobtrusive enough to be installed in living space (not just the basement) to act as an air conditioner. You would need to install two water lines to your hot water tank, which is usually in the basement, but we are talking about no more noise than a window-mounted air conditioner.

There are several things I really like about these water heaters: First, they make hot water for a half to a third the cost of conventional electric water heaters; second, we get to use the dehumidification and air conditioning this time of year, essentially for free; and third, it is made here in Maine, by someone who I have a great deal of respect for, Don Lewis and Nyle Corp., who have been innovators in heat pump technology for more than 25 years.

These devices are eligible for a 30 percent federal tax credit. There are a gaggle of heat pump water heaters that are showing up in the trade publications lately. Most of them are integrated into a tank. They look good and likely will perform similar to this unit. What sets this one apart is the fact that it is not integrated into the tank.

This allows you to use your existing water heater. And when the tank springs a leak, you can swap over the heat pump to a new tank.

And like I mentioned earlier, you can come up with new, unique things to do with this energy-saving tool. Lots of possibilities.

Questions for Tom Gocze should be mailed to The Home Page, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402-1329. A library of reference material and a home-project blog are at www.bangordailynews.com/thehomepage.html.

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