Rheem Heat Pump Hot Water Heater

Riverbluff is the third house where we have used the Rheem Heat Pump Hot Water Heater, as we have been really happy with the results.  Rheem air-source heat pump water heaters work much like a refrigerator in reverse. The heat pump extracts the heat from warm air, intensifies the heat with a compressor, delivers the heat to the water, and exhausts the cooler air. Because it uses the warm ambient air temperature to do most of the work, it is a very efficient way to heat water.

Our greatest attraction to this type of hot water heater is the energy savings.  The estimated annual electric cost for this unit is $234.  The operating cost for most 50 gallon electric water heaters is around $500 or so.  The Rheem Heat Pump Hot Water Heater is costing us about $1600 versus $400-500 for a standard electric.  So, it’s a pretty quick payback of about 4 years.

Realistically, energy efficiency features are still not the major selling point of our spec houses, so I don’t think I’m realizing this extra cost. Or, sadly, I think I could just put a normal hot water heater in and the house would still sell for the same price.  (As an aside, Joey has started to do some research into mortgages that take into account energy upgrades that will lead to a higher monthly payment, but will be made up by lower utilities bills.  Unfortunately, I don’t think the mortgage industry has gotten completely onboard with that.)  Anyway, there is a little bit of a silver lining for us.  This hot water heater, along with a few other features we put into our house, get us to a low enough HERS rating to qualify for a $2000 federal tax credit. The tax credit is for contractors who build new homes that are at least 50% more efficient than a 2004 code built house. This tax credit honestly has helped us adopt certain features as the norm, like an ERV system and the water heater.

Why not gas? Part of it is the extra installation cost of running the gas lines and hooking up a gas unit.  We’re building an all electric house, as we have been really happy with the efficiencies of our ducted heat pump systems and have also switched over to an induction cooktop for the kitchen.  So, it’s hard to justify running gas for just one appliance. Plus, by going all electric, it opens up the possibility of the house being completely supplied by renewable resources in the future when P.V.s become more affordable.

I do acknowledge that the gas tankless has certain advantages, namely the lifespan of a tankless is quite a bit longer than a tank heater.  Plus, as far as energy usage, if you’re a purist, a lot of energy is lost traveling down the electric lines from the power plant to the house. So, if you were to factor in line loss, a gas tankless should be more efficient. At this point, for the small residential scale that we are building at, I don’t think solar hot water makes sense simply because it’s such a long payback time versus the heat pump hot water heater because of the much higher installation cost.

One thing to be aware of is that they are noisy, which we learned the hard way.  We put our first one in on the second floor of the Mulberry house thinking it would be most efficient to be as close to the bathrooms as possible.  Because they are a heat pump, there is fairly audible constant hum to it, which is a little obnoxious. By building high enough crawlspaces, we’ve taken care of the sound issue. Plus, we get the added bonus of the hot water dehumidifying the basement by drawing in warm, ambient air and spitting out cool, dry air.

Special thanks to Eleanor for hopping down to the crawl space to model the Rheem unit.  I mean, wouldn’t you rather look at a cute baby than a boring hot water heater?

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Tax Credit for Home Upgrades

Just announced…note that this is not for new construction, just existing buildings.

Greetings from the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy

Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling announced that approximately $6.5 million is available for a second round of the Virginia Energy Efficiency Rebate Program to make homes and businesses more energy efficient. Energy efficiency improvements include upgrading heating and air conditioning equipment, adding insulation, replacing leaky windows, and other improvements that reduce energy consumption and utility costs. Homeowners are eligible for rebates for 20 percent of the costs of qualifying energy conserving products and services, up to $2,000. Commercial consumers are eligible for 20 percent of their costs, up to $4,000. Qualified home and business owners also can reserve an additional $250 for a certified energy audit.

Three appliances have been added to the program for the second round; refrigerators, dishwashers and clothes washers. The online application, rules, forms and additional information are available at www.dmme.virginia.gov.

Applicants can apply to reserve funding for a rebate. Once approved, they then have up to six months to complete the work and redeem the reservation for a rebate check. Applications for rebate reservations will be processed in the order they are received. Once reservations deplete available funds, applications will be placed on a wait list in the order received. Wait-listed applicants may be approved for rebate reservations if additional funds become available. (The first round of funding for efficiency rebates totaling about $10 million was sold out in less than three weeks when the program opened in late October.)

The Virginia Energy Efficiency Rebate Program is administered by the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, using funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. More information is available at www.dmme.virginia.gov.

You received this email because you signed up to be notified when a second round of efficiency rebates was available. Do not reply to this email. If you have a question please send it to FAQefficient@dmme.virginia.gov.

A separate Solar and Wind Incentive Program also has opened a $3.5 million second round of funding to help defray the costs of solar electric, solar thermal and small wind energy systems for residents, businesses, and non-profits. Information is available at www.dmme.virginia.gov.

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Energy Efficiency – Incentives for Homeowners

The City of Charlottesville, the Commonwealth of VA, and the federal government are all providing incentives to homeowners to make their homes more energy efficient. If you have (or have not) ever thought of improving the energy efficiency of a home that you already own, it may be worth your time to look at the paybacks of these incentives. I have tried to compile everything I know of here. If you know of anything I am missing, please let me know!

CITY OF CHARLOTTESVILLE

Property Tax Assessment for Energy Efficient Buildings
Scroll to bottom of City webpage for attachments
This is a creative incentive that gives homeowner’s a one-time 50% property tax credit if they are able to show the house is a 30% energy efficiency improvement over the building code standard. This can be certified if the house meets performance standards of the Green Globes Green Building Rating System, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) System or the EarthCraft House Program; or qualifies as an Energy Star home under federal Energy Star criteria. There are a few certified Home Energy Raters in the Charlottesville area that can help.

Hot Water Heater and Programmable Thermostat Rebates

Local Energy Alliance Program
The City and County worked together to win a $500,000 grant for their proposal to create a local energy program designed “to achieve unprecedented energy and water savings by retrofitting buildings and installing renewable technologies in all end use sectors. The program is designed to achieve 30% – 50% market penetration and a 20% – 40% efficiency gain in 5-7 years.” This seems pretty ambitious to me, but I support their efforts. The program should be up and running in January, so I’ll post more info on this program as it becomes available.

A Green City (City of Charlottesville Incentives for Reference)
Spark (City of Charlottesville Incentives for Reference)

VIRGINIA

Efficiency Rebate and Solar and Wind Incentive Programs
New applications to the Efficiency Rebate and Solar and Wind Incentive Programs closed on November 18. Current requests to reserve rebates have exhausted the first round of funds. A second round of rebate funds is expected to be made available at a later date to be determined.

Dominion Power Proposed Programs
Dominion seeks state approval of 12 energy-saving and demand-reducing programs. These should be approved (or denied) in February 2010. Look out for info in your bill.

DSIRE (State Incentives for Reference)

FEDERAL

Federal Tax Credits for Energy Efficiency (Energy Star)
Tax credits are available at 30% of the cost, up to $1,500, in 2009 & 2010 (for existing homes only) for:

    Windows and Doors
    Insulation
    Roofs (Metal and Asphalt)
    HVAC
    Water Heaters (non-solar)
    Biomass Stoves

Tax credits are available at 30% of the cost, with no upper limit through 2016 (for existing homes & new construction) for:

    Geothermal Heat Pumps
    Solar Panels
    Solar Water Heaters
    Small Wind Energy Systems
    Fuel Cells

Department of Energy (Federal Incentives for Reference)

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Home Purchase Tax Credits Extended

Federal Housing Tax Credit Extended

    $8,000 first-time home buyer tax credit
    $6,500 tax credit for repeat home buyers

If you would like to own a home, now is a great time to take advantage of federal dollars to help you out. To qualify for the tax credit, a home purchase must occur on or after January 1, 2009 and on or before April 30, 2010. Note also that there are income restrictions.

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Cooling off, keeping it fresh

We just got our heating and air conditioning system hooked up and running at the end of the week. To be honest, we haven’t needed it as we have been leaving all the windows open at night to cool the house down. When we get there in the morning, we shut all the windows. With the house being so well insulated, it has been staying in the low seventies inside even when it’s over ninety and muggy outside.

For, the HVAC system, I sort of take things for granted and really don’t think the things we are doing are that amazing. Anybody building to earthcraftt or leed standards is already doing all of this. In the little bubble of friends and like minded builders, it already feels like the norm and not a big deal. But, lot of people are not doing these things, so running through some of the things we did:

properly sized the duct work for each space and properly sized the equipment based on the manual j calculation. Lot of HVAC folks still like to rule of thumb of it rather than sizing things appropriately. Our HVAC guy had two seperate programs run the calculation. One came up with a load that needed a 3 ton heat pump, the other 2.5 ton. We intentionally went with the undersized as it is more efficient and if you oversize a system you leave open the chance for cooling off a space too quickly and not taking the humidity out.

We went with a variable speed air handler, meaning the blower motor ramps up slowly rather than blasting all at once. More efficient, quieter.  We made sure to get equipment  that met the Federal Stimulus package qualifications for energy efficiency to receive the $1500 tax credit to the homeowner.

With the house being so tight because of all the spray foam insulation, indoor air quality can really suffer as you can easily end up with stagnant polluted air.  Pretty much, if you are working with foam, whether it be SIPS, spray foam, superior walls, you have got to introduce fresh air.

We went with a ventilation control that introduces fresh air directly into the return plenum of the air handler. It’s got a damper on it that that is electronically controlled to open at proper time intervals. It also has a temperature sensor and a humidistat, so that it does not open up it is incredibly humid outside in the summer, or below freezing in the winter.  Now they also make a control that costs about three thousand more that conditions outside air on its way in, which is awesome, but I can’t find anything quantifiable that you will ever make your money back on that. The folks at Oak Hill National Labortories are doing some pilot homes where they are trying to achieve a zero energy home and they are just going with the same type we are using, so I feel fine about copying them.

Honestly, the big thing I want to push myself in the coming years is to make the move towards geo thermal because of the greatly increased efficiency and durability of the system. While removing the cap on the tax credits is great, the expense is still  prohibitive. I’m hoping as more people move to it, it will bring the cost down in the coming years.

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