Hybrid water heaters save money in long run

LOS ANGELES Most of the water heaters sold are conventional ones, but sales of hybrid water heaters are growing.

"When they come to understand about the efficiency, how it costs a little more up front but will save them a lot of money over time, then they get more interested in it. So we're selling more of these models," said Jan Tadorski, a salesman.

Hybrid water heaters cost about $1,000 more than a conventional electric heater. How long will it be until you really start saving? /*Consumer Reports*/ tested three models to answer that question.

Hybrid water heaters work like conventional electric ones, but they also have a pump that draws in heat from the air to help heat the water. Hybrid water heaters tend to be taller because the pump is usually mounted on top. As a result, you'll need at least a 7-foot ceiling and about 1,000 cubic feet of space.

To evaluate, engineers set the temperature to 65 degrees in a specially built enclosure. The test results were based on how much hot water a family of four might use in a day, which is about 80 to 85 gallons.

It turned out that the hybrid water heaters that were tested by Consumer Reports can save you more than $300 a year compared to a conventional electric water heater.

"That means they could pay for their purchase price and installation costs in as little as five years. That's a lot faster than either solar or tankless heaters," said Bob Markovich of Consumer Reports.

If you're looking to buy a hybrid heater, Consumer Reports said a Rheem model is a good choice. It costs about $1,400, plus installation. You'll see a drop in your electric bills right away.

Consumer Reports said if you're thinking of buying a hybrid water heater, now is definitely the time to do it, because there is a 30-percent federal tax credit available through the end of 2010.

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