While electric cars and e-bikes get a lot of attention, there’s a forgotten technology living in your basement or garage that can help significantly reduce your carbon footprint without ever leaving home. Heat pump water heaters (HPWH) not only save 1 ton of CO2 emissions annually compared to gas water heaters; they also reduce the average household’s energy bills by $200-$500 annually. Oh, and there is a 30% federal tax credit up to $2,000 for purchasing and installing this efficient water heater.
Manufacturers of HPWHs continue to innovate and come out with great products, and in previous CleanTechnica articles, I’ve reviewed some of the latest models. To date, I’ve profiled the new Rheem 120V plug-in heat pump water heater as well as the A. O. Smith Voltex AL HPWH, and written about how central heat pump water heaters act as giant thermal batteries, making them a crucial tool to decarbonize water heating in apartment buildings.
In this post, I review one of the workhorses of the heat pump water heating world — Bradford White’s Aerotherm Series. I include my own observations as well as feedback from leading installers who have experience with the Aerotherm.
Updates to the Bradford White Aerotherm Series HPWH
Bradford White is one of three manufacturers producing the majority of HPWHs currently sold in the U.S. The latest version of its HPWH, called the Aerotherm, was released in early 2023. It includes a few significant updates that improve the connectivity and safety of the appliance as well as offers more operational choices for consumers.
Microban: The Aerotherm now comes equipped with a Vitriglas hot water heater tank embedded with Microban — a product used in many household objects that helps “inhibit the growth of microbes on product surfaces.” Microban is applied to the inside of the Bradford White tank during the manufacturing process and protects against the growth of bacteria, mold and mildew.
Hybrid Plus Mode: Most heat pump water heaters have four operating modes which allow you to choose how efficient you want your water heater to be and how fast you want it to heat your water (pro tip: I exclusively run my HPWH in heat pump mode only as it is the most efficient and heats water plenty quickly for my family of four). Bradford White added a fifth mode called “hybrid plus” mode that runs a modified algorithm that can lead to an overall faster recovery during high demand situations. In my opinion, heat pump mode should work fine for nearly everyone, but it’s nice to have extra choices.
Device connector: HPWHs can act as“thermal batteries” that communicate with the grid, heating water when power is abundant and turning off during periods of high electricity demand without anyone noticing the difference. Bradford White enhanced the Aerotherm’s grid connectivity by creating an improved “Connect” device that can be placed up to 100 feet away from the appliance. This enables the water heater to participate in utility programs and get rewarded for using power at times when energy demand is lowest. This Connect device can also be used by building owners to monitor hundreds of water heaters and learn when a water heater needs service.
Additional Benefits of the Aerotherm Series HPWH
With nearly 1,500 union (UAW Local 1002) workers at its plant in Middleville, Michigan, Bradford White is the only manufacturer producing HPWHs built exclusively in the U.S.
Bradford White purchased GE’s Geospring line of HPWHs in 2017. The Geospring was one of the first HPWHs on the market, coming out in 2009, which means Bradford White has a long and proven track record of manufacturing HPWHs.
Bradford White doesn’t sell to retail stores, preferring instead to partner directly with qualified installers. To purchase one, you’ll have to work with a professional contractor who installs Bradford White products (contractor finder here). While this might be a little cumbersome to a consumer, this helps ensure products are installed correctly and warranty issues are addressed properly. Bradford White offers 24/7 technical support assistance to contractors and a benefit is that its HPWHs can be serviced in the home. Many other companies will replace a HPWH under warranty rather than fix it, while Bradford White highlights the repairability of its product as a faster, more affordable,and convenient solution for homeowners.
Finally, electric tank water heaters traditionally require a 30 amp breaker in the home panel box. Bradford White AeroTherm can also operate on a 25 amp breaker that may be found in some older manufactured housing. Avoiding an electrical circuit upgrade can keep the total installation costs for HPWHs down, which is always good.
Assessments of the Aerotherm Series HPWH
Carbon Switch published a review of the three leading HPWH brands/manufacturers, and ranked Bradford White last. They faulted Bradford White on:
- Price: Carbon Switch reported that Bradford White’s HPWH was more expensive than Rheem and A.O. Smith. At the time of writing this article, Rheem’s 50 gallon HPWH was listed at $1,699 on Home Depot’s website, A.O. Smith’s 50 gallon HPWH was listed at $1,950 on Lowes’ website and Bradford White’s was listed at $2,226 on Ferguson’s website. Bradford White responded that included in its price are the features and contractor assistance. Bradford White also provides rebates to high-volume contractors. Therefore, the price of hiring a plumber to install the HPWH will be different from the retail price on the Ferguson website. Ben Larson from Larson Energy Research – recommends going with the brand your plumber recommends, “because it means they are familiar with the product, which ultimately reduces costs and improves installation quality.”
- Warranty: Bradford White has two warranty offerings: a 6-year warranty (primarily for builders) which is a little cheaper, and a 10-year warranty. Other major manufacturers offer similar warranty options.
- Noise: When the Carbon Switch article was written, the Aerotherm’s noise level was at 55 decibels, which created some sound concerns (you can hear what that sounds like here). To address these concerns, in late 2022, Bradford White reduced sound to less than 50 decibels, in compliance with NEEA Tier 4 standards, so it looks like that problem has been solved.
Thoughts from a Leading Installer on the Bradford White Aerotherm
The opinions of trusted plumbers who install HPWHs on a daily basis obviously count for a lot. For this reason, I reached out to champion HPWH installer, Steve Brotton from Great Northwest Installations, to provide us with insights into the advantages and disadvantages of the Bradford White Aerotherm.
“All HPWHs are very efficient compared to standard resistance electrical tanks. They are all good products from reputable manufacturers but there is still work required to improve all of these product lines. All manufacturers need to update installation manuals and allow for tighter install locations as we are learning about getting them into smaller spaces.
“For Bradford White’s Aerotherm I’ll list a couple pros and cons. For pros, Bradford White models have a cleaner, more commercial look and excel for ease of installation. The condensation line is more durable and less likely to crack than other models on the market. The Aerotherm also has a top connection for both hot and cold water lines. Given the Bradford White Aerotherm is not as tall as the others, the filter is also more accessible than competing models.
“The cons I find with the Bradford White: It exhausts cold air from the back, which impacts the installation location. It needs a 6” clearance on the back and both sides, which is a problem for warranty work as most installers put it up against the wall. It’s also not the quietest heat pump water heater, and doesn’t have an auto shut off/leak guard.”
In response to the clearance issue, Bradford White says it provides modified installation instructions that can allow zero clearance in some applications. Bradford also recommends that contractors consider installing a whole home continuous flow leak detection system that covers the entire plumbing system and not just the water heater.
While purchasing a Bradford White Aerotherm requires working with a partnering contractor and may be more expensive, the benefits in connectivity, product history, microban technology, and ease of installation make for a great water heater.
As with every review I’ve written for CleanTechnica, I hope this one helps you get started on your heat pump journey. One final piece of advice: Make sure your plumber is familiar with HPWHs (and won’t talk you out of the technology) and ask which brand they have the most experience installing. Some plumbers won’t have any experience with HPWHs and in that case, don’t get frustrated. Seek advice from others (try ENERGY STAR’s contractor finder) until you find a good match.
Regardless of the HPWH brand and model you choose, the important thing is to think ahead. Get your HPWH before your current rusty water heater leaks all over your floor and you need something installed ASAP. Switch out your aging, 20th century gas, propane, or electric resistance water heater for a HPWH and start saving money, energy, and carbon emissions as soon as possible. Bradford White’s Aerotherm is a great product to help you start doing exactly that.
PS — Join me to celebrate HPWHs on Heat Pump Water Heater Day October 25! It’s going to be a great day to share resources and learn about this incredible technology.
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