Buying a new hot-water system, in summary:
- Buying decisions for big items requires rational, logical thought.
- Set your requirements, and be flexible.
- There will be situations where time is not a luxury to make quick decisions.
UPDATE: Click here to read my update on the unit six months after the installation
Last week, my family & I jumped into the car with our pyjamas on. It it had been four days since our hot water system was out of action, and we were on our way to the mother-in-laws house for a shower. We had been through quite a few big expenses of late, and this was another one to add to the list.
Our 18 year old electric system just hadn’t been working properly, and over winter we noticed the lack of hot water. In an attempt to use the relief valve, it got stuck and would not shut off. We could either spend $200+ reparing an old unit, or put that money towards a new system. We set a budget of at least $1500, knowing almost nothing about hot water systems.
Then we deducted our requirements:
- Larger than our existing system (140L), and from researching online, needed a minimum of 250L
- Cost the same or less to operate (~$65 per quarter, tarriff 33)
- Budget: $1500-2000 installed
- Replaced as quick as possible
Queensland regulations state that we must now install a greenhouse efficient hot water system, where we have reticualted natural gas available. After quick phone call to AGL, who put me on to Natural Gas Connections (because they have the actual gas network maps…) I was out of luck. In my conversation I also found out that once the street is established, highly unlikely that gas will ever be laid.
Not to be deterred, I had a look at bottled LPG options. The concensus from online looking and confirmed by a friend was that 45KG bottles would cost $100 each, and I’d probably need to replace one about once a month. With LPG gas, this would have certainly tripled my running costs. Similarly, a larger electric unit of double the size would have lead to a larger electricity bill, and this was undesirable.
After all of this research, it had been a good two days without hot water. At this point I was going to bite the bullet on a new full electric system. My brother-in-law pointed me to some of the rebates that I could get from the Queensland and Australian governments, and I started my discovery on heat pumps. I’ll let you do your own reading on these, but the conclusion was that I could reduce my hot water electricity bill to about 25% of what I currently pay, with the government helping to foot the bill.
The cream of the crop seemed to be a Stiebel Eltron Heat Pump, and had very good reviews online. It only came in one size, 300L. By its efficiency I anticipated a smaller bill, so far half of my requirements were met.
I found a local Brisbane company that specialised in these heat pumps, The Solar Guys, and I gave them a call. The service was very prompt. I had a return call within 15 minutes, and an appointment made for the next day. The salesman turned up on time, and confirmed everything I had read about heat pumps and the Stiebel Eltron product. Best of all, we could have one installed within two days. Great, that was almost all of my requirements.
Of course price was going to be the killer and I was not prepared for it. Even after selling the RECs and rebates, it came in at about $1000 more than the maximum budget we had set. This caused a bit of agony but we put some numbers to the total cost. We figured that if our hot water charges drop by 75% as advertised, we would save about $200 per year, with a return on investment beyond our budget in about 5 years. I also discovered the design life is 15 years, so it may even be possible to have it pay for itself over the entire life of the unit.
Although it was a tough decision, we did not have the luxury of time to seek more quotes, look at alternatives, and come to a more considered conclusion. My three year old did enjoy his bath-in-a-bucket using water from the kettle, but my 30 week pregnant wife was rather unpleased. So we called up and booked it in, and within 48 hours we had an installed system, and hot water soon ensured.
Overall, I was happy with the purchase, happy with the service we received, and happy we had hot water again. I was not happy about the time I had to research and make that decision, and that the event was untimely in our current household economic cycle. But, if it makes me feel any better, at least I’m helping the environment and reducing my carbon footprint.