Living Solutions: A Hybrid Hot Water Heater Installation Adventure

“Living Solutions” is a series which focuses on how SSGers are taking climate action in their personal lives.

In Canada,10% of total emissions comes from burning fossil fuels for space and water heating in homes and buildings. Shifting to hybrid water heaters and heat pumps can reduce emissions from heating and cooling; but it’s not always easy to make the switch. In this third installment of our Living Solutions series, one of our colleagues takes us on their hybrid water heater installation adventure. 

We hope this will provide a bit of insight and inspiration for your own climate action journey.

Taking climate action into our own hands

Newly installed hybrid hot water heater.

Newly installed hybrid hot water heater.

When my partner (“Handy Dandy”) and I bought our Calgary house in 2019, we knew that the natural gas furnaces and natural gas hot water tank were nearing end of life. After the very, very cold winter of 2022, we decided to stop putting off the inevitable and started making preparations to install a cold climate air-source heat pump, which are able to pull heat out of the air at −30°C, and a hybrid hot water heater, which uses both electricity and a heat pump instead of natural gas to provide hot water on demand. Reaching out to various contractors for the job, we were faced with quotes of upwards of C$46,000. 

With the furnaces and hot water tank still functioning, whenever the topic came up, all we could do was exclaim “fifty thousand dollars!” and continue to procrastinate.

As these things go, our procrastination caught up to us this year when our hot water tank sprang a leak. We went back to contractors, and were reluctantly quoted C$12,000 for the installation of just the hybrid hot water heater, coupled with some helpful hints from the contractor that “climate change isn’t real” and that his boss didn’t think it was a good idea.  

Suspicious about the quote, my beloved Handy Dandy decided to go rogue and research how much taking the project on ourselves would cost. When we saw that we could get a brand new tank for under $4,000 (we went for the Rheem Proterra 40L Hybrid High Efficiency Hot Water Heater), the DIY installation adventure began. 

crimping tool on a white surface

Handy Dandy’s fancy new crimping tool

The DIY installation adventure

We had the gasfitter come in and cap the gas line for the original tank, got all the necessary plumbing equipment (which included buying a fancy crimping tool and an added pressure tank), bought more insulation for the furnace room, and had junk collectors remove the old tank.

Once we had all the plumbing installed, we had an electrician come in to convert a 40-Amp circuit breaker (that was tied into this ridiculous sauna system in our master bath shower that we never use) to a 30-Amp circuit breaker for the tank. The breaker switch was critical because the new tank requires a 240-Volt outlet whereas our old natural gas tank needed only 120 Volts. (As Handy as my Dandy is, we weren’t able to do this bit ourselves and have it permitted without a licensed electrician, although I am assured that Handy Dandy does know how to do it). 

We decided to install the hybrid hot water heater inside our HUGE, weirdly warm, furnace room (it’s basically open to the rest of the basement) rather than outside or in a garage. Because the heat pump draws air from the surrounding area, if the temperature of the room drops by more than 8°C when the unit is functioning, it means the room is too small for the heat pump. The temperature in the room did indeed drop when we first fired up the tank, but only by 6°C, and it hasn’t had any dramatic changes since then, so EVERYTHING IS FINE. 

In total, the process ended up costing $4,600 CAD including all of the additional parts and services—under half of what we were quoted. 

Soapy dish water in a sink with a pile of dishes beside it.

The cost of DIY hot water heater installation including boiling water on the stove to do dishes for three weeks.

But it was also WAY harder than I thought it was going to be: three weeks of showering at the gym and heating water on the stove for washing dishes, all because we decided we wanted this tank. Without Handy Dandy’s DIY spirit and our stubborn desire to move away from fossil fuels, making the switch to our hybrid hot water heater not only would have cost us a lot more money, it most likely wouldn’t have happened at all. 

My conclusion is that the trade folks in Calgary weren’t quite ready for our desire to move away from fossil fuels. (Weirdly, throughout this process, the most receptive person we encountered was our gasfitter.) But I’m hopeful that, as more and more people start asking for quotes, that will change.