Buying a Heat Pump: The Ultimate Guide

While this may be spring and you may be thinking about outdoor improvements, you'll still be very much aware of just how much it cost you to heat your home this past winter. NOW is the time to consider your options and get a solution in place before the next winter.

One of these solutions is the increasingly popular energy efficient choice of heat pumps. Clean Nova Scotia put together information that addresses the more popular questions to help you make an informed decisionfor your situation.

For more effective ways to make your home more energy efficient, be sure to visit their website for a wealth of helpful information.

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Heat pumps are a very efficient technology and now with the availability of ductless heat pumps, almost any homeowner can take advantage of them.

How heat pumps work

HOW THEY WORK

Heat pumps act much like a reverse refrigerator, transferring heat from one place to another. While a fridge transfers heat from inside the fridge to outside to cool the inside space, a heat pump will transfer heat from
outside the home to inside. This means that instead of generating heat like electric baseboards do, they can use electricity to give more heat for less cost.

TYPES

Heat pumps need a source of heat to transfer from, either the outside air, the ground, or a large body of water. Systems that transfer heat from the ground or water are called “geothermal heat pumps” and systems that transfer from the outside air are called “air-source heat pumps”. The vast majority of heat pumps installed today are air-source, as geothermal heat pumps require deep drilling, large land lots, or permitted access to a body of water.


No matter what the heat source, heat pumps are configured in one of two ways. While DUCTED heat pumps require ductwork throughout the house to distribute heat from one central location (almost like a furnace), DUCTLESS heat pumps are installed on a wall and act as a localized heat source, like a wood stove does. This second type is what most homeowners will be shopping for, especially if they have electric or hot water baseboard heating.

Heat comparison chart

EFFICIENCIES

As a comparison, most oil-fired furnaces and boilers range between 65-85% efficient, depending on the age and maintenance of the unit. This means that for every $1 of oil you buy, you get anywhere between $0.65 and $0.85 worth of heat, while the rest is lost during the burning of the oil. Electric heat from baseboards, boilers or furnaces is considered 100% efficient, meaning there is no loss of energy through a combustion process; however the difference in cost between oil heat and electric is not as much as many expect. Finally, because of the difference in operation, heat pumps normally range between 200-300% efficient as they can supply the same amount of heat using much less energy.

Ductless heat pump

SYSTEM COMPONENTS

There are 2 components to a ductless heat pump: an outside condenser that looks like a large air conditioning box, and an inside "head" that is mounted high on a wall and acts to blow the hot air into the space. Sometimes, based on the size, shape and layout of a home, you may need more than one head to properly heat a home, and these could either be attached to one condenser or each attached to their own condenser.

A centrally ducted system also has the exterior condenser but inside the home, usually in a utility room, a large air handling unit acts like a furnace. The warm air is distributed around the home via air ducts.

BEFORE YOU START

Many homeowners considering a new heating system miss the most important step of all: making sure the home is ready. This means ensuring your insulation is up to today's standards to retain the heat you are paying for. After all, any heating system only needs to turn on when your house cools down, so slowing down the cooling process is the best way to reduce your heating costs. A Home Energy Assessment will help you determine whether your insulation is sufficient and where you may be losing that precious heat. Check out www.efficiencyns.ca/assessment for more information.

SIZING & QUOTES

When you are shopping for a heat pump, we highly recommend working with a qualified HVAC (heating, ventilation & air conditioning) contractor. They will be able to ensure the unit you purchase is properly sized, properly installed and reliable. Sizing is the most important factor when choosing a heat pump, and while we don't expect any homeowner to know how to size a heat pump, there is something you can watch for. There are 2 ways that someone can size a heat pump, either by the square footage of the house OR through a much more intensive process called a heat load analysis. This involves aspects including the size of the home and each room, the size and placement of each window, the air flow between rooms and floors etc. and requires the use of a computer program. If someone tries to give you a quote based simply on the square footage of the home, we suggest you move on to the next quote. You should insist that a full heat load analysis be done to ensure the unit will perform properly and efficiently.

When you're ready to shop for this major purchase, you may want to check out the tools & tips in our our Resource Library (www.efficiencyns.ca/resource-library), like a worksheet to help you compare heat pump quotes.

COOLING WITH A HEAT PUMP

While many homeowners are attracted to the cooling ability of heat pumps, remember that it costs the same to cool your home as it does to heat it. Be careful not to rely too much on mechanical cooling or you may end up accidentally 'doubling' your heating season and costs. If you do use the cooling feature, be sure to do so with the doors and windows closed, and cool your home only to a manageable temperature. Also try to find other ways to keep the heat out, such as closing curtains and blinds during the sunniest times of the day, and opening windows once the outside air temperature drops. If your home regularly overheats, it may be a sign that of inadequate insulation that is not keeping the heat out of your home.

REBATES

It’s important to note that while Efficiency Nova Scotia offers rebates to homes primarily electrically-heated to install centrally ducted heat pumps, we do not currently rebate ductless heat pumps or heat pumps for oil-heated homes. Following discussions with the heat pump industry by our third party consultants, it was discovered that ductless mini-split heat pumps are already so popular in Nova Scotia that most people would choose to install one even without our rebate. Since we are required to prove to the UARB that the existence of our rebate influenced the decision of the homeowner, this would not be the case with most heat pump installations therefore we have moved those funds onto other technologies.

Operating cost of ductless heat pump

FINAL THOUGHTS

Energy efficiency is an investment, and we encourage everyone to consider what works best for them. The reason why ductless mini-split heat pumps are becoming so popular is that in many cases they are a great investment – they’ll save you money over the long run, and as mentioned above, they are efficient, cost effective and generally easily installed. In fact, even without rebates available, these systems are still a great investment in many cases.

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