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Choosing and installing the right heat pump

Heat pumps source heat from one of two places - from ambient air or from underground. Installing a ground-source heat pump generally only makes sense if you’re building a new house. So we’re focusing on air-source heat pumps here.

We’ve designed these 6 questions to help you get a good understanding of whether you think a heat pump might work for you, and if so, what type you might need.

1. What are the main benefits of a heat pump?

Saving energy and reducing your heating bills: When installed and operated correctly, heat pumps are a lot more efficient than other ways of heating your home.

Consistent warmth: One of the top benefits of a heat pump is the consistent heat, making your home more comfortable. The cool spots that you often get with electric baseboards are gone.

Air conditioned cooling: A heat pump can also run in reverse and cool your home in the same way air conditioning works. Doing this all summer would eat up the savings you made in the winter, but on the hottest days of the year, it’s a nice luxury to have.

2. What types of heat pump are available?

Air-source heat pumps fall into three categories:

Ductless: Ductless or mini-split heat pumps feature an outdoor compressor that gathers heat from the air and transfers it via refrigerant lines to one or more heads mounted inside, offering multi-zone heating or cooling. Ductless systems are quick and easy to install, but can become less efficient with each head that you add.

Ducted mini-split: Ducted mini-split heat pumps work in the same way as ductless mini-splits except that they also feature a hidden head (usually in the attic) with ducting running to vents in two or more rooms.

Central: Central heat pumps also have an outdoor compressor, but their heat is transferred to an indoor furnace or air handler, which uses a ducting system to carry the air around the house. If you’re replacing an existing electrical, natural gas or oil furnace, your ducting may need some modifications so that your heat pump can run efficiently.

Heat pumps also come with a choice of compressors - single speed, two speed and variable speed. Variable speed compressors are much more efficient than the other two, which is why they’re the only type we offer rebates on.

3. Where do you live in B.C.?

If you live in an area outside the Lower Mainland or Vancouver Island, you should consider a cold climate rated heat pump, designed to operate in temperatures as low as -25°C.

4. What kind of efficiency can you expect?

Heat pumps are up to 300% more efficient than electric baseboards. However, since everyone’s home is different, it’s impossible to say exactly what kind of savings you could see on your heating costs.

Be aware that there are multiple factors that can affect efficiency, such as:

  • Your heat pump’s HSPF rating (higher is more efficient at heating)

  • Your heat pump’s SEER rating (higher is more efficient at cooling)

  • Whether or not your heat pump has a variable speed compressor

  • How well draftproofed or insulated your home is

  • How warm (or cold) you run your heat pump

  • How air-tight and correctly sized your ducting is

  • How well you maintain your heat pump

  • How often you adjust the settings (a heat pump works best if you just set it and forget it)

  • How well your system has been installed

5. What’s your budget?

Like efficiency, the cost of buying and installing a heat pump can vary greatly, depending on the size of your home and the variable speed system you choose.

You can expect to pay anywhere from $6,800 to $11,000 for a mini-split, depending on the number of heads installed, and up to $14,000 for a variable speed central system. Cold climate heat pumps typically cost between $15,000-$18,000.

That might sound steep, but there are rebates available for qualified products. You can get $1,000 back for a ductless or mini-split heat pump and $2,000 for a variable speed central system.

Like any product, not all heat pumps are created equal. Apart from being less efficient, many cheaper models are also very noisy, so look for a low decibel (dB) rating and invest in a reputable brand that you can rely on for the next 10-15 years.

And of course, when you factor in your energy savings over that period, your new heat pump should comfortably pay for itself. Plus, if you ever sell your home, a heat pump is definitely a desirable feature.

6. What are the next steps?

If you’ve decided a heat pump might be for you, it’s vital to find a reliable contractor with plenty of heat pump experience. So the first thing to do is review our list of program registered contractors to find somebody in your area. Not sure what to ask them? Take a look at our list of questions.

To decide which system would be most suitable, we’d recommend asking your contractor to do a heat load analysis of your home. They can also help you to select a heat pump from our list of qualified products so that you can claim your rebate.

Maybe it’s time you took a closer look at heat pumps to find out what type could bring you the biggest savings.