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FAQ’s for Choosing the Best Heat Pump for Your Home

Demand for heat pumps is on the rise in the United States, with 2.94 million air-source units shipped in 2018. That was an increase of 1.07 million since 2008.

Maybe you’ve thought about getting one yourself, but you’re not sure which is the best heat pump for your home. This guide will answer common heat pump questions and give you the information you need to make a decision.

What Are the Different Types of Heat Pumps?

The first thing to know is what types of heat pumps are available. The two primary types are geothermal and air source.

Geothermal

Geothermal heat pumps work by transferring heat between the ground and your house. This works because below a certain depth, the ground will still be warm in the winter, and in the summer, it will be cooler than the air.

Using this difference in temperature, geothermal heat pumps can warm or cool your house, and even heat your water, depending on how you have it set up.

The most common type of geothermal heat pump is one with a closed-loop system. With this configuration, pipes are connected in a loop underground. Water, or water mixed with antifreeze, circulates through the pipes, either absorbing the heat from the ground or putting heat back into the ground.

Open-loop systems are less common since you need to have a source of ground water readily available, such as a pond or a well. The pipes then connect directly to the water, which is used for cooling or heating.

In either case, the pipes connect to ductwork in your house to cool or warm the building.

Some of the benefits of geothermal heat pumps are that they last a long time without maintenance, and they can work in every climate.

On the other hand, if your lot is too small, or if you have the wrong type of soil, you may not be able to have one.

Additionally, since putting the pipes into the ground requires excavation, the cost of installing a geothermal system adds up. For a 2,500 square foot home, it can cost up to $25,000, although tax incentives might bring this down. If you can afford the initial investment, you’ll recover the cost in energy savings over five to ten years.

Air Source

With air source heat pumps, the system uses the air instead of the ground to move heat between your house and the outside. Air source pumps use reverse refrigeration to draw heat in from the outside, or to take the hot air from inside and move it back out.

To achieve this, the heat pumps have an outdoor compressor, and up to four indoor units. The outside unit will either be mounted on the side of the building or on a cement pad.

If you have existing ductwork in your house, you can use a ducted system.

If you don’t already have ducts, the mini-split or ductless heat pump is a better option. With these systems, the indoor units are mounted high on the wall or the ceiling, and they’re operated by remote control.

The installation for an air source system is much simpler than for a geothermal unit, and it costs significantly less, between $3,500 to $5,000. If you have multiple indoor units, the cost will be higher, but savings in energy bills will balance that out before too long.

It’s also worth checking to see if you can get any tax incentives for installing a heat pump.

How Much Does Climate Affect My Choice?

In the past, air source heat pumps weren’t very efficient in cold weather. That’s changed in recent years, but if you live in an area that drops below -10 to -25 Fahrenheit, you should have supplemental heating.

On the other hand, if you live in more moderate temperatures, a heat pump is often the best heating system for a house. Even better, because of the air conditioning and dehumidifying features, they’re one of the best choices year-round.

With a geothermal system, one of the benefits is that you don’t have to worry about the outside weather conditions impacting the system. With everything underground, even if you get lots of snow and ice, the pipes are protected. The cold air also won’t affect the efficiency of your system.

How Do I Know the Right Size?

Once you’ve decided to get a heat pump, you need to think about heat pump sizing. The right size is important for efficiency and to keep your home comfortable.

When looking at the sizing, you might see references to both British Thermal Units (BTUs) and tons of capacity.

The BTU indicates how much energy it takes to cool a pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. A ton tells you how much ice it would take to cool the same amount of air. To understand how the two relate, know that a ton has 12,000 BTUs.

The square footage of your space can give you a rough estimate of the size unit to look for. In many cases, 400 square feet requires about 10,000 BTUs, or a one-ton capacity.

You should get a more definite estimate from a professional, though, since several other factors impact the size you need. This includes considering the height of the ceilings, the amount of sunlight, and your type of flooring.

Where Can I Find the Efficiency Rating?

To find the best heat pumps, you need to look at their efficiency rating on the Energy Guide label. This will give you information about both the cooling and heating.

The Seasonal Energy Efficient Rating (SEER) indicates how efficient the unit is in the cooling mode. This is found by dividing the BTUs used in by the electricity used, giving a higher SEER rating for more efficient units.

The heating efficiency is indicated with the High Season Performance Factor (HSPF). As with the SEER, higher numbers indicate greater efficiency.

It’s also important to note that in order to make the most of your heat pump, you should prepare your home in other ways. This includes:

  • Proper insulation
  • Weather stripping and caulking around windows
  • Sealing and insulating ductwork if you have it
  • Setting up programmable thermostats to adjust the temperature automatically based on date and time of day

What Other Features Should I Look For?

When you’re looking at heat pumps, you should also consider some other factors.

Noise Level

The fans and compressors of a heat pump all make noise, but the best heat pump brands have a lower sound rating. You want to get one with a rating of 7.6 decibels or lower.

If noise is a concern, you could also consider a noise-reducing platform, as well as a sound screen.

Demand-Defrost Control

Too much frost on the heat pump’s exterior unit can make it less efficient. Demand-defrost control with make the system more efficient, and less costly, by minimizing the defrost cycle.

Another step to help with the defrost cycle is to make sure the outside unit is protected from high winds, since this can also cause defrosting problems.

Variable Fan Speed

Having variable-speed on the outdoor fans allows the system to keep a consistent air speed. Since the fan isn’t always running at high speed, this will also help the noise and your electricity bill.

Refrigerant

Older heat pumps used R22 – or Freon – as the refrigerant, but it’s being phased out. Since this is known to harm the environment, R22 is becoming more difficult to find and will be out of use by 2020.

That’s why newer systems have more eco-friendly refrigerants like Puron and Genetron. It’s important to make sure any unit you get now uses one of these options.

Note that older units that used R22 can’t be switched over to using these other options because the systems aren’t compatible.

Two-Speed Compressor

If your heat pump has a single, standard compressor, it can only operate at maximum capacity, even when that isn’t necessary.

Two-speed compressors, on the other hand, allow the heat pump to work at the most efficient capacity while still keeping you warm or cool. This can save significantly on your energy usage.

Zoned Heating and Cooling

To get the most efficient use of your heat pump, consider a zoned system. This allows you to control the temperature in different zones of your house, so you can cool and heat appropriately based on usage and time of day.

Backup Burners

Depending on your location, you might need a backup heat source. One option is to use a backup burner.

These supplemental burners can be used with several types of fuel, and this can help save costs if you live in an area where the fuel is available, and if it’s less expensive than electric heat.

Contractor

One of the biggest considerations for your heat pump is who installs it. If you don’t have a good contractor, you could end up with problems in how your heat pump operates. Make sure you research the options in your area and find a contractor who has done good work with heat pump installations.

Choose the Best Heat Pump for Your House

Choosing the best heat pump depends on your location, what kind of property you have, house size, and more. Taking the time to find the right fit is well worth it, and once your heat pump is installed, you’ll appreciate both the energy savings and the comfort of your home.

Are you having any air conditioning or heating problems? Contact us and one of our professionals will be glad to help you out.



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