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Ductless heat pumps an option for smaller businesses

Technology could solve your heating (and cooling) challenges

Does your business operate out of a small building or house? Do you have trouble keeping your space adequately warm in winter, or does it overheat in summer? And are you seeing electricity bills that climb higher and higher?

If so, a ductless heat pump might be the solution for you.

Ductless heat pumps extract heat from outdoor air (even in winter) and distribute it indoors through a single wall-mounted fixture adjacent to the pump. The fixture includes a fan and fins that direct heat around the room to ensure a consistent temperature throughout. Some models even include sensors that pinpoint cold spots, such as sliding glass doors, and aim more heat their way.

"The main feature to consider with ductless heat pumps is the increased comfort to occupants," says Gary Hamer, with BC Hydro's Conservation Innovation group. "For example, if cabin and motel owners have had complaints that a room is just too cold, this is a good option. Often installing one in the main living space means heat can be reduced in adjacent rooms as well."

Big pluses, big investment

Hamer says that for hospitality operators, a key consideration is that heat pumps can offer room cooling as well.

"By and large we don't have a cooling requirement in much of our region," he says. "But in the hospitality industry, people who are used to air conditioning will want it, especially if you have a room that's west facing, or a cabin that gets super hot in the summer. So these are a way to provide a bit of an upgrade to cabins or lodgings."

Ductless heat pumps do represent an investment – a single unit plus installation costs roughly $4,000. Multi-head models can cool several rooms, bringing per-room cost to about $2,500. But over time, they can create significant savings.

"Typically in older buildings, you don't have enough insulation so you have fairly high heating loads," says Hamer. "Yet it's often not economic to rip apart the wall and add insulation.

"This is a simpler solution. It can be installed within a day or two, and it saves more energy than most other measures – in the order of 40% of the energy used for heating, or about $250 per year in a typical home."

The phased-in approach

Since the heat pumps can be added to one or several rooms at a time, it's also a system an owner can shift to gradually. And unlike geothermal systems, which extract heat from deep in the ground, air source heat pumps are easy to access, repair, and replace if necessary.

At present, BC Hydro is testing ductless heat pumps for residential use, and is watching a pilot project in Washington where they're being used in small businesses that operate out of houses or small buildings.

Hamer says the technology itself is well known and established – the projects are more focused on measuring efficiencies and determining whether they might one day qualify for inclusion in BC Hydro's Power Smart programs.

"My feeling is that ductless heat pumps – specifically those with inverter driven compressors – are a really good option for energy efficiency. They are quiet, provide good individual room control, and the comfort that you can get from one of these units is quite significant," says Hamer. "It's a technology that's definitely worth looking at."