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Langford woman discovers joys of heat pump technology

Disa Hovatta at the front door of her Langford, B.C. home
Disa Hovatta's Langford home near Victoria relied exclusively on baseboard electric heating for years. Installing a dual mini split heat pump in February of 2017 has made her home more comfortable while also decreasing her BC Hydro bills.

BC Hydro home renovation rebates helped take sting out of big investment

We often grow up wanting some of the stuff our parents had, and saving for it. Not many of us have "heat pump" on the list.

"Way back when, my mom installed a heat pump, in the 1970s or 1980s," says Disa Hovatta, who was raised in a home in Saanich and now lives in Langford. "She had one of those really large, round Carrier units. I remember it was efficient in keeping heating costs down.

"I thought, one day when I get to the point financially, I'll do that, too."

When she first looked into a heat pump for her own home, the cost scared her off. "Then winter hit, the 2016-2017 winter, and I realized I can't afford not to do it," she says. "So I called and made arrangements to have one put in."

Hovatta had a dual mini split heat pump installed last February at a cost she says was around $7,000. To help take some of the sting out of that big bill, she took advantage of BC Hydro's home renovation rebates, saving $800 on the heat pump and $400 more on an on-demand tankless hot water heater while she was at it. Then she learned about the renovation rebates’ bonus offer – do a third upgrade and get a $750 bonus rebate – and went ahead with a thorough draftproofing of her home ($140 rebate) and required pre- and post-upgrade EnerGuide home evaluation reports (partly subsidized by a $150 rebate).

The result?

Her BC Hydro bill in February 2018 was about half was it was a year earlier, when she relied solely on baseboard electric heaters. She's reducing her electricity bills, andthe added comfort has won her over.

Heat pump above shelving unit on main floor of home
Ductless heat pump systems can be great options for homes where there's no existing ductwork. Here's one of the two heat pump "heads", this one installed above a shelving unit on the main floor of Disa Hovatta's home.

Heating's the priority, but cooling really helps in summer

"In winter, it used to take a long time for things to warm up with the baseboards, and the main level of the house was always cooler," she says of her three-level, 2,000-square-foot home in Langford. "I always had this sort of cold shaft of air that would flow up from the lower level. That's been totally eliminated with the way the heat pump functions. Even my friend who's in construction thinks I'm absolutely brilliant for doing this."

Built on a steep slope, Hovatta's home features a front entry to the middle floor, where the kitchen, dining and living room are. She had one heat pump unit installed at that level, and another on the lower floor which is decidedly cooler and leads out to a backyard. She said her one regret is that she didn't install a third heat pump head on the top floor, where she says her bedrooms tend to overheat in the summer. Cooling with the heat pump on the main floor in particular, has been a hit.

"Before, I was roasting, but the cooling is really efficient," she says. "My house gets really warm – especially with the hot summers we've had recently."

Her advice to anyone else interested in installing a heat pump? Shop and compare for the best deals, and find an installer who carefully considers what you want out of the heat pumps, as size matters.

"I was super happy with the installation," she said. "We talked about what I wanted, and how I would use it, and I trust their expertise on that stuff."

About BC Hydro's home renovation rebates

Before investing in a heat pump, it's a good idea to get some advice from a provincially-funded BC Home Energy Coach (free) and/or via an EnerGuide home evaluation. Heat pumps are a better solution in some parts of B.C. than they are in others, and there are other options for reducing your electricity bills and improving the comfort of your home.

BC Hydro offers a variety of home renovation rebates, including:

Learn more about available home renovation rebates.

Disa Hovatta beside her heat pump
Disa Hovatta stands beside her heat pump, which extracts heat from the air outside and pushes it inside to heat her home. She also uses the heat pump to cool her home when summer is at its hottest.

How a heat pump works

Heat pumps work by extracting heat from the air or the ground outside, and pushing it inside to heat your home, even when it's relatively cool outside. They're more efficient than baseboard heaters because, rather than converting electricity to heat, they move heat directly to where you need it.

Advanced heat pump technology allows some models to operate in very low temperatures (down to -25° C), but on the coldest days a supplemental backup system may be required, when the temperature is too cold to allow sufficient heat transfer.

Heat pumps also offer effective cooling, but if you use them regularly for cooling, you're BC Hydro bills will rise. Select a heat pump primarily based on your heating needs.

Here are a few tips and considerations around heat pumps:

  • If you have a gas furnace and you switch to an electrically-operated heat pump, your winter gas bill may decrease, but your electricity bill will go up.
  • If you're planning to use the heat pump for cooling purposes in the warmer months and your home doesn't already have a central air conditioning unit or extensive use of portable/single air conditioners, your electricity bill will increase.
  • A central air source heat pump (ASHP) works most efficiently in temperatures above 0° C. If the winter temperature in your region is consistently below 0° C, your backup heating system, whether electric or gas, will kick in to keep your home warm. This could mean increased heating costs as the backup system won't be as efficient as a heat pump.
  • Ductless heat pump systems are another option to consider, especially if you don't have existing ductwork in your home. They use a slightly different method of heating and cooling distribution in your home and are often more efficient than the central units. They may work better in cooler climates and can typically handle outdoor temperatures down to -15° C, or colder, without relying on the backup systems.
  • Ground source heat pumps can be even more effective in colder temperatures. However, as these systems often have more up-front costs and technical requirements, it's important to engage specialized contractors for design and installation.

See our 'Should you get a heat pump' infographic.