Stories & Features

Colwood homeowner raves about his new heat pump

Image of Borrows family at their Colwood home
Jonathan Borrows used the home renovation rebates from BC Hydro to cut back the cost of his new heat pump for his Colwood home.

'Apart from the savings, the house is much more comfortable'

He didn't realize it as he was doing it, but the steps Jonathan Borrows took before using BC Hydro's Home Renovation Rebates to add a heat pump to his Colwood home stand as a blueprint for success.

Borrows got the whole thing rolling by seeing how heat pumps were working in other homes. Then he called a Vancouver Island heat pump contractor to discuss whether it would work in his home.

And then he got really smart. Before getting the heat pump contractor to size his home for a heat pump, he upgraded his 1991 home's attic insulation and windows.

"We purposefully left the heat pump to the end until we'd done those other efficiency improvements," says Borrows, who used a $1,000 BC Hydro rebate to reduce the costs of the heat pump purchase and installation. By improving the air-tightness and insulation of the home first, the heat pump does not need to work as hard as keeping the home comfortable which translates into a smaller-sized unit. "I've found out it's the right thing to do because you don't need as big a heat pump unit if you've already done other efficiency improvements."

One head is better than two if it's all you need to get the job done. By improving the home's efficiency, Borrows was able to replace his use of electric baseboard heating with a Fujitsu heat pump pushing air out a single heating/cooling "head."

He says he was surprised to get the whole job done for about $5,000 after the rebate. And he's over the moon in how well the new heating system performed this past winter, with savings of about 15% compared to last winter only part of the "win-win."

"I think the main thing, apart from the savings, is that house is so much more comfortable," he says. "The heat pump is pushing air around and circulating it, and that makes for a much more comfortable environment. Baseboard heat just rises straight up, and there were cold spots."

Home proved to be ideal for a heat pump

It was during Borrows' brief flirtation with moving closer to Victoria to avoid the "Colwood Crawl", the notoriously slow commute along Highway 1 west of Victoria, that he discovered just how many Vancouver Island homes are switching to heat pumps. As he checked out the real estate market and toured a few homes with heat pumps, he came to the conclusion that his house might be ideal for one.

Why? The central hallway in his 1,200 square foot home offers access to both bedrooms and the den.

"The only thing we had to get used to was leaving the doors open in all the rooms so that the warm air could circulate in all the rooms," he says. "The farthest reaches of the house are still warm. There's one bathroom at the end that was sometimes a bit cool, so I would switch on the baseboard for a bit. Apart from that, I haven't touched my baseboards. They're all either set to off, or to 10°C so that they don't come on."

Borrows also did his homework on how to best use the heat pump. With the baseboards, he had cut down on electricity costs by using programmable digital thermostats to turn the heat down when there was no one home, then on again about 30 minutes before he arrived home. That strategy doesn't make sense with a heat pump.

"With the heat pump it's better to set it and forget it," he says. "It's a bit of learning curve to resist the temptation to turn it off when you go out, because that would make the heat pump work really hard to get the temperature back up, and that's not an efficient way to use it. It's nice because you come home to a warm house."

Another big plus of the heat pump? The "pop" of the baseboards coming on has been replaced by what Borrows describes as a hardly noticeable, "whisper quiet" flow of air.

Is a heat pump a good choice for you?

Image of a heat pump installed at a Colwood, B.C. home
Borrows is looking forward to quieter nights this summer without the old air conditioner "rumbling" to life, thanks to the new heat pump that's taken its place.

It's time to sell that 'big, ugly' air conditioner

Each summer, Borrows would haul a window air conditioner out of storage and set it up in a window.

"I'm looking forward to the summer when it gets hot to use the heat pump for air conditioning," he says. "I had this big ugly window air conditioner I put in that window. It was always such a big hassle to set it up and get it going. It's also kinda noisy – it rumbles to life and you kind of have to shout at your spouse when you're at the kitchen table. So I don't have to deal with that anymore."

Despite the unseasonably warm temperatures in B.C. so far this spring, Borrows hasn't yet used the heat pump to cool his home. He thinks that's in part due to his attic upgrades, which boosted the insulation rating from R-20 to R-50.

"Now with the heat pump, we'll set it on cool and have a nice comfortable home in the summer months," he says.

Getting the right contractor is vital

Among the highlights of Borrows' heat pump adventure was his experience with the heat pump contractor . He says the installers found a great spot to install the heat pump compressor unit in the corner of his deck, and that all the electrical and duct work is "super professional."

There are a wide variety of contractors who install heat pumps, plus a variety of different heat pumps and system. Some contractors specialize in heat pumps and have extensive training and experience with them, while others may install heat pumps occasionally as part of their general heating and cooling business. Not only should you get multiple quotes, you should also get quotes from contractors who offer different type of systems from different manufacturers so that you understand the options available.

See our list of questions to ask a heat pump contractor [PDF, 40 KB].

Rebate process proves to be easy, and fast

Borrows was expecting to do a fair amount of work online to apply for the BC Hydro home renovation rebate. He was in for a couple welcome surprises.

"On my invoice I had this [AHRI] reference number, and when I applied for the rebates, I punched in that number and it automatically filled in all the details of my heat pump on my application," he says. "That made it really easy."

Informed that his $1,000 rebate would be delivered in six to eight weeks, Borrows got his payment in a week.

Call it good karma for a job perfectly done.

Bundle up insulation and other rebates for more savings

BC Hydro's home renovation rebates program includes rebates for heat pumps (when replacing electric baseboards), water heating, insulation and windows. It's also a good idea to combine upgrades and get the $300 bonus for making two eligible upgrades in 18 months.

Get details on home renovation rebates.