Considering a heat pump? Info and tips

Our home’s heating system is the biggest source of energy use and can account for a 66% increase in our winter heating bills. Customers looking to reduce their heating costs should consider heat pump technology. An air-source heat pump is energy-efficient, environmentally friendly and an alternative to electric furnaces and baseboards, and natural gas or oil heating systems. Additionally, a heat pump can provide both heating and cooling needs efficiently.

To help you make an informed decision before you make the choice to install a heat pump, we have compiled the information below to help you determine if it's the best choice for your home.

A heat pump is an efficient form of heating and cooling powered by electricity that moves heat from one place to another. In the winter, it pulls warm air from outside and moves it indoors to heat your home. In the summer, it acts like an air conditioner by moving warm air outside while circulating cool air inside your home. Heat pumps can be up to 300% more efficient than electric baseboards and up to 50% more energy efficient for cooling compared to a typical window AC unit.

Heat pumps are a great option in B.C. if you’re hoping to reduce your GHG or carbon footprint. BC Hydro generates clean electricity, so it can be a way to reduce your reliance on fossil fuels.

 

Air-source heat pump

An air source heat pump (ASHP) takes heat from the outside air and moves it indoors. Even at a low temperature there's enough ambient heat in the outside air to allow the heat pump to work efficiently. Depending on the efficiency of the model, air-source heat pumps can function in temperatures as low as -25°C.

If you're considering an air-source heat pump, there are different types. Each type offers different benefits depending on your home and your needs:

  • Ductless: A ductless or mini-split heat pump is comprised of an outdoor compressor and one or more heads typically mounted inside near the ceiling of larger rooms and connected to the compressor by a hidden refrigerant line. While one outdoor compressor can service more than one head and hence more of your home, the system efficiency typically goes down with each additional head added to a compressor. A ductless is quick and easy to install, with minimal invasive work to your home. There is no duct work or retrofitting required. It will usually take a professional contractor a day or two at the most.

  • Mini-ducted: A mini-ducted heat pump essentially uses ductless technology with an outside compressor connected to one or more indoor heads by a refrigerant line. Some ducts are then installed and connected to a hidden head, usually in the attic that run to small vents in two or more rooms.

  • Central: A central heat pump has an outdoor compressor connected to an indoor furnace or air handler and uses ducts to move warm or cool air throughout the home. If replacing a central furnace with a central heat pump, attention must be paid to the sizing of the existing ductwork. The air temperature distributed by heat pumps is generally lower and at a greater volume than the air distributed by an electrical or gas furnace. This is because the heat pump transfers warm air instead of generating it. Modifications to existing ducting may be required to ensure efficient heat pump operation and comfort in the home.

The more efficient the system, the more electricity you'll save over time. Systems with a variable speed compressor are more efficient. and a higher HSPF rating is better.

 

Cold climate rated systems are the most efficient and perform great in more mild climates of B.C. Cold climate rated systems are typically rated to provide heating in temperatures below -5°C. The systems with higher HSPF have the ability to provide adequate heating in temperatures as low as -25°C.

When looking for cooling capacity, look for a high SEER rating. The higher the SEER rating, the more efficient the system will be. Ideally, you should look for a SEER rating ≥ 16 for efficient cooling.

 

Heating

Because heat pumps are efficient, they can be a great choice for improved heating and comfort. But there's a few things you should consider.

  • If temperatures in your region are consistently below -5°Celsius, a cold climate rated system is a good option as it can provide heating in temperature as low as -25°C without requiring back up heating system.
  • Before selecting a heat pump, you should always consider improvements to your building envelope. Improvements to your insulation, windows and draftproofing will reduce how much heat your home requires, and that means you may be able to select a smaller heat pump to meet your needs. Installing a heat pump that is too large for your needs will cause the unit to short cycle, leading to higher maintenance and utility costs.

Cooling

With the exception of a few hot spots, most places in B.C. don't require much in the way of home cooling. Prioritize your heating needs instead, and your system will be more than capable of meeting your cooling needs.

  • Using your heat pump for cooling purposes can increase your electricity use. If you don't currently use an air conditioning unit or central air, adding a heat pump that operates to keep things cool could significantly increase your electricity costs.

Considerations if you are switching to heat pump

  • Think about your existing heating system. If you have a gas furnace, and you switch to an electrically-operated heat pump, your gas bill may decrease, but your electricity bill will go up.
  • If you currently heat with gas or oil, you may require an electrical system upgrade to allow for the electrical load of the heat pump. That means your up-front installation costs may be higher.

Read: Getting a heat pump? 10 things you should know for some additional tips.

 

If your home is currently:

Heated by electric baseboards

  • A ductless or mini-split system is probably the best solution for you.
  • The size and configuration of your home will determine how much of your heating needs can be met by the heat pump, but a high efficiency unit can often meet 70% or more of a home’s heating needs.
  • Smaller homes with more open designs will normally see the best results.

Heated by a central gas, oil or electric furnace

  • A central system that uses existing ducts would be better for you for convenience, however remember existing ductwork may need to be modified. A ductless system could also be an option for smaller homes and may provide higher energy savings as these units are often more efficient.
  • If you're switching from gas or oil heat, your electric bill will go up significantly while your gas or oil bill will decrease. While fuel prices vary, gas is typically cheaper than electricity per unit of heat produced, while oil is typically more expensive. The more efficient the heat pump you install, the less electricity it will use.

 

Depending on what's most important to you, you'll need to consider different types of heat pumps.

I want to… replace my central heating system

  • Consider a central ducted system
  • Temperature control is via a single central thermostat.
  • These systems can be integrated with a gas or electric furnace to enable back up heating, if needed.
  • A heat loss calculation will determine how much heat your home needs and determine help the right unit size for your home for your needs.
  • You may need to make some modifications to your home’s ducting to ensure best possible operation.

I want to… reduce my energy bills and improve comfort

  • A ductless system is good alternative to electric baseboards.
  • Temperature is normally controlled through a remote control for each head, though a traditional thermostat can be installed for some systems.
  • Smaller homes with open floor plans are ideal for these systems.
  • Depending on the size and configuration of your house, a ductless heat pump may not be able to meet all of your home's heating needs, requiring baseboard heaters as a back-up or ancillary heat source.

I need to… operate in colder climates and cooler outdoor temperatures

  • If you live in a colder part of B.C., you'll want to look for a cold climate heat pump. They can operate from -5°C to -25°C, depending on the model and manufacturer.

 

Print out this list of questions [PDF, 39 KB] to ensure you're asking your contractor for the right information before you purchase.

 

Congratulations on installing a heat pump. It's important to ensure your system is maintained well so that it performs efficiently.

Here are some tips to help you upkeep your unit.

 

We're offering up to $2,000 in rebates when you purchase and install a heat pump. For eligibility and application details, visit our home renovation rebates page.