Heat pumps can deliver financial savings

District of Saanich, Capital Regional District and the province offering incentives to switch from oil tank to heat pump

As the temperature drops outside, residents are sure to be turning up the thermostat inside – but how much is that extra heat costing them?

If they have a heat pump, the cost may not be that much, according to Chris Schmidt of Island Basement Systems and Dr. Energy Saver. Compared to other heat sources, Schmidt said heat pumps have a significant financial benefit because of their efficiency.

“When you look at all the different factors of your energy consumption, whether it’s oil or natural gas or propane or solar or wood-burning stoves or heat pumps, heat pumps have the best efficiency rating of them all,” he said.

“If you put a dollar of electricity into a baseboard heater, you’ll get a dollar’s worth of heat out of it, whereas a heat pump, you put in a dollar’s worth of electricity, you’ll get two to three dollars’ worth of heat out of it.”

Heat pumps extract remnant heat from outside, condense it and carry it indoors through refrigerant-filled coils. The heat is then distributed throughout different rooms, gradually bringing up the temperature.

A mini split – a specific type of heat pump – similarly carries heat through coils to a central location of the house, with the heat expanding to other rooms.

“It just radiates heat throughout the whole house,” said Schmidt of the mini split. “Usually they’ll install one in the living room or the kitchen, some common big area, and it basically spreads the heat throughout the house.”

Schmidt said the type of heat pump people should use depends on the size of the house and whether the homeowner is replacing or augmenting an existing furnace. He also said factors like airflow and the number of people living in a house need to be considered, and he emphasized the need for proper ventilation.

“If you’re in a house with all the windows and doors closed and everyone is having a cup of tea and long showers, you’re going to get a lot of humidity,” he said. “Mechanical ventilation helps to control the humidity levels in the house so we don’t have mould and mildew.”

While a heat pump alone can warm up your house, Schmidt said a secondary furnace might be a good idea if you don’t like waiting for warmth.

“Heat pumps can’t deliver instant heat – that’s something for people to keep in mind,” he said, noting heat pumps are better for maintaining a baseline temperature.

“They don’t produce really hot heat like a natural gas furnace or a wood-burning stove. If you come into your house that is only heated with a heat pump, and it’s cold outside… you’re going to have to wait a few hours for your house to get warm.”

The other disadvantage, Schmidt said, is the high upfront cost of installing a heat pump. While the long-term maintenance costs are low, he said the installation of a typical system costs about $15,000.

So, is it worth it replace your heating system with a heat pump? Or should you opt for a heat pump to complement your existing furnace or fireplace? The answer is, “That depends.”

“It’s hard to recommend because every house is different,” said Schmidt. “There are so many different factors – you have to customize a system for someone’s individual needs.”

 

jacob.zinn@saanichnews.com