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Air source heat pump tips

​Pulling heat from thin air

Upgrade your heating system with an air source heat pump

My friends Iris and Jack have lived in their little house on their farm in BC’s Southern Interior for 50 years. They know plenty about how to make the most of things, including when it comes to saving energy. When I arrive for a visit, I can’t help noticing the laundry hanging out on the clothesline, the weatherstripping around the door and the window film sealing out the drafts.

When they bought their house, it was brand-new and came with the most spiffy, modern electric appliances of the time, including an electric furnace. Replaced in 2001, the furnace keeps the house cosy during the colder winter months. But as retirees on a fixed income, they’re still concerned about the energy bills. 

“Have you thought about putting in an air source heat pump?” I asked. “Investing in a heat pump can help you reduce your heating costs.”

“It can work with the furnace and ducts you already have,” I continued. “A heat pump can provide a lot of heat until it gets to about -3 to -10 °C outside—some systems can still work as low as -25 °C1—and then your furnace can kick in to keep you warm and comfy.” 

Get your ducts in a row

Keen observers of goings-on around the area, Iris and Jack had seen heat pumps popping up beside many of their neighbours’ houses. Some people were getting mini-split ductless air source heat pumps (also called mini-split heat pumps), which consist of an outdoor unit that is connected to one or more air-delivery units mounted inside the house. This kind of system doesn’t require ducts so are an ideal energy-saving upgrade if you are currently heating your home with electric baseboards.
 

Every house is different, so it’s best to consult a licensed heating contractor. The local climate, heating and cooling needs, the size of your home, the size and availability of ducts, amount of insulation, venting in the house and backup heat source all play a role. A contractor can help determine what would be best, including finding the optimal place to put the outdoor heat pump unit.

What can you save?

The quickest way to know if you’re getting a high-efficiency air source heat pump is to look at the heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF) and seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER). In the Southern Interior, efficient mini-split ductless models should have a SEER rating of 15 or higher and an HSPF rating of 8.5 or higher. Efficient central air source heat pumps should have an HSPF of 8 and SEER of 14.
 
“Speaking of numbers,” said Iris, “would we save enough to make the initial cost worth it?” 

Using the FortisBC home energy calculator, I showed them a comparison of an electric furnace and a high-efficiency air source heat pump, which estimated annual savings of almost 50 per cent for their heating costs.2 “An air source heat pump is twice as efficient as your electric furnace, meaning for every dollar you spend on electricity, the heat pump will give you twice as much heat as the furnace,” I explained. The actual savings depend on many factors, including the energy efficiency of the heat pump, how often the backup heating has to come on and how the system is set up and maintained.
 

Financing options 

Iris and Jack aren’t planning to move from their home anytime soon, so saving money while adding comfort is important. They were also interested to know that, by choosing a qualifying heat pump, they can apply for a low-interest loan from FortisBC to cover the upfront cost, or get a rebate through the Air Source Heat Pump (Central System) Rebate Program.

New heating system, new tricks

My friends wondered if an air source heat pump would be difficult to maintain. After all, it is outside in the elements, not cocooned away in the basement. I gave them a few tips:
  • Inspect the filters monthly and replace as per the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Sweep away snow, leaves and other debris from the outdoor unit to maintain good airflow.
  • Keep supply vents open (and don’t block them with furniture) to let air flow freely and increase efficiency and the life of the compressor.

The good news? Though it’s a great habit, they might not have to remember to set back their thermostat at night or when going out anymore. In fact, fiddling with a heat pump’s thermostat set point can make the difference between that setting and the room temperature too wide, triggering the backup heating system to kick in and increasing energy consumption.

Cool benefits

Deciding to add an air source heat pump to their home came with plenty to consider. But for these seniors, it is saving them money on their electricity bill. It’s also providing good air circulation, more comfortable constant temperatures throughout the year, such as the air conditioning, which is especially appreciated during the hot, dry summers.

Rebates and offers

Questions?

Email FortisBC Electrical at electricrebates@fortisbc.com or call us at 1-866-436-7847.

 

1U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Laboratory Test Report for Fujitsu 12RLS and Mitsubishi FE12NA Mini-Split Heat Pumps.

2
Based on a 1,500 square foot home in the Southern Interior with average insulation, comparing 10-15 year-old furnace with a high-efficiency heat pump = $1,466 vs $732 annually for heating. Source: FortisBC energy calculator.