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132 US Route 1, Suite 3, Freeport, ME 04032
The Sunriseguide conducted a Q&A with Scott highlighting some common questions homeowners have about heat pumps. Read the interview bellow.
SRG: What is a heat pump and why are they so popular right now?
SL: The technical name for a heat pump is a Reverse Cycle Air Conditioner. So, essentially, they are air conditioners that have the ability to work in reverse to perform a heating function. Most people in Maine are looking for an energy efficient way to heat their homes. They get that when they have a heat pump installed, and because of technology, they also get a very efficient air conditioner. Heat pumps are so popular because people in colder climates are now actually able to heat their homes with them. This wasn’t a possibility with older heat pump technology that stopped producing heat once we got below freezing outside.
SL: One of the most differences for people in colder climates like Maine is that heat pumps of today effectively produce heat in temperatures as low as negative 15 degrees. This wasn’t true of older models. Today’s heat pumps make much better use of technology. They incorporate a number of thermistors to measure the indoor temperature, the outdoor temperature and the temperature at several locations inside the heat pump. Using this information, they use an inverter to control the speed of the fans and the compressor to adjust the heat output and to maintain optimum room temperature. The performance has also been increased with larger coils and different refrigerant than in the past. Other than sharing the same name, they are nothing like their older, less efficient, predecessors.
SRG: Can a heat pump replace my current heating system completely?
SL: Yes, with proper system design. Every home, no matter how well or poorly it is insulated, requires a certain amount of heat to keep it warm during Maine’s harsh winters. That heat is measured in British Thermal Units, more commonly known as Btu’s. The most efficient heat pumps deliver 100% of their heating capacity at 5 degrees. They get less efficient and deliver less heat (Btu’s) at temperatures below that. If we can do some fairly simple load calculations to determine how many Btu’s are needed for your home, and match that with a heat pump system that will deliver that amount when it gets below zero, we can completely heat your home. It is no different than if you were to use a boiler or a furnace, except with a heat pump system, you are not burning fossil fuels in your home.
SRG: Can a heat pump work in any home, or do they work best for certain styles of homes?
SL: The perfect home for a heat pump is one big room with super insulated walls, and triple pane windows because that home can be heated with one heat pump and have a very even temperature throughout. It will also enjoy low utility costs for the life of the home. The heat pump and added insulation will pay for themselves in a matter of years. On the other hand, my house is an 1830’s farmhouse is heated with heat pumps. It has had windows replaced and some insulation work, but nothing that I would consider “energy efficient.” It is 2,800 square feet and has 10 smaller rooms. The key thing is meeting the Btu load of the house with the Btu output of the heat pumps. We have not burned fossil fuels to heat it for four years.
SRG: How does the cost to operate a heat pump compare with other heating options?
SL: Efficiency Maine has a great “Annual Heating Cost Comparison Chart” on theirwebsite. It shows that a heat pump costs slightly more to operate than geothermal or a small natural gas space heater, but is slightly less to operate than a natural gas boiler or furnace. Our experience is that customers will save 50% to 60% when compared to oil or propane. The feedback that we are getting from our customers is that a simple heat pump installation will pay for itself in two heating seasons. All of this while they are keeping their thermostats at 70 degrees, instead of 63 degrees.
SRG: You hear a lot about people doing heat pumps and solar together. Why is this?
SL: The analogy that I like to use is to look at your commute to work. If you work one mile from home, it doesn’t matter if you drive a Prius or a Hummer…your annual gas usage is going to be minimal. However, if you live in Portland and work in Augusta, driving a Prius or a Hummer is going to have a significant financial impact on your wallet. If you have a gas heating system, gas hot water, gas cooking, and a gas dryer, a solar system is going to have a very long payback period. In sharp contrast, if you have an electric heat pump heating system, install an electric heat pump water heater, and use electricity for cooking as well as drying your clothes, the solar system is going to have a very short payback period. Like you said in a previous issue of the Green & Healthy Maine HOMES magazine, heat pumps and solar are “A match made in renewable energy heaven.”
SRG: What should a homeowner/buyer look for in a contractor and what are some of the questions they should ask?
SL: This is my favorite question! I think that they should look for someone they trust. If they don’t answer the phone, or they take a long time getting back to you, that should be a warning of how things will go throughout the project. Heat pumps are very popular with homeowners, but they are also very popular with contractors. It is very easy to get certified to install heat pumps, so a lot of people are getting into the business. However, the installation is only 3 to 8 hours of your entire relationship with the installer and your heat pump. The things people should ask should include the following:
How long have you been installing heat pumps?
Do you service the heat pumps in the future or do you only install them?
Do you have liability insurance and can you provide me with a certificate?
Ask for references…and actually call them.
The Energy Star website has a great “10 tips for hiring a heating and cooling contractor” pamphlet. We actually give them to our customers.
Sourced from The Sunriseguide (http://thesunriseguide.com/expert-conversation-scott-libby-of-royal-river-heat-pumps/)