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Heat pumps

What exactly does a heat pump do?

The heat pump is an electrical device that transfers heat from one place to another. 

A heat pump can serve as both a heating and air conditioning system. Some heat pumps can also provide hot water for your home.

With our cold winter weather, however, a heat pump cannot meet all your heating requirements. It needs to be combined with a supplementary heating system such as a natural gas or oil furnace. At a certain temperature, however, the parallel heating system takes over, when the heat pump is not sufficient.

In defrost mode, it can release fresh air into your home.

What is the most popular type of heat pump?

The most popular category at present is the air-to-air or air-air heat pump, which is installed in homes that have a hot air heating system. The less common type is the air-to-water heat pump, which is combined with a hot water heating system.

What should I know before buying a heat pump?

  • The operational life of a heat pump varies between 10 and 15 years.
  • Your electrical entrance panel must be able to support a heat pump hook-up.
  • Some heat pumps are noisy. Before making your selection, verify your municipal by-laws regarding heat pump location and acceptable noise levels.
  • The heat pump-boiler combination leads over time to increased maintenance costs because your heating system consists of two separate units.
  • When you buy a heat pump, look for the ENERGY STAR® Label.

What are the installation costs for an air-to-air heat pump?

The cost of installing an air-to-air heat pump depends on the type of heat pump and your home’s existing heating system. There will be additional charges if the network of conduits needs to be modified or if you need to upgrade the electrical service panel because of increased power demands. The efficient operation and durability of a heat pump depends primarily on good maintenance, which should be done in the autumn. The compressor is the most vulnerable element. A heat pump consumes less energy than a conventional system, but is more expensive to buy.

What sort of maintenance is required?

Heat pump maintenance begins with cleaning the outdoor evaporator coil with a garden hose, and then cleaning or replacing the air return filter in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations. Make sure that water, snow and ice on the roof of your house does not fall on the heat pump fan. If the unit is exposed to strong winds, build a windbreak around it.

Does a heat pump consume less energy than other heating units?

Yes. A heat pump consumes less energy than other heating units and costs less to operate. However, it does not produce heat. It extracts air from the outside and pumps it into the house. That’s why it consumes less energy than it displaces. For 1 watt of electricity consumed at an outdoor temperature of 8°C, an air-to-air heat pump releases 3 watts into your house. You therefore get 2 free watts of electricity.

But energy savings in terms of heating are often diminished or cancelled by the additional energy expenditures required for air conditioning during the summer. The rigours of our climate also significantly reduce the performance of heat pumps. If they are installed in homes that are not airtight or are poorly insulated, the energy gains will be even more limited.

Cautionary Note

Expectations about the greater energy efficiency of a heat pump and the money that will be saved must be realistic, for certain points have to be taken into consideration:

  • climate and geographic location;
  • the house envelope;
  • the surface area to be heated;
  • your consumption needs;
  • saving energy is not synonymous with saving money;
  • other costs entailed in the purchase of a heat pump;
  • the supplementary heating system required.

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