What You Need to Know if it’s Time to Replace Your Heat Pump

Replacing an old heat pump with a new Energy Star model can lower electric bills and increase household energy efficiency, but before you call the HVAC installer, prepare yourself with this important information.

How do heat pumps work anyway?

Most heat pumps include an outside unit and an inside unit, also known as the air handler. The outside unit cools or heats a refrigerant by pulling the heat or cold out of the outside air. The refrigerant is then piped to a coil in the inside unit. A fan in the air handler draws air from the rooms through the return ductwork and past the coil containing the refrigerant. The air is conditioned as it passes by the hot or cold coil, and is then propelled into supply ducting back into the rooms. When the outside air is too cold, heat is produced by supplemental heating coils in the air handler.

Before you go shopping

Have your residence evaluated for energy efficiency by a certified building analyst and make any efficiency upgrades to your house before buying your new heat pump.  New windows, air sealing, and additional insulation will all reduce the heating and cooling needs of your house. If you insulate and air seal after installing a new heat pump, it may end up oversized. A correctly sized heat pump is important for comfort and maximizing the efficiency of your home.

Size matters

The most important factor when buying a new heat pump is to correctly choose one that matches your house’s needs. An insufficiently sized system may struggle to keep up, but bigger is not better! Oversized systems can lead to short cycling, which abbreviates the compressor’s life span. Oversized systems can also have trouble removing moisture from the air while cooling, resulting in a clammy coldness. The trick to getting a correctly sized and designed system is to request a Manual J, or similar energy load calculation, from your installer. Rules of thumb are not enough.

Unit efficiency

Heat pump efficiency is expressed in two numbers on the yellow Energy Guide sticker. SEER refers to cooling efficiency and HSPF refers to heating. Look for units that at least meet the ENERGY STAR® requirements which are a minimum 15 SEER and 8.5 HSPF, and remember — the unit is only as efficient as your house is. Maximize your home’s energy efficiency through a home energy audit and with upgrades such as air sealing and increased insulation before investing in a new heat pump.

Heat pump innovations to invest in

Newer heat pumps include variable speed fans and two-stage compressors that increase the comfort and efficiency of your new HVAC system. They are also quieter because the fans and compressors are not running at full throttle. Another innovation is zoned heating and cooling. With motorized dampers and multi-zone thermostats, conditioned air is forced into specific rooms or regions of your house, increasing comfort and eliminating temperature differences.

After a home energy audit to maximize your home’s efficiency, you will be ready to contact a trusted HVAC installer to talk about a correctly sized, efficient, innovative, and well warranted heat pump.

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