What Is A Heat Pump?
- 1 What Is A Heat Pump?
- 2 How Does A Heat Pump Work?
- 3 Types Of Heat Pumps
- 3.1 Air Source Heat Pumps
- 3.2 Water Source Heat Pumps
- 3.3 Geothermal Heat Pumps
- 4 Electric And Gas Adsorption Heat Pump
- 5 Heat Pump Brands Reviewed
- 5.1 American Standard
- 5.2 Trane Heat Pumps
- 5.3 Carrier
- 5.4 York Heat Pumps
- 5.5 Lennox Heat Pumps
- 5.6 Bryant Heat Pumps
- 5.7 Rheem Versus Ruud
- 6 Choosing The Best Heat Pump
- 7 How To Correctly Size A Heat Pump
- 8 Heat Pump Prices
Before we can start discussing which heat pumps are the best, we need to have a basic understanding of what a heat pump is.
In very simplistic terms a heat pump is a refrigeration device that transfers energy (heat) from one area to another. The refrigerant is typically contained within a closed loop system drawing and releasing heat as it travels from the heat pump (outside) to the air handler unit (inside).
How Does A Heat Pump Work?
In The Summer
Don’t let the name fool you, a heat pump can cool a home in the summer and heat a house in the winter. In the summer, it removes excess heat inside and displaces that warm air outside.
In The Winter
In winter, the reverse is true. The heat pump will take heat from the air (or some other source, such as the ground) outside and deliver it inside to warm your home. Effectively all it’s doing is moving warm air from one location to another.
The best part? Moving heat from one location to another requires very little energy, which gives heat pumps a unique advantage over other cooling and heating technologies – the ability to heat or cool a home while expending very little energy.
They’re able to move energy so efficiently because energy, in this case heat, flows downhill. The basics laws of physics state that heat will always move from a warmer environment to a cooler environment.
Picture a hot bowl of soup, you can physically see the steam coming off of it. The same principal is at play, heat is moving from a warmer environment (the hot bowl) to a cooler environment. If you left that bowl of soup for long enough it would eventually reach the same temperature as the room it’s in, which is called equilibrium.
Types Of Heat Pumps
The basic principals hold true for all types of heat pumps, the difference being some heat pumps rely on the air to heat and cool a controlled space, which is referred to as air source heat pumps.
You can also have pumps that draw heat from the earth which are called geothermal heat pumps.
The third source is water, which are referred to as water source heat pumps (shocking right?).
Sometimes you’ll see it written as air-water, water-water, water-air or air-air. The first word denotes the source. The second word indicates what it is being used to heat. So in the case of an air-water source heat pump, heat is extracted from the air which is heating a source of water. That could be a pool, a hot tub or a water tank.
Air Source Heat Pumps
Air To Air Heat Pumps
The air-air heat pump is fairly basic. Heat is drawn from the outside air pushed through the refrigeration system, which heats the air in your air handler unit. This warm air is then distributed throughout the home usually via a central air system.
If you’re building a new home putting ductwork in is fairly painless. However, if you don’t have an existing central air unit, retrofitting your home to include one can be very expensive.
In a moderate climate an air source heat pump is an incredibly effective way to heat and cool a controlled environment. As technology has advanced we’re seeing air source heat pumps that can operate in temperatures as low -4 F (-20 C).
There are two types of air source heat pumps; air-air and air-water.
Mini Split Ductless Heat Pump Systems
In the past if you didn’t have existing ductwork and you’re not looking at a new build a heat pump wouldn’t have even been considered. Installing a full system plus an entire forced air system in your home would be exceptionally expensive.
Duct work is something that needs to be well thought out when building a new home, adding bulky ductwork to an existing home usually presents a ton of challenges.
However, in recent years mini split systems have become more and more affordable making them a great option for homes not currently fitted with ductwork.
How Do Mini Split Systems Work
A mini split system works similar to a standard heat pump. The main difference in how the two systems operate is the way in which the refrigerant is circulated.
In a heat pump the refrigerant is circulated from the compressor (the outdoor unit) to the air handler (the indoor unit). From their the air is pushed through the home using forced air.
With a mini split the refrigerant is run directly to the indoor units, which are installed in their respective rooms. Cooper tubing, filled with a refrigerant is run from room to room where the indoor wall units are mounted. Each room that contains a mini split will have it’s own temperature control which can be a huge perk of these types of systems.
In a mini split a condensate drain is required at each indoor unit to remove the excess moisture.
If you have a relatively small space to cool or heat, a mini split heat pump may be the best option for your home’s heating and cooling needs.
Air To Water Heat Pumps
An air to water heat pump is actually a little bit more diverse in what it can do. Just like an air to air heat pump it’s capable of heating or cooling a home. It’s also capable of heating the water used in your hot water tank.
There are two different types of air-water systems that can be installed in your home. The first option is under floor heating and the second system uses radiators to circulate heat.
Like installing ductwork through out an entire home, installing in-floor heating is a bit of process. It’s a lot easier and more cost efficient to install this type of system from the get-go. Alternatively, if you’re planning on ripping out your flooring that’s also a good time to consider under floor heat pump options.
The option is using hot water radiators to heat your home. Baseboard style radiators are a fairly common way to heat a home.
How Does An Air To Water Heat Pump Work?
The start of the process is the exact same for an air-air pump versus an air-water pump. Air is pulled over a coil, which is able to extract a portion of the heat.
This coil contains refrigerant which is compressed to further heat the liquid inside the coil. It is then zigzags through a water tank where the heat from the coil is absorbed by the water.
Of course this is an overly simplistic version of the process. With the advances in technology and clever design we’re able to direct heat directly into the wet heating system (radiators or in floor heating) or divert the hot water into the water tank for storage.
The reason air-water heat pumps are so effective in these particular applications is because they’re much more efficient at delivering heat at a lower temperature over a sustained period of time then a boiler unit.
Water Source Heat Pumps
There are two basic types of water source heat pump systems; open loop and closed loop. These types of heat pumps aren’t terribly common because most folks don’t have access to a body of water that would work. Generally speaking, you’ll find water sourced pumps out in more remote locations and are a niche application.
Open Loop Water System
In an open loop application water is physically removed from the pond, lake, borehole, river or spring and pumped to the heat pump’s heat exchanger. The water is then discharged (at a lower temperature) back to the source.
Depending on where you live and how much you plan to circulate this may require a permit. It is also important to remember that you are going to incur an additional cost as a result of pumping a large amount of water through the system.
It’s also important to mention that if the temperature drop, the outlet can begin to freeze. Remember, we just extracted heat from the water and are now circulating it through our hoses at a colder temperature.
Closed Loop Water System
A closed loop system consists of pipes filled with a refrigerant that are placed in the body of water. The liquid in the pipes will draw heat from the water and circulate back to the heat pump.
Because you’re no longer just running water through the system you’ll need to ensure the lines are well out of the way of boats or other water traffic.
The upside of a closed loop system versus an open loop one is you no longer have to worry about freezing or corrosion. The downside is often times an open loop system is more efficient than a closed loop system.
Geothermal Heat Pumps
If we were able to store even a fraction of the solar energy that’s emitted every day we would be well on the way to solving one of the most taunting challenges of our time.
Geothermal does exactly that, it stores the suns energy. This means a few meters below the earth’s surface remains at a consistent temperature year round. Earlier I explained how energy constantly flows downhill. So heat, moves from a hotter environment to a cooler environment. And while air temperature and water temperature fluctuates with the seasons the earth’s temperature remains steady.
In the summer time we have an enormous heat sink and in the winter we have a reliant heat source to draw upon.
Of course there are complications – price namely – with geothermal heat pumps. The installation process requires the earth to be dug up that a closed loop of pipes containing liquid can be installed.
How Does A Geothermal Heat Pump Work
The distinct advantage that a geothermal has over an air source or a water source heat pump is temperature differential. If it’s below freezing, your geothermal system’s pipes are buried in an environment that is 60F or 15.5C.
If you were using a air source heat pump the temperature would be closer to 0F. In locations with extreme temperature fluctuations geothermal is the cleanest form of energy.
There several more complex applications but on a basic level a geothermal heat pump works as follows.
Tubing is buried approximately 12ft underground where the temperature is relatively stable. This tubing contains either air or antifreeze which is continuously running through the pipes. This fluid extracts the heat in the ground and delivers it to a heat exchange, which heats either air or water depending on the application.
If further heat is needed the system can include a compressor which will further heat the fluid in the pipes.
Because of the large upfront capital costs to bury the pipe, geothermal systems usually include fairly robust above ground systems.
Electric And Gas Adsorption Heat Pump
So far we’ve covered, how a heat pump works (by transferring heat with the help of basic physics laws and a refrigerant). We’ve also discussed how heat pumps can be classified by their source whether that be air, earth or water.
We can further classify a heat pump into an electric or gas adsorption model. Electric pumps are by far the most common and if you have a heat pump installed at your home it’s probably of this variety.
How Does An Electrical Heat Pump Work?
Electricity runs a compressor, which compresses the refrigerant from a gas to a liquid. Increasing the pressure, by compressing the fluid, increases the temperature.
Now let’s assume we want to heat the air to warm a house. The warm fluid passes over the air releasing a portion of the heat. That air is now used to heat your home.
The refrigerant now continues on it’s way to an expansion unit. Remember how the refrigerant got hotter when we compressed it? The opposite happens when we expand it – it cools down.
This is a continuous cycle, and with the help of your thermostat allows us to maintain a comfortable 70 F.
How Does A Gas Absorption Heat Pump (GAHPs) Work?
A gas absorption heat pump is exactly that, a heat pump which runs on gas instead of electricity.
Because electricity is a much less efficient way to heat your home than gas, a gas heat pump’s efficiency doesn’t fall off as much when the air gets below freezing temperatures. They also have the ability to operate in much lower temperatures than a conventional electrical heat pump.
GAHP’s work in a very similar fashion to electrical heat pumps, the difference being the refrigeration cycle is run by burning gas. This offers the best of both a boiler unit and a conventional heat pump.
Heat Pump Brands Reviewed
By now you should have a better understanding of how heat pumps work, the different types of heat pumps and some the advantages and disadvantages. Now the fun really begins, trying to sort through which brand to choose, which model to select, how to correctly size a heat pump and of course how to select a qualified contractor.
Without making dozens of calls to qualified technicians it’s nearly impossible to get a handle on the price, quality and warranties for each unit. This doesn’t even account for the fact that different technicians are going to have different incentives to install one unit over another.
American standard offers three base heat pump models. They’ve done a nice job branding each of these in a manner which makes it relatively easy for a consumer to understand.
American Standard Platinum Heat Pumps
The Platinum line is the top of the line heat pumps they offer. They boast a maximum efficiency rating of 20 SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio). As you ramp up the SEER rating you’re also going to ramp up the prices.
The American Standard Platinum series has four models; the ZV, ZM, XV and XM. They range from 20 SEER to 18 SEER.
American Standard Gold Heat Pumps
The Gold line is the next series that American Standard offers. It only comes in two different models the XI which has a SEER rating of 16 and the SI which has a seer rating of 14.
American Standard Silver Heat Pumps
The base model is the Silver series which like the Gold series offers two models; the XI and SI. The XI features a SEER rating of 15 while the SI’s is 13.25.
Trane Heat Pumps
Trane heat pumps are actually very similar to American Standard Pumps – this isn’t surprising as they’re both owned by American Standard. For instance The Gold SI and the Trane XR15 are identical units. Aside from the branding, lids, color and warranty there isn’t a difference. Generally speaking Trane units are marketed as their leading brand and as such they offer a better warranty on them but they cost more.
If you’re debating American Standard versus a Trane heat pump you really need to figure out which installer you’re more comfortable with.
The Trane XV series has two units: the Trane XV20i and the Trane XV18. The XV20i has a maximum rating of 20 SEER while the 18 can get up to 18 SEER. The XV20 and the XV18 are able to operate at a wide range of speeds. At the time of writing this, they are the best on the market operating between 25%-100% depending on the cooling needs.
The XL series has three models; the XL20i (19 SEER), the XL18i (19 SEER) and the XL15i (16.25 SEER).
You may have noticed the entire XL lineup has an “i” tacked onto the back end of. The Trane models with the “i” have a couple of differences. For starters the “i” series is always more expensive for a similar SEER rating. It comes with a longer warranty and the condensing unit’s cabinetry is a little bit larger and features a unique top designed to keep debris out.
Trane XR versus XB
The Trane XR series features three units; the XR 17 (SEER 18), XR 15 (SEER 16.5) and the XR 13 (SEER 14.5). While the XB is the cheapest Trane series and features a XB 14 (SEER 15.5) and a XB 13 (SEER 14.5).
The XB 13 and the XR 13 are almost identical units. The only difference is that the XR 13 has a lower decibal rating, meaning it operates a little bit quieter.
The next time it’s 100 degrees out and you’re sitting in a cool, comfortable home you can thank Willis Carrier – inventor of the air conditioning unit.
Carrier, carries everything heating and cooling related from boilers to furnaces and of course heat pumps. Their lineup consists of three series: Infinity, Performance and Comfort.
At the top of the lineup sits the Infinity 20 which boosts a 20.5 SEER rating. From there we have Infinity 19 (SEER 19), Infinity 18 (SEER 18), Infinity 16 (SEER 17.2) which also comes in a Coastal model and lastly two 15’s (SEER 15.5 & SEER 15.2).
The performance series is the middle of the road option available from Carrier. They offer a Performance 16 (SEER 17.2), Performance 15 (SEER 15.3), Performance 13 (SEER 13) and a Compact Performance 13 (SEER 15.5). All of these are relatively standard with the exception of the compact unit. Compared to a standard heat pump’s condensing unit it is quite small to fit into tight spacs.
The Carrier Comfort series 4 products; comfort 15 (SEER 15), comfort 14 (SEER 14), comfort 13 (SEER 14.5), comfort coastal 13 (SEER 15).
The Comfort 15 is very similar to the Performance Series 15. There are other slight differences but the biggest ones are the decibel level – the Performance 15 can run at 68 dB while the Comfort 15 can run as low as 69dB and a nicer cabinet.
The Performance series usually costs around $1000 more for a similar SEER rating. Now, 1 dB may not sound like an awful lot but you have to remember dB runs on a log scale so a drop of 1 dB can actually be significant. As for the cabin, realistically you’re putting a large metal box somewhere on your property – having a sleeker design doesn’t change that.
York Heat Pumps
York has been building and designing heating and cooling devices for 135 years. They began with an ice machine and slowly expanded their expertise. They’re now owned by Johnson Controls – a fortune 100 company.
They have three different series and seven heat pumps in total.
The Affinity line up only features two heat pumps; the York Affinity YZH (18 SEER) and the York Affinity YZF (16 SEER). Unlike the other large heat pump brands, the top of the line units only go up to 18 as opposed to 20+. It’s fairly rare for home owners to spec out a 20+ SEER heat pump because generally the heat pump will never pay itself off.
The LX Series has three models; the YHJF (SEER 14.5), YHJD (SEER 13), YHJR (SEER 13)
The Latitude models is the “builder grade” which essentially means they’re inexpensive. It features two models the THGF (14.5 SEER) and THGD (13 SEER).
Lennox Heat Pumps
Dave Lennox was a pioneer in the heating and cooling industry. He built the first steel furnace which revolutionized home comfort. Today they’re among the leaders in the heating and cooling industry – at the time of writing this, their XP 25 Heat Pump is the world’s most efficient (based on SEER ratings).
They feature lines of pumps; Dave Lennox’s Signature Series, Elite Series and Merit Series.
Dave Lennox’s Signature Series
The Lennox Signature Series comes in three models; XP25 (23.5 SEER) XP21 (19.2 SEER) and the XP17 (SEER 17.7). All three models are equipped to be integrated with solar panels. There will be those who scoff at the idea, and the truth is because the technology is relatively new it’s a tough sell.
However, the Sun Source heat pump and solar panel units can make you eligible for tax credits. This of course depends on where you live.
For most installing a good system and having it sized properly and then taking the extra steps to ensure you’re house is efficient would probably make more sense then installing solar panels. Of course, you don’t need to integrate the Signature Series with solar panels, it’s just one option.
The Elite series is the middle of the road and it features 3 models; the XP 16 (SEER 16.5), the XP 14 (SEER 16.5) and the XP 13 (SEER 14.5)
You may have noticed that the XP 16 and the XP 14 have the exact same SEER and HSPF rating. Yet the 16 is louder and it’s more expensive. What gives? The main difference between the two units is the XP 16 is a two stage which means you could use it for zoning.
Lennox’s builder grade is the Merit Series. Often times, the only difference between the middle of the road series and the low end series is their warranty and dB levels. In this case the components inside of the Merit series differ from those found in the Elite Series.
The Merit Series has two units; the 14 HPX heat pump (14 SEER) and the 13 HPX heat pump (13 SEER)
Bryant Heat Pumps
Bryant carries the same heat pumps that Carrier does, Carrier Corporation is the parent company while Bryant is one of the brands under it.
Their products are marketed differently and they have separate dealers. Generally speaking Carrier is a little bit more expensive than Bryant.
Bryant carries six (yes, six) lines of heat pumps; the Evolution Extreme, the Evolution V, Evolution System, Preferred, Legacy and a Preferred Compact Series for those tight spots.
Evolution Extreme, Evolution V and Evolution System
I decided to lump all of these together because the number of lines they carry is outrageous.
The 280A Evolution Extreme is the same heat pump as the Carrier GreenSpeed. It’s ridiculously quiet and operate at just 62dB. It’s has a 20.5 SEER rating and a 13 HSPF rating. This at the top of shelf for heat pumps that Bryant carries.
The 288BNV Evolution V is rated at 18 SEER with a HSPF rating of 11. It also features a variable speed compressor and operate between 25 and 100%.
The Evolution System has three models; the Evolution 289B (19 SEER), the Evolution 286B (17.2 SEER) and the Evolution 285B (15.3 SEER).
The Preferred and Preferred Compact Series
The Preferred Series are the same units as Carriers Performance units. There are some slight differences, which explains why the Bryant units are slightly louder.
It has three models; the Preferred 226A (17.2 SEER), the Preferred 225B (15.3 SEER) and the Preferred 223A (13 SEER). The Preferred Compact Series has a SEER rating of 15.5. If you’re short on space, these smaller, outdoor units can be a great option.
The Legacy Line from Bryant is their builder’s grade heat pump system. Both models are single stage heat pumps and are available in a 15 SEER model and 14.5 SEER model.
Rheem Versus Ruud
Although it’s common for one parent company to own two brands, it’s pretty rare that the units are the exact same. Sure there is normally a lot of overlap between the A-S and Trane Heat pumps and the same could be said for Bryant and Carrier. That said the only difference between Rheem and Ruud is the nameplate, the unit name and the guy who comes and installs it.
Obviously, the last one is particularly important – installation is the most critical part of any heat pump job. Rheem (Ruud) offers four lines of heat pumps; the Prestige Series (Ultra Series), Prestige Series Single Stage (Ultra), Classic Series (Achiever) and the Value Series.
The Prestige Series
With the prestige line you can choose between either a single stage or a two stage heat pump. If you’re trying to decide between a two-stage and a single stage it’s important to do your research. A two stage in theory should save you energy because the system doesn’t need to start and stop.
What you need to keep in mind is a two stage will always be the more expensive option and it’s not uncommon for contractors to try and up sell like crazy even if it’s not necessarily the best option for the homeowner.
The two stage Prestige series is rated at 17 SEER while the single stage is 15.5 SEER.
Both units in the Classic series are single stage heat pumps. The RPNL-JAZ is 15.5 SEER while the RPQL-JAZ is 15 SEER.
The Value Series is both Rheem’s and Ruud’s lowest grade heat pump. It comes in four models; 13PJL (SEER 13), 13 PJP (SEER 13), 14 PJM (SEER 14) and 15 PJL (SEER 15)
Choosing The Best Heat Pump
So far we’ve discussed what a heat pump is, the types of heat pumps, how heat pumps work and the leading heat pump manufacturers.
I’m going to let you in on a secret, every single one of the brands I featured above is a good reputable heat pump manufacturer. You may be wondering, why do I see so many negative reviews online and when I talk to my friends I’ve heard horror story after horror story?
It’s simple – the installation isn’t done correctly.
The best heat pump is the one that fits your budget (within reason), is sized correctly, installed by a certified HVAC contractor, is efficient, is suited to the environment and contains at least a 5 year warranty.
The Best Heat Pump:
Fits Your Budget
Heat pumps were once largely neglected as an inefficient way to heat and cool a home. Due a surge in technology heat pump prices have dropped considerably and have regained favour as a popular heating and cooling unit.
That said the upfront costs are still considerable, expect to pay a minimum of $2000 for a low end unit and up to $8,000 for a high end unit.
Don’t be suckered in to buying the most efficient heat pump – it has to make sense. By doing some simple cost saving calculations you can calculate whether or not a heat pump will pay for itself over the course of it’s life.
Is Sized Correctly
The single most important factor to ensure you’re getting the most out of your heat pump is that it’s correctly sized. Contractors have a tendency to oversize the system (I’m generalizing here, apologies for that). If your system is oversized you’re likely to run into humidity issues, not to mention the system is going to be more expensive.
Pro Tip: If a contractor isn’t willing to perform a manual J calculation find someone that will. When you’re shelling out five or six thousand dollars you deserve a contractor who will make sure they’re sizing the system correctly. Don’t let them get away with using a quick rule of thumb. Rule of thumbs are for hacks.
Sizing doesn’t end there, the ductwork needs to be sized appropriately for the heat pump as well. If you have too much air flow running through undersized ducts you’re going to end up with some loud ductwork.
The entire system has to be considered (which is why HVAC is so complicated) when you’re installing a heat pump. What does the ductwork look like, is the ventilation sufficient and what about the air handler unit?
Installed By A Certified (Competent) Technician
Listen, I own a bunch of rental properties and I am the king of DIY or hire off of Kijiji. Personally, I’ve found that do-it-yourself works out about 90% of the time for me. The problem? 100% of the time it takes a lot more time than I originally expected. And the 10% of the time it doesn’t work out usually involves electrical or mechanical.
I don’t like the distribution system in HVAC, where only certain HVAC technicians can install certain units. That said, because they’re such complicated devices it’s probably for the best.
You can start with this handy map which can help you identify some contractors in your area. I would start with at least 4 quotes. You’ll probably find one of the contractor’s system is not like the others (grossly oversized). Once you’ve got some quotes do your research. Ask for references, read the forums, look them up on the BBB.
If the contractor’s seem to be all over the place ask for advice on hvac-talk.com – you can usually find some straight answers over there. Take your time and make sure you get this step right.
Pro Tip: More expensive isn’t always better but looking for a contractor who is 2/3 the price of the other three guys might not be advisable either. This is a long term investment – treat it as such.
This one is a bit of a no brainer. The best heat pump for your needs is the one that is efficient and not just energy efficient but also cost efficient.
If you’re living in sub freezing temperatures a hybrid system may make sense. If you’re in a relatively moderate climate and your heating and cooling bills are pretty reasonable to begin with, a less efficient system might be the ticket. More isn’t always better – there is a fine balance between cost and efficiency.
Has At Least A Five Year Warranty
Every major brand offers at least a five year warranty on their low end units. Most of them will offer a 10 year warranty which is probably what you should be looking for.
How To Correctly Size A Heat Pump
Before we dive into how heat pumps are sized I want to talk a little bit about WHY heat pumps are so often oversized.
It comes down to three factors – money, comfort and a margin for error.
Oversized Heat Pumps: Pricing
Often times contractors will push more expensive systems because they’re more expensive for them to install.If a contractor has set his materials markup to be 10% which would they rather install – a $2000 unit or a $8000 unit?
That’s a $600 difference! Now of course that’s extreme and most contractors aren’t crooks but let’s face it if someone is on the fence between suggesting unit A versus unit B and unit B will earn them an extra few hundred dollars it’s difficult to present an unbiased opinion.
I’m an optimist so I like to believe that this isn’t the primary reason heat pumps are oversized.
Oversized Heat Pumps: 99%/1% Heat Pump Design
Earlier I discussed how you need to get a manual J calculation done and if a contractor is unwilling to perform one show them the door. Of course, just because a contractor does a manual J calc, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be correct. Often times instead of designing for ‘design temperatures’ they design for ‘extreme temperatures’.
Your contractor should be designing his HVAC equipment to meet the 99% not the 1%. There will be a few hours each year when your system will have troubles keeping up. Having a heat pump which can’t meet the load 1% of the year is a much better alternative than a heat pump that is oversized.
I’m sure most HVAC professionals are aware of this, however they probably receive a ton of calls as soon as the temperatures become extreme (the 1%). This results in a tendency to oversize.
Oversized Heat Pumps: A Margin of Error
The third and final reason heat pumps are often oversized is because the contractor has left themselves a margin of error.
In a perfect world the guy who blew the insulation did a stand up job, the windows are as advertised and the envelope is air tight. Realistically, the insulation guy may have been in a rush that day – the windows may perform slightly worse then they suggest and there is a leak in your envelope. If the contractor came an installed the correctly sized heat pump and it turned out to be undersized who would you call?
You probably wouldn’t be yelling at the window manufacturer or the insulation guy. The HVAC specialist is receiving the brunt of your wrath.
So naturally, in order to avoid this situation they oversize the heat pump. I’m not defending this practice, because it’s still not a good one but it does help explain why so many systems are oversized.
The Issues With Oversized Heat Pumps
The most obvious issue – you’re going to pay more. If you need to install a 3 tonne unit instead of a 2.5 tonne unit you’re paying more. It’s that simple, it’s not a lot more but it is more.
The less obvious problem with an oversized heat pump is something called short cycling. Basically, because the capacity is too high for the space and it is constantly kicking in and out trying to maintain your desired temperature.
When a heat pump is only allowed to run for very short periods of time your home won’t be dehumidified. A space that is excessively humid isn’t going to be very comfortable. Also, the constant starting and stopping is going to lead to higher energy bills and a short life for your heat pump.
Sizing A Heat Pump
Heat pumps come in a wide variety of sizes starting at 1.5 tonnes, moving up in half tonne increments up to five tonnes.
1 Tonne = 12,000 BTUs (British Thermal Units)
Calculate the heat loss in your house. There are a couple of ways to do this, the first is to get a professional home energy auditor to calculate this for you. A home energy auditor will charge between $300-$1000 – if you have an older home this will usually pay for itself.
It’s an added bonus if you’re looking at installing a new heating & cooling system which will help you make an informed decision about which size of unit to use.
Calculating heat loss on your own.
- First determine the design temperature. If you live in the US you’re in luck you can find design temperatures in various cities listed here.
- Next we choose our indoor design temperature. Your indoor design temperature is all about your personal comfort. I normally use 72F – that’s where I feel the most comfortable. The standard is to use 70F.
- Determine the U values (you can visit this site out to learn how to calculate U values)
- Heat loss (Q) = Delta T (X) Area (X) U. Delta T is the difference between the indoor and outdoor design temperature.
- Next we calculate infiltration losses (your head hurting yet?) This is normally done by a computer, we’ll get to that. By hand, the formula is Q=V*ACHn*.018*ΔT. V is the volume of a room, ACH is the air changes per hour, 0.018 is the heat capacity of air and delta T is the difference in temperature. ACH is normally calculated by performing a blower test.
- Ventilation is the same formula the only difference being you need to adjust it for the heat recovery unit. For example if you it’s 60% efficient your ΔT is going to be ΔT * 40% (the amount of heat lost).
Okay, so you’re not going to ever perform that calculation by hand. Loadcalc.net is an online calculator that is free and it is a lot more straight forward.
Pro Tip: Doing a calculation with software like loadcalc will help you understand the process that your contractor should be using to determine the size of your heating and cooling equipment. If there are any large discrepancies this will give you the ability to talk about it in an educated manner.
Heat Pump Prices
While our aim is to give you a general idea of pricing (so you don’t get ripped off!) heat pump prices are going to vary from city to city.
Please keep in mind these are ballpark numbers. They only serve to provide a comparison between the units – in other words heat pump A should be cheaper than heat pump B all other things equal.
The heat pump units themselves will be fairly consistent in terms of how much they cost but most installers aren’t going to break out the units true cost for you. They may show you the costs of the labor and the heat pump itself but it’s going to be very difficult to tell if they are padding their unit cost to cover some of the their labor.
Aside from doing your research, the most important thing you can and should do is get lots of quotes.
Builders Grade Heat Pump Comparison Table & Pricing
|Brand & Series||Model||Price (Approximate cost of unit)||SEER/HSPF||Single/Two-Stage Compressor||Additional Features or Notes|
|American Standard||Silver XI||$2,400-$3000||15/9.0||Single|
|Coastal Comfort 13||Unknown||15/8.2||Single||***
Recommended for coastal environments
|Latitude THGD||$1200-$1750||13/7.7||Single||*Not Energy Star|
|Legacy 213B||$1600-$2500||14.5/8.2||Scroll||*Not Energy Star|
|Rheem||Value 15 PJL||$1600-$2300||15/9.0||Single|
|Value 14 PJM||$1400-$2100||14/8.7||Single|
Mid Level Heat Pump Comparison Table & Pricing
|Brand & Series||Model||Price (Approximate cost of unit)||SEER/HSPF||Single/Two-Stage Compressor||Additional Features or Notes|
|American Standard||Gold XI||$3,000-$4,000||16/9.5||Two Stage (Select Models)|
|Gold SI||$2,750- $3,500||14.0/8.5||Single|
|XR14||Unknown||14/8.2||Single||*Not Energy Star
|Performance 13 Compact||Unknown||15.5/9.0||Single||Smaller unit
|LX YHJD||$1,750-$2,300||13/7.7||Single||*Not Energy Star|
|LX YJHR||$1,500-$2,000||13/.7.7||Single||*Not Energy Star|
|Lennox||Elite XP16||$1,750-$2,500||16.5/9.5||Two Stage|
|Bryant||Preferred 226A||$2,750-$4,000||16/9||Two Stage|
High End Heat Pump Comparison Table & Pricing
|Brand & Series||Model||Price (Approximate cost of unit)||SEER/HSPF||Single/Two-Stage Compressor||Additional Features or Notes|
|American Standard||Platinum ZM||$3,500-$4,500||19/9||Two Stage||Two Seperate Compressors|
|Platinum XM||$3,250-$4,250||18/9||Two Stage|
|Trane||XL20i||Unknown||18/9.5||Two Stage||Two Separate Compressors
|Carrier||Infinity 19||Unknown||19/10||Two Stage||***|
|Infinity 16||Unknown||17.2/9.5||Two Stage||***|
|Infinity 16 Coastal||Unknown||17.2/9.5||Two Stage||Smaller unit
|York||Affinity YZH||$2,500-$3,700||18/10||Two Stage|
|Affinity YZF||$2,300-$3,300||16/9||Single||*Not Energy Star|
|Lennox||Signature Collection XP21||$2,700-$3,700||19.2/9,7||Two Stage||*Solar Ready|
|Signature Collection XP17||$2,300-$3,300||17.7/9.5||Single||*Solar Ready|
|Bryant||Evolution 289B||$3,500-$4,00||19/10||Two Stage|
|Evolution 286B||$2,600-$3,600||17.2/9.5||Two Stage|
|Prestige RPRL-JEC||$2,900-$4,300||17/9.8||Two Stage|
Platinum Heat Pump Comparison Table
|Brand & Series||Model||SEER/HSPF||Compressor|
|American Standard||Accucomfort Platinum 20||20/10||Multi-Stage|
|Accucomfort Platinum 18||18/10||Multi Stage|
|Carrier||Infinity 18VS||19/10||Multi Stage|
|Lennox||Signature Collection XP25||23.5/10.2||Multi Stage|
|Bryant||Evolution Extreme 280A||20.5/13||Multi Stage|