living room with fireplace and couch

We all want our homes to be comfortable year-round. In the summer, we want to stay cool. During winter, we seek heat. For some homeowners, a heat pump can give them the best of both worlds!

These types of units are often super energy-efficient because they use heat that’s already present. By working with both indoor and outdoor air they can balance—or rather, counterbalance—whatever temperature you want inside. A heat pump can be a great asset. But when it’s not working properly, no one’s happy.

How Heat Pumps Work

If you want to understand heat pumps, it’s good to know that they aren’t too different than an air conditioner or refrigerator. Think about it this way: The coils on the back of the fridge always feel a little hot because the refrigerator works to pull warm air out. That’s why everything in the box stays cool. The same goes for air conditioning units. They’re made to extract heat from the air, and then sort of “exhale” it outside.

They have similar parts and similar purposes to air source heat pumps, but the heat pump has one unique advantage. Both refrigerators and A/C units work to keep places cool. What’s neat about heat pumps is that they work to both cool and heat a home. Here’s the shortlist of what they’re made of:

  • Compressor
  • Liquid Refrigerant
  • Fans/Fins
  • 2 Sets of Coils—one for indoors, the other for outside
  • Reversing Valve (this is what makes the heat pump different)

Their overall goal of a heat pump is to move heat from one area to another. The compressor works to circulate refrigerant between the two coil sets. And that refrigerant either absorbs or releases heat—depending on the coil set—to get your indoor temperature just right. The fans help move the air around so when you’re ready to switch seasons, your cooling unit can become a heating unit.

Switching the thermostat from heat to cool, or vice versa, will cause the reversing value to switch the direction flow of refrigerant. At that point, the hot air will move in the opposite direction. Rather than “exhaling” the air outside, as it does in the summer, it “exhales” the air inside, producing efficient and economical heat.

Since they do double-duty, heat pump systems can run in any season. They push hot air outdoors in warmer months, and then pull warm air indoors when it’s cold. It’s all with a flip of the switch. Pretty cool, right?

Pros and Cons

Heat pumps have a big appeal for cutting energy costs because they don’t have to exert as much energy creating the heat. They simply use the heat that’s already present and move it to where you need it. Some people don’t realize that there’s still some amount of heat in the air even in cold weather. The little heat pump can still do its thing in winter because it draws in all the heat it can find outdoors and sends it inside.

So as long as outdoor temperatures aren’t super-low, the heat pump can easily be the only heating source for a home. For moderate climate areas, these units can save big bucks on energy costs. It’s when the thermometer drops that it might need backup. As a general rule, this tends to happen when it falls to 30 degrees or below outside.

Because a heat pump isn’t the most effective heating source in below-freezing temps, it might need to be partnered with another supplemental heat source, like a furnace or an air handler, during extreme winter weather. If you’re unsure about your area’s limits, it’s a good idea to consult with a local professional. The right heating and cooling setup can keep your home comfortable and energy-efficient year-round.

Heat Pump Maintenance

Like other HVAC units, a heat pump will last longer with annual maintenance. In addition to annual maintenance, A lot of heat pump users also extend the lifespan of their unit (10-12 years is average) by changing the filter on a regular basis, or about once a month for consistent use. Other than that, just keep the fans and coils clear of debris and you should be set!

If other problems arise, you might need to call on a professional. They can help you diagnose any heat pump repairs by doing all of the following:

  • Check indoor coils, ducts, or filters for obstructions
  • Seal leaking ducts and ensure adequate airflow
  • Confirm proper refrigerant charge (and no leaks)
  • Inspect electric terminals, and clean or tighten connections
  • Lubricate interior motors, and check belts for tightness and wear
  • Test reverse valve and thermostat operations

A heat pump can help keep energy costs low throughout the year—but only as low as it’s properly maintained. A neglected heat pump can end up wasting as much as 25%. So as long as you have a heat pump, you’ll want to keep it in good working order to get those energy savings.

Whether you want to be warmed up or cooled off, a heat pump is a great solution for home comfort. If it’s not doing its job, call in a good heat pump company. A few repairs might be able to put it back on the right track.

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We've received several calls this winter about rising utility costs. People have been concerned because they're seeing upwards of $400-$500 electric bills. Yikes! We'd like to share some tips on what you can do to find out if you're experiencing "normal" bills or if there might be a problem causing them to be high.

There are things that can be done to your home to increase efficiency. These things include insulating, caulking, checking for drafty areas, etc. For our purposes now though, we're going to assume that your house is in the same condition this year as it's been in prior years.

So, is your electric bill high or might there be an HVAC problem?

First things first, call your utility company. Ask what the neighborhood average is and compare to your bill. Ask if the kilowatt rate has changed. Ask if the therm rates have changed. This will give you a good idea on whether your bill is comparable to that of your neighbors. It'll also make you aware of rate increases that have happened which could contribute to higher bills from previous years.

If your electric bill is higher than the neighborhood average, here are some other things to consider:

If you are all electric, you should have a heat pump and electric furnace (also called an electric air handler). This is the most efficient type of HVAC system to have in an all electric house. Many people set their programmable thermostat to be one temperature during the day and another at night. If you are all electric, do not set the temperature difference to be more than 3-4 degrees apart. Larger temperature differences will cause the back-up electric to come on to supplement the heat pump. It's costly to run the auxiliary heat. The savings that you are getting from the lower temperature is being offset (or costing more) by the back-up electric running to catch up.

Do you change your filter regularly? How long has it been since your furnace has been cleaned and tuned? Dirty filters restrict air flow and cause the system to run longer to heat the house. This causes a higher electric bill. Dirty filters over a period of time or a lack of filters at all can result in dirty coils. A dirty coil can also restrict air flow. If the heat pump isn't working, the electric furnace is running by itself to heat the house. It's expensive to run an electric furnace by itself. The average amp draw on a heat pump is 6-15 amps. The average amp draw on an electric furnace with a 10kw auxiliary heat kit is 41-44 amps. That's a big difference which is why you want your heat pump running efficiently.

Do you keep registers closed throughout the house? If there's a temperature difference between the upstairs and downstairs, for example, people tend to close the registers in a room or area of the house. Do not close registers. This can also restrict air flow, causing the system to overheat and short cycle. This means the furnace will be shutting down and turning back on more than it should be, which uses more electricity and costs you more.

One more thing to keep in mind. Some people have a high efficient heat pump system and then are surprised by their electric bills when it's really cold outside. They get a high bill and think...but I just got a high efficient system. Heat pumps are most efficient in the heating season when it's between 35-60 degrees outside. In Indiana, it's not unusual to have 0-20 degree days (or weeks). When it's that cold outside, heat pumps need the auxiliary heat from the electric furnace to keep up. The heat pump can't keep up by itself meaning you're losing that efficiency rating because the electric furnace is doing most of the work. It's costly to run auxiliary heat compared to a heat pump or gas furnace. If you buy a high seer heat pump, it's important to understand that the seer rating is mainly for the summer months.

We hope this has been helpful! If you continue to have high electric bills, give us a call. Maybe there's a problem with the heat pump causing the auxiliary heat to run more than it should. Maybe there's a bank of heat not working in the electric furnace. It's worth checking out, especially if those high electric bills are causing you a lot of stress!

Is It an Air Conditioner or Is It a Heat Pump?

We hear people say all the time that they don't know what to call the thing that cools their home.  Is it a condenser?  An air conditioner?  A heat pump?  A condenser is the term used to describe the outdoor unit that cools your home, which can be either an air conditioner or a heat pump.  The primary difference between an air conditioner and heat pump is that the air conditioner is used to cool a space while a heat pump can heat and cool a space.   There are definitely important factors to consider when looking into purchasing air conditioner or a heat pump.

A heat pump acts just like an air conditioner in the summer months.  The purpose is to cool your space and lower humidity levels.  During the winter months, a heat pump will also produce heat to warm your home or office.  Whether you have an air conditioner or heat pump, you'll also have either a gas or electric furnace to go with it.  A heat pump efficiently produces heat until the outdoor temperature drops to about 30 or 35 degrees.  In very cold weather, the heat pump will not be able to keep the desired temperature inside.  At that point, the furnace, located indoors, will turn on to help warm the home to the temperature set on the thermostat.  If you have an electric furnace, it will start to run with the heat pump.  If you have a gas furnace, the system will automatically switch from the heat pump to the gas furnace.

Which makes most sense for your home or office--an air conditioner or heat pump?  If you have an electric furnace, also called an air handler, it's highly recommended to pair that furnace with a heat pump.  It's quite expensive to run an electric furnace by itself.  Since a heat pump is much more efficient, your utility costs will be much lower if you have a heat pump to use in the winter.  The electric furnace will then act as your back-up heat.

If you have a gas furnace, it's really personal preference.  If you are used to the heat produced by a gas furnace, you may not like the heat produced by a heat pump as it is a cooler heat.  If you are likely to use the gas furnace all winter, then it might make more sense to pair it with an air conditioner, which often has a lower upfront cost.  However, if utility costs are a priority, it might be a better option to have a heat pump installed.

There are lots of questions to ask when considering a new air conditioner or heat pump.  Feel free to contact us anytime!

 


Solar Energy and HVAC- Is It Worth Considering?

Did you know that HVAC systems can be powered by solar energy?  This isn't terribly new, but the way solar can power your HVAC has evolved over the last few years.  Is it something that could be an option for you?  Is it worth it?

Indiana is known for its drastic temperature swings and four seasons.  For this reason, many people assume that Indiana doesn't get enough sunshine to really take advantage of solar power.  While the energy savings in Indiana may not be as significant as the energy savings in Florida, it is still something to consider.

While an HVAC installation is an investment, the federal tax credit and utility rebates are still  in effect for high efficient equipment and solar energy.  Through December 31, 2016, the federal tax credit for solar systems is 30% of entire installation cost with no maximum allowance.  If there is an excess tax credit, that excess is generally carried over to the following tax year.

In addition, solar usage has come a long way in just a few years!  When solar first came on the market in the HVAC industry, it was basically a single solar panel that attached to the outdoor unit.  It's a little different today.  Since we are an independent Lennox dealer, I'm going to discuss this in terms of Lennox equipment.  Some models of high efficient Lennox equipment are "solar ready."  This means that the new equipment can be installed and the solar panels can either be installed at the same time, at a later date, or never!  Up to 15 panels can be installed for each air conditioner or heat pump.  You can even start with just one or two panels and add more at a later time.  The solar energy generated is first used to power the air conditioner or heat pump.  If the HVAC system is not running, that energy is then used to power other appliances, lighting and electronics.

A communication module also sends data to a website so you can monitor your system at any time!  Data that is accessible on the website include energy production, system performance and environmental benefits.

So, is it something to consider?  We'd say so!  It's worth learning about to see if a solar investment makes sense for you and your home or business.  Contact us anytime for more information or with questions!