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The Official HVAC 101 Post: The Do’s And Don’ts Of Heating, Cooling, And Water

In my attempt to learn the ins and outs of the entire renovation process (and pass it on to you), I recently did a deep dive into how we can get the most energy-efficient HVAC and water heating system. Learning all the new technology was a beast. It hurt my brain, and I was frankly pretty frustrated with myself for not easily grasping exactly how heat pumps can work for both the heat/AC and water. (Turns out there are two different types of heat pumps – we’ll break it down below).

Gas furnaces are easy to understand, and electric heaters, I get. But these heat pumps are a little more complex. Their genius lies in being SUPER efficient and if you are renovating right now, you REALLY need to keep reading. I wish I had known all of this when we renovated the Mountain House, so this time around I’m doing it RIGHT. To better understand Heat Pump technology, we had meetings and calls with Rheem experts and Electrify Now (an energy-efficient nonprofit in PDX) as well as with our local contractors. I took all the notes and even recorded the meetings in hopes of distilling them down for you in a way that would help us all become experts. And y’all, I FINALLY GET IT. So today, for those of you who are renovating or really just like to learn about HVAC and water heating, I’m breaking down all the dos and don’ts that I learned.

DO: Choose Electric (Like A Heat Pump) Over Traditional Gas. Here’s Why:

Well, as homeowners who have the privilege to renovate, Heat Pumps are simply a better way for our earth, our home, and our wallets.

1. We are trying to reduce our dependence on natural gas as a fossil fuel energy resource and we live in Oregon, which is quickly changing its energy reliance over to green energy — solar and wind. Because we want to reduce our carbon footprint, this is a good switch to make while renovating.

2. Rheem heat pumps will save you money long term by reducing your energy bill. They are just much more energy efficient because they use heat energy from the air (which I’ll explain below).

3. Simply put, the variable-speed heat pump system and Hybrid electric heat pump water heater I selected (which I go into later) will give you a better, more comfortable home. So for those of you wary about anything too new/green, or if you just don’t want to spend the extra bit up front, understand this: Heat Pumps will not only save you money long term but you’ll like being in your house more. A Variable-speed heat pump will efficiently adapt to your air needs and help lower humidity while Hybrid Electric Heat Pump water heaters cool and dehumidify the surrounding air without producing nitrous oxide and carbon monoxide emissions. Pretty awesome.

Natural gas is inexpensive, I know, and I’m not saying that if you have a perfectly good gas furnace or water heater you should scrap it (because that is so wasteful in itself), but IF you are installing a new system, seriously think about getting the better, newer, more energy-efficient product. It’s like the range debate — don’t throw away your old gas range, but if you are getting a new one, think about induction.

DO: Opt for Rheem’s Products And Their Smart/Advanced Technology

Yes, this is a sponsored post, but I sought them out and pitched to THEM after researching, asking around, and consistently being told that Rheem’s heat pumps, smart technology, and products are the best in the business.

1. They’ve been making these heat pumps for years, and they have a solid product that isn’t new to the market. Moving forward, this will be the product builders will use because of the high efficiency and smart technology.

2. With regards to heating and cooling, Rheem’s system recommendation is way more accurate because they use a software called Design Star (lol), which bases the heat load off windows, layout, and humidity. Most basic HVAC contractors just do a basic square foot calculation (every 500 square feet requires 12,000 BTUs).

3. Rheem’s more thoughtful system recommendation process means that no energy is wasted and that the home will be comfortable for years to come. I was EXTREMELY excited about this.
4. One of the biggest selling points for us was the EcoNet® app — you can manage your HVAC and water heating in one place. Plus it can flag leaks, check system health, remind you of maintenance, and WAY more. Other companies don’t have a complete air and water solution, so we were excited that a brand could be a one-stop solution for all the nitty-gritty details.

…Wait, So What Exactly Is An “Electric Heat Pump”?

Here’s the best way I can simplify it for an average homeowner like me: It’s an advanced way to heat and cool both air and water by using the heat energy from the surrounding air and reduced electricity. Heat pumps have been around for decades and are far more energy efficient than other air and water solutions. Heat pump installations are quickly becoming the norm and are even a requirement in new builds in many states. If you want to get into the really nitty-gritty stuff, this is how the process was described to me verbatim: 

Essentially, to heat water, the heat pump water heater’s fan pulls in air over its evaporator coils. Because the refrigerant in the evaporator coils absorbs the heat energy from the air, the exhausted air is cool. Then the super-heated refrigerant transfers heat to the water in the tank and returns cool refrigerant back to the evaporator. This all just keeps repeating. To heat and cool air, the heat pump transfers heat from one space to another (similar to the water heater). For example, in the summer a fan pulls indoor air over indoor evaporator coils. The refrigerant in the evaporator coils absorbs heat energy from the indoor air and exhausts cool air. Then the super-heated refrigerant moves to the outdoor coils where heat transfers to the air. Then the cool refrigerant returns to the indoor evaporator where the cycle repeats. I tried to get my mind to understand the science, then realized that I don’t really need to. It’s a better, more advanced, and efficient product, with a ton of advantages, full stop.

Let’s First Talk AC And Heating

DO: Consider a Variable-Speed Heat Pump System for Your HVAC — Keep Reading!!

  • Traditional standard “single-speed” furnace and HVAC systems can be wasteful, as they are either ON or OFF — they may produce more heat or AC than you need and use way too much energy, plus you aren’t getting precision comfort. A variable-speed system is smarter and more nuanced, fluctuating based on your home’s needs all the time, to the point that you barely notice it’s there because you are simply very comfortable.
  • A Variable-Speed Heat Pump is like how driving on the freeway is so much more fuel efficient than driving in a city — it’s the starting and stopping, the perpetual ON and OFF of it that wastes so much gas (or in this case, electricity). Once I heard this, I finally understood! A variable-speed heat pump system self-maintains instead of overcorrecting.
  • Here’s how it works: Rheem’s variable-speed systems are flexible — a little bit of heat will come out if you need a little, and a lot of heat will come out if your house is super cold. Not only does it adjust the temperature on its own, but it also adjusts the amount of airflow — it adjusts to 1/4 of a degree, so your house is the perfect temperature for you, ALL the time.

Rheem systems maintain your desired temperature with as little waste as possible. This tech is getting more and more affordable, because of scientific improvements, but also because of regulation. It’s great to see this proliferate because it’ll mean that it’s an accessible choice for everyone. 🙂 Many states will be moving to require all new construction to have electric heat pumps — it’s like electric cars. It’s coming FAST to mass market, and Rheem has been doing it for years.

DO: Find An HVAC Contractor Who Is Versed In Heat Pumps And Cares About Energy Efficiency

Not every HVAC contractor will suggest this newer technology, because not everyone is educated in it. YET. So make sure that whoever you or your GC is hiring knows how to do this. (Rheem has a “Find a Pro” database to help you.) Many still want to recommend gas furnaces, because that’s what they have installed for decades, and sometimes it is the right choice. Here are some things to think about when hiring:

1. Ask for a “load calculation.” If they just do it based on square footage, it likely isn’t as advanced or as good as you want (especially for a home over 1,500 square feet). Ask to see previous load-calculation work, as this is a good indicator that they are the kind of person who thinks the way you want your HVAC contractor to think.

2. For big projects like ours, look for a contractor who presents multiple options…“a good, better, best” type of scenario, which directly correlates with your budget. If they only offer one, they should be able to thoroughly articulate why they are recommending it over others.

3. Another critical thing to look for is a contractor who is recommending a “zone solution,” and if they are not, ask them to explain how it is going to evenly heat and cool your space throughout the year.

During our research, we came across Rheem and GreenSavers, our HVAC contractor. I had multiple calls with a few energy-efficiency experts in Portland, and they all recommended this company (Hi, Craig! :))

DO: Have Your HVAC System “Zoned”

For those of you ready to nerd out on our HVAC zones, we got you. I actually feel so empowered to know all of this now.

Zones, zones, zones…this is one of the most critical ways to optimize efficiency and comfort. For example, if you have a two-story home with bedrooms on the second floor, you need that space comfortable primarily at night, for sleeping, but not so much during the day. With a zoned system, you can program each zone separately based on how you use the space throughout a 24-hour period. It makes so much sense because you won’t be overheating or cooling rooms when they aren’t being used.

Craig with GreenSavers looked at the layout and unique characteristics of the space and decided four zones would work best for the farmhouse. Each zone has its own thermostat, so they can all be controlled independently of one another for maximum comfort and efficiency, an all-around WIN!

Zone 1: The main living area, including the kitchen, living room, and family room

Zone 2: Upstairs

Zone 3: Primary suite and mudroom

Zone 4: Sunroom

Zones 1 and 2 work off of the same electric heat pump compressor on the side of the house. The electric furnace is in the basement and feeds to the ducts that run under the main floor and up the chimney chase to the second floor. Since the ducts are connected, dampers have been installed so the upstairs and the downstairs can be set to different temperatures throughout the day… AMAZING. Our primary suite and the mudroom are the third zone, controlled by a mini-split installed in the new basement. Since the ducting doesn’t extend long distances, it helps minimize the loss of heat and cooling, making it more efficient…YAY. The sunroom is an addition with A LOT of windows, plus it’s set down from the great room, so Craig from GreenSavers thought we should treat it like its own microclimate, which it will have. On hot, sunny days (yes, we do sometimes have those in Portland) with all the exposure from the skylights and windows, it will likely be hotter than the great room, and in the winter it will be cooler, which is why I will love those radiant-heat floors warming my tootsies while I type away. There is a second mini-split and ducting for the sunroom in the crawl space under the room, and both mini-splits run off of the heat pump compressor on the back of the house. Now a lot of folks hear mini-split and immediately think of the boxes mounted to walls (which they often are), but because we created this plan from scratch, GreenSavers was able to design the system so the mini-splits are BEHIND the walls, not ON the walls…brilliant! Now you might ask, why not do mini-splits for the whole house? They are a fantastic option, though it doesn’t make sense for a space as large as the whole house. But for a situation like this, it is brilliant!

DON’T: Get Your Duct, BTU, And Unit Sizing Wrong

Obviously, rely on your local expert/contractor, but I always feel empowered when I know what I’m talking about. 🙂

  • So you’re going variable speed — you gotta make sure the sizing is done properly. If it’s too big or too small, you’re going to have problems. You want your BTUs to line up with your needs, neither too high (wasteful) nor too low (inefficient).
  • With too big of a unit, dehumidification won’t happen — it’ll put too much cool air into the system and then turn off. With too small of a unit, well, your home just won’t be too comfortable everywhere. 🙂
  • A properly installed system provides a comfy AND healthy environment — we’re shooting for 40% to 60% indoor humidity. This helps prevent allergies, asthma, dust mites, static, and floor warping. Our variable-speed system is designed to maintain the level of humidity, which will protect us AND our investment. 🙂
  • Get your ducts in a row (sorry) — size and location of ducting are also super important. Now your HVAC contractor should know this, but after our calls about it, I learned this is one of the most common problems. Y’all, get a good contractor who knows their stuff.

DON’T: Get A Dated System — New Smart Tech Is Here

While we only renovated a few years ago, up at the mountain house our contractor wasn’t versed or interested in energy efficiency, and we now have a dated system. The smart technology is awesome and has been around for years, so you aren’t getting the first version. As I wrote above, Rheem has the EcoNet Thermostat, which can be controlled from an app, and it has all of your HVAC and water information together. You can see your usage, your temperature, has easy voice control, and you get important equipment alerts that are sent directly to your phone or email.

Oh, and you even have remote access via the EcoNet App and on top of all that, the scheduling is simple with one-touch energy savings. “One-touch energy savings” means that you can save energy by adjusting your thermostat with one touch on the screen. This also means you can schedule your temperature settings ahead of time – for example: 74 during the day. 69 at night. Love how easy and efficient it is.

DO: Be Thoughtful About Vent Placement (+ Make Sure There’s Enough)

  • Do evenly space the vents throughout a room and house. This is common sense, but can be easily overlooked.
  • Do place vents under windows — you’ll be blanketing the heat loss/gain with warm or cool air, and it’ll circulate through the room better.
  • Don’t put a vent or return under where you think potential furniture will be. We put one big return under our kitchen island because it has legs and everyone agreed it was fine. But essentially, walk your house and imagine where furniture and rugs will be, then try really hard to avoid putting any vents or returns under them.
  • Do make sure that if you are replacing your flooring, you order wood vents to match, so you can install them to be flush. I’ve made this mistake three times now (not on this house!) and had to put in aftermarket vents, which is fine, but less pretty.
  • Do put your returns where you’ll be able to easily change the filter (should that be your system). At the mountain house, one of ours is 16′ off the floor (in the loft) and requires a terrifying ladder scenario.
  • Do place your thermostat in the middle of a room (they can’t be hidden in a closet, as much as we all want them to be).

While we haven’t lived here yet, we are going to do a follow-up post to show you how it works six months in. I just feel so grateful and taken care of, knowing that we have an excellent system and product that can meet our needs year-round and for a LONG, LONG TIME. Lastly…

DO: Mix and Match If It Meets Your Needs

It may not be tenable for you to go all-in on electric right now, but you can still mix and match. Rheem also offers gas furnaces, which may make sense for you depending on kW rates, gas rates, etc. We went all-electric because we’re trying to reduce gas dependency in this house, but if you live in a climate where you’d feel more comfortable having a gas backup for emergencies, you can still work with Rheem to find a solution that works for you.

Now Some Info About Heat Pumps And Water

DO: Consider Going With A Hybrid Electric Heat Pump for Water, Too

This is the same thinking as the HVAC — to reduce electricity or gas consumption and to be more energy efficient. With a standard gas water heater, you’re getting about 50 cents of heat for every $1 you spend on gas. Standard electric water heaters are more energy efficient than gas water heaters – usually, you’re getting between 90 and 98 cents of hot water for every $1 you put in. (As an added bonus, you don’t have to worry about carbon monoxide or venting exhaust out of the house when you’re dealing with an electric water heater.)  

Then, you have hybrid electric heat pumps – that’s what we’re getting – which are the most energy-efficient water heaters on the market. (And like the standard electric water heater, there’s no need for venting out combustion gasses.) We ended up opting for two 80-gallon hybrid electric heat pumps, which are INCREDIBLY efficient – we’ll be getting about $4 of hot water for every $1 we’re spending on electricity. Consult with your local plumbing contractor to find the optimal heat pump water heater for your household.

As an added bonus, this hybrid electric heat pump model can effectively act as a small air conditioner. A lot of people in hotter, more southern climates will install these in the garage, which will cool down the space – it basically sucks out the hot air, uses that air to heat your water, and blows out cool air. (Again – these heat pumps are kind of like an AC in reverse.) The two hybrid models we chose will save us nearly $1,000 per year combined in water-heating costs (compared to two 80-gallon standard electric water heaters), and lots of states offer BIG additional rebates to accelerate the adoption of these more high-tech solutions. We believe these will pay for themselves in less than two years, which is amazing.

Final Thoughts

DO: Save Money Long-Term

I really wanted some hard data on how much a hybrid electric heat pump water heater and variable-speed heat pump system cost and how much it will save you, so we did some digging. (Keep in mind costs and rebates are super dependent on your region, your contractor, and your usage, but this may be a helpful baseline.) 

For Water: Although the Hybrid Electric Heat Pump Water Heater we opted for costs more upfront, homeowners may save up to $315 per year on 40 and 50-gallon models or up to $491 per year on the 80-gallon water heater. With rebates available up to $1,000 and an average HPWH (that stands for “Heat Pump Water Heater, btw) rebate of $500, the hybrid electric heat pump water heater pays for itself in 2 years or less.

For Air: This is awesome. The Variable Speed Heat Pump provides cooling efficiencies up to 54% higher and heating efficiencies up to 58% higher than typical heat pump designs. On top of that, you can expect to save more than $7k in lifetime savings (based on DOE calculation for estimated national operating costs for a 3-ton 10 SEER vs 20 SEER, 6.8 HSPF vs 13 HSPF, and a 15-year life expectancy). I know that last part is a lot of info you might not understand yet but here’s more info to help! Also for even more help with saving money, you can check out their rebate center for both air and water:)

We are so excited and feel so empowered (ha) knowing more about the ins and outs of HVAC, water heating and energy savings. Again, a lot of this might be specific to your house (you’ll need to be sized by a local contractor to fit your air and water needs) but if you are nervous about getting a heat pump because you haven’t had one before, you’ll come to find it’s the most energy-efficient option on the market.

Thanks to Rheem for sponsoring, as well as Electrify Now, GreenSavers, and Northwest Natural for helping make this house as energy efficient and yet comfortable as possible.

*Photos by Kaitlin Green

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Admin
3 months ago
Ilenya
3 months ago

If anyone wants to watch an intro to the tech behind heat pups, I’ll leave the video by Technology Connections
here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7J52mDjZzto

Catherine
3 months ago
Reply to  Ilenya

I’ll second the recommendation of Technology Connections!

Sheila
3 months ago
Reply to  Ilenya

Yes, I was going to come here to add that. He can go on a bit but does a great job explaining!

Sarah
3 months ago

Would love to know what RHEEM says about heat pumps in areas where the temperature stays below 40 degrees for a good part of the year. Unless they technology has changed in the last eight years or so, they just aren’t efficient if you live somewhere with real winters. We had a heat pump in our last house and it was incredibly efficient. Now we live 300+ miles north of there and no one sells heat pumps here. November thru April they would be terribly inefficient. We are seeing an increase in geothermal and solar though.

Alison
3 months ago
Reply to  Sarah

The Scandinavian countries have led the move towards heat pump technology in Europe so I don’t think climate should be an impediment.

Emma
3 months ago
Reply to  Alison

Swede here! Scandinavia does use higher R value insulation than in the US and regular houses often have triple glazed windows, so we can get away with slightly less “effective” systems even when it is very cold. And, many houses have wood burning fireplaces (“kaminer”) with a fan to circulate the hot air throughout the house.

Not sure if my friend’s house in NJ with its shoddy insulation and thin windows would do well with the same system, so I do think you make a valid point.

Ally
3 months ago
Reply to  Sarah

Heat pumps are great, generally. We had one in a remote location where overnight lows were commonly below freezing (in the 20s or teens) in winter. At those times our “backup heat” would kick in. for hours. For us it was propane-powered, which was expensive. I was told there were also systems available where the backup for extremely cold weather was electric. Something where air would blow over “strips” that heated it, I think.

sarah
3 months ago
Reply to  Ally

Where we lived previously we didn’t have gas line so during the few cold snaps, the backup would just run and run and run. Here the backup would be natural gas so just doesn’t seem worth it. Waiting for the prices on the geothermal install to go down. We’ve looked at and they would make a lot of sense.

Janell
3 months ago
Reply to  sarah

We had a geothermal system installed 6 years ago, and we love it. We have a rural property and space for the underground loops in our yard. At that time the US government was offering a rebate equivalent to 30% of the cost of the system off of our federal taxes, and our electric company offered a small credit. It made the cost of the system (coil directional boring, geothermal heat pump, and duct work) very competitive with the cost of an energy efficient furnace and duct work. It appears that the same tax credit has been extended thru 2032. It has been a huge cost savings and one that feels good.

Sam
3 months ago
Reply to  Sarah

I’m in New England and we had a minisplit air conditioning heat pump system put into our house because it was our only option for air conditioning without a major gut job on our home. It has been wonderful the past few hot summers but another pleasant surprise is that it provides such nice heat as well. We do have a pellet stove that we run when it gets below 20F but those days seem to be fewer every year. We have been discussing having our oil furnace removed from our basement because we just don’t use it anymore.

Baylee
3 months ago
Reply to  Sarah

Hi! We are in Wyoming, definitely under 30 for weeks at a time. In our 2 new builds, we had mini split combined with wood burning fireplace, and also heat pump combined with propane heat for a backup.

Maggie
3 months ago
Reply to  Sarah

We lived out in the country where there wasn’t any gas service and electricity was expensive (and it goes down to 0 sometimes in the winter) so we has a Geo-thermal furnace put in( it used the heat in the ground instead of the air) –it was fantastic!! Our electric bill went from $4-500/ month to less than $100 and because it had the veriable speed fan it was always comfortable. It is more expensive to put in but if you are going to live in a house 10+ years if is cheaper in the long run.

Admin
3 months ago
Reply to  Sarah

This Rheem article talks about areas with freezing temps: https://www.rheem.com/air-conditioning/articles/a-guide-to-heat-pumps-vs-air-conditioners/

Sarah
3 months ago
Reply to  Jess Bunge

Thanks. This basically is in line with what we heard when we were researching re myth #2. The systems we looked at would have been less efficient over the year as a whole. I do miss our old system though!

3 months ago
Reply to  Sarah

We installed a heat pump when renovating our last home in Canada. They’ve been around for years there, and very efficient. Although this was almost 20 years ago so it was gas, but our home was always comfortable year round.

Liz
3 months ago
Reply to  Sarah

Minnesotan here, had our heat pump installed last January during a stretch highs of -10 and colder. House is always super comfy. We have three extra fans as a backup system but still all electric. Ac worked great during a couple of heat waves this summer too. Would 10000% recommend in this climate!

Allison
3 months ago
Reply to  Sarah

Canadian here: we live in a climate with -40 temps. We have a Mitsubishi heat pump that is good until that temperature, and then a furnace with electric coil heating as a backup. Our summers are also hot, and the unit cools extremely well, too. This is our second year with this new unit and can’t say enough good things about it. Unless you live in Alaska, and even maybe then too, a heat pump with electric backup should work well assuming it’s a newer model. Not sure what the options are Stateside, but I figure Mitsubishi sells there, and Rheem and Trane make similar options.

Jan
3 months ago
Reply to  Allison

I live in the northeast and about to get a mini split installed in a room that had an inefficient old electric baseboard! I was just quoted for a mini split with one options that wouldn’t work as well below 20 and one for slightly more $ that would. Mitsubishi and LG offer them. We are installing in an addition/sunroom so going with the better system. If we had backup heat in that room I guess u don’t need the model with below freezing. LG https://lghvac.com/residential-light-commercial/lgred-heat/. Also in the northeast you should get solar panels to make it lower carbon impact!

Annie
3 months ago

Hello
This is very interesting; thank you for the detail. Would you mind telling why you chose an air-source heat pump over a ground source heat pump, given that you have masses of land. I am currently installing an ASHP in my country cottage in England because we do not have the land for a GSHP which I’ve been lead to believe are even more efficient (though I don’t rule out having got that wrong).
It’s so fantastic to see you promoting energy efficiency and just before COP27. Thank you., again.

Stassy
3 months ago
Reply to  Annie

Ground source heat pumps are a lot more expensive and air source heat pumps have gotten way more efficient, so (at least in my area) ground source heat pumps have gone out of vogue.

So glad you’re breaking down this stuff. so important to go green while renovating.

Lori
3 months ago

This is a great post–I’m replacing my 20-year-old gas furnace with ductless mini-split heat pumps in January, so I’ve been doing a lot of research (my existing ducting is WILDLY inefficient, so ductless made more sense for me). However, folks may want to know that Congress recently passed the Inflation Reduction Act, which contains massive tax credits and rebate programs for homeowners who want to electrify their homes. Starting January 2023, people installing heat pump furnaces or water heaters, or doing other energy-efficient home projects, will be eligible for increased tax credits or rebates, depending on your income (instant rebates if you’re low- to moderate-income, tax credits if you’re above a certain income threshold). The Family Handyman has a good rundown of how the varying federal incentives are going to work https://www.familyhandyman.com/article/how-to-take-advantage-of-the-incentives-in-the-inflation-reduction-act/. And Rewiring America has a calculator of how much you could potentially save: https://www.rewiringamerica.org/app/ira-calculator. Your state or local utilities may offer additional rebates or incentives on top of those offered by the federal government.

Sarah
3 months ago
Reply to  Lori

Curious how you found out that your ducts were inefficient? (We have forced air/ducted heat and had assumed when we get heat pumps we would get ducted.)

Sara
3 months ago

Thank you Emily and team for this great post. It’s so helpful for those of us planning bigger renovations. I really appreciate your note, as well, that it can be wasteful to throw away perfectly good working appliances/systems. Along those lines, we have a new old house that was added onto over the years and has like 3 different systems. For heat, two – forced air in an addition (gas HVAC system) and radiators and a boiler for the older part of the house. I actually love the old radiators, and radiant heat can be better from an indoor air quality perspective too, I think (though if the humidity is managed/maintained as with your system, those concerns w/ forced air would be alleviated). I would LOVE to see a follow up post digging into whether/how some of these newer more efficient systems can work alongside/combine with more traditional systems. Thx again!

Nish
3 months ago
Reply to  Sara

A lot of people where I live have heat pump hydronic heating systems (here’s a story about people converting their system from gas to electric – https://renew.org.au/renew-magazine/heating/gas-to-heat-pump-hydronic/). We looked at putting them in and they were twice the price of mini-splits so didn’t do it but agree, the radiant heat feeling from them is great.

Mack
3 months ago

Our electric heater in the South costs THREE times more than gas to heat our house. Who knows this year with the prices of electricity going up. When we had a really bad winter 2 years ago, because the windmills froze up, they were cycling our power on and off which took out the air handler. Thank goodness for our fireplace!!! We don’t have gas on our street, but I would go gas over electric every time because it’s more reliable!!! As for the heat pump water heater, you had better size it waaaay up! We also have one and it doesn’t perform near like our old water heater and cost like 5 times more to buy. It doesn’t save us any money either because we have to keep it in electric mode all of the time because it runs out of hot water so fast. We will never buy another one; my biggest “upgrade” regret in this house!!!

Lane
3 months ago
Reply to  Mack

You need electricity for a gas heater too. Whenever there’s power outage you can’t heat a house. Fans to circulate the air and thermostats rely on power. I guess you could have a battery or a generator for backup, but in that case you can use a pump too. Going forward it seems smart to have multiple power sources, solar panels and batteries too. But that seems more expensive too. Installing one fireplace can costs more than a gas heater. It’s all complicated, but something worth consideration

Lucylou
3 months ago
Reply to  Lane

Since heater can mean furnace or water heater, to clarify: gas furnaces require electricity (no fan without electricity). Gas water heaters do not require it.

Mack
3 months ago
Reply to  Lane

The electricity to run a gas furnace is very little compared to all electric. We now have a generator too.

Kj
3 months ago
Reply to  Mack

This statement “when we had a really bad winter 2 years ago, because the windmills froze up” is not factually correct. You can find a high level summary of what happened here: https://www.texastribune.org/2022/02/15/texas-power-grid-winter-storm-2021/

Kj
3 months ago
Reply to  Mack

This linked article was the “best available” info as of 2/2021, but the postmortem proved it was inaccurate.

Kj
3 months ago
Reply to  Mack

Linking to The Heritage Foundation as news/facts? Now you’re just trolling us. Thanks for the laugh.

Juanita
3 months ago
Reply to  Mack

My parents used to run a business and had a home in San Antonio, TX. They were continually replacing their hot water heaters in both — because of the sediment in the water, which corrodes the heating elements in the hot water heaters. Your heat pump hot water heater may feel like it is “constantly” running out of water, when in fact it may just be very, very sluggishly heating your water (because of the corrosion on the inside of the water heater tank and rod), and therefore it seems that there isn’t enough hot water. Especially with your very new, and almost state of the art water heater, I would call the people who installed it to diagnose if that is the issue. You should not be having those problems for that new a unit.

Bea
3 months ago

My sister – who lives in the south of France – has a heat pump and it works beautifully for them in keeping their 18th century farmhouse warm and toasty on the ground floor. Upstairs they didn’t bother as the heat rises through the old floorboards and for very cold spells they use a back up electric fan heater.
However, for me, living in a Victorian conversion flat in London, a heat pump unfortunately isn’t an option (no where to place it and far too noisy for the neighbors). Instead, I’m trying all the other methods out there in trying to be as heat efficient as possible – especially with the astronomical price of gas in Europe this year.

L
3 months ago

Are you trying to tell me that my 50 year old oil heat system is outdated and inefficient!? Ha…. Thanks for the info when we eventually update. Your research will come in handy

Sam
3 months ago

What good timing. We’ve been researching hybrid hot water heaters and our only concern is the sound. Our hot water heater is located in the basement directly under the family room. Have you found the sound annoying? My husband has been going around measuring sounds to figure out what 50 Decibels would translate too. Thanks!

Sarah
3 months ago
Reply to  Sam

We got a heat pump hot water heater that has a tank. Sound is not an issue. It works well!

Emily
3 months ago

Anyone know if you can use a heat pump for a mini split? We need to add one to our newly insulated and finished attic space.

Emily
3 months ago
Reply to  Emily

Whoops – nevermind, lots of mini split comments here already! Thank you, all!

Sheri
3 months ago

We got a heat pump installed this summer and I joke that it’s my most favorite thing. But it actually might be. Having the cold air in the summer was a game changer (we live in Seattle where most have no AC but really should with hot summers now). The air feels fresh and clean. It’s SOOO quiet too. Both indoors and out. You can barely hear it. I have no sponsorship, clearly, and while I know it’s better for the environment I love it most of all because it’s THE BEST THING TO HAPPEN TO OUR HOUSE!

3 months ago

Great info! We just installed a whole house fan to help reduce our AC use. We are looking at heat pumps for when it’s time to replace the current HVAC system.

Stacy
3 months ago

Yay! Great post!
Just wanted to mention since some people seem concerned about noise: I can’t speak to the HP water heater, but for the big guy that heats the whole house, it’s super quiet! It’s just the sound of a fan, basically.
Can also verify that having the house just… STAY… at the perfect temperature is amazing. We retired an oil furnace and replaced with a heat pump. What an upgrade! As an added bonus, the house feels a lot cleaner without diesel burning in the basement.

Char
3 months ago
Reply to  Stacy

We had a heat pump installed a few years ago and it has really cut down on our furnace oil costs. We have to have the oil furnace because the heat pump can’t heat enough in cold weather. The furnace comes on at 32 degrees outdoor temp. I will say our electric bill is higher even though oil costs are down. I would love to live in a no-winter area, but it is not going to happen.

3 months ago

This was SO helpful! I’m not sure if we’d be able to retro a system in our house since we’re not doing a major renovation, but I had just heard about heat pumps and now I feel empowered to ask!

Liz
3 months ago
Reply to  Cici Haus

We simply replaced our existing gas furnace and hot water heater! We did add one vent into the basement but otherwise there was zero reno!

Kj
3 months ago

A great resource for all things HVAC/energy is https://www.energyvanguard.com/blog/. Allison Bailes has a PhD in physics and has blogged about building science for the last 10 years. He has a book coming out too: A House Needs to Breathe…Or Does It?

Susan
3 months ago

So what is the plan for when the power goes out? Does this house have a back up generator? We have outages with storms or blizzards which is always a vulnerable feeling…

KL
3 months ago

Great article – as other commenters have mentioned though, air source heat pumps are very inefficient in cold climates esp in the USA (where natural gas is ridiculously cheap). We will consider a backup system but then you’re just paying for two large appliances really because electricity costs more than gas. Maybe that will change in the future or ground source heat pumps will become a more viable consumer option.

For places like California and Oregon though, I absolutely agree 100% – heat pumps are the way to go. Although I admit I’m still not sure what the difference is between a heat pump water heater and a normal electric tankless water heater, lol.

Lisa Smith
3 months ago
Reply to  KL

This is actually outdated – we are putting them in throughout Colorado, including in the mountains. The newer systems can handle down to -13 or -15, easy peasy. And while we get cold snaps still, sometimes, it’s rare for temps to stay cold 24 hours a day, so your system can get things toasty efficiently while the sun shines. People are putting them in old cabins and other properties with crappy insulation. Some folks also have a wood stoves or fireplaces for backup, but rarely use them. Radiant floors is GREAT adjunct though, with them, and makes floors so much nicer. I have mini-splits on the Front Range and they work like champs. Pair them with solar panels and you have a real winner! $0 utility bills most months, and zoned comfort all year long. I love them so much.

Susan
3 months ago

Depending on where you live, electricity may be supplied to the power grid via burning coal. So you’re still using fossil fuel to power your life. The other part I struggle with is what happens to all of those giant wind turbines when their relatively short life span is over. Look at bone yards for wind turbines and you will be sick. The parts for wind turbines are regularly shipped through our port city and trucked out to the latest wind farms. I can tell you that up close ONE BLADE from a wind turbine is MASSIVE and requires an oversized semi with special chaser vehicles accompanying it just to go down the highway. Those same massive parts have to be disposed of when they age out. I’m not trying to be a negative Nelly, but there are costs to all choices and what may seem to be “green” may not be when you look at the big picture. That said, we still have to try to make changes to save our planet

Kj
3 months ago
Reply to  Susan

“Worried about the environmental impact of wind turbine blades? Don’t be.” Good analysis about the issue here: https://redgreenandblue.org/2020/02/23/worried-environmental-impact-wind-turbine-blades-dont/

Amber
3 months ago
Reply to  Kj

It’s true the blades aren’t a huge issue. I believe the biggest drawback of wind and solar is the amount of land required per unit of energy produced, which obviously impacts natural resources and ecosystems.

And because they are not “always on” sources, energy storage and all the things that go along with that (e.g., mineral mining) are a factor.

My hope is that we can use them as transitional sources until better ones can be developed.

BW
3 months ago
Reply to  Amber

Amber, you may be interested in this episode of Ezra Klein’s podcast where he talks with an expert about the US’ path to net zero. They touch on some of your concerns about wind and solar and discuss how they’re just one piece of the plan: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/20/opinion/ezra-klein-podcast-jesse-jenkins.html

Amber
3 months ago
Reply to  BW

Thanks! I’ve been dealing with a lot of this issues at work, and always am eager to hear more perspectives.

Lulu
3 months ago

Not sure if anyone can chime in here, but we bought a house this year that we haven’t moved into yet and are currently making plans for what needs to be done (it’s being rented). It currently has electric baseboard heat and we are definitely going to install an HVAC for cooling (yay climate change) and are thinking of removing the baseboards and installing forced air heating. There is currently a gas fireplace so we could heat with gas or electricity (I don’t think either is perfect). Thoughts? I’m not sure where to turn to for expert advice (am in Western Canada).

Kate
3 months ago
Reply to  Lulu

You may want to look at ductless mini-splits; it is a huge project to install ducts into a house that does not have them. Those heat pumps will provide cooling in the summer plus heat in the winter.

Lisa Smith
3 months ago
Reply to  Lulu

I would do ductless mini splits/heat pumps instead for sure. They make your house so much more livable than a big forced air system, and save a ton of money. And are greener.

Merry
3 months ago

We made the switch to a high efficiency, multi-speed heat pump this summer (adding central AC to our PNW house that never had it before and replacing our 22 yo gas furnace). We love it so far. I was really shocked by how little it costs to run. Essentially to cool our whole home with the heat pump costs the same amount as it cost to cool just our bedroom with the “efficient” 2021 window AC unit that we were using before we had the new system installed. We have cheap electricity here relative to natural gas, but it seems to be cheaper to heat the house compared to last year too.

Deb
3 months ago

I had a new heat pump put in last year. My previous heat source was electric baseboard heaters which I kept if a backup is needed. I can say my house was definitely warmer with the heat pump but it did not save me much money in the winter. It did save me money in the summer as it has a dehumidifier. However as some people have pointed out if you live in an area where temps can get below freezing and stay that way for several days you may need to use your fireplace if you have one. Heat pumps have come a long way since the first one I had in the late eighties but I have yet to have a contractor be able to guarantee my house will be toasty when I moved to a colder climate if I have a week
of weather in the twenties. Basically a heat pump is great depending on where you live.

K
3 months ago

This is awesome! So glad you guys are going the heat-pump route!

3 months ago

Let me spare some of you a lot of headache by saying do NOT choose a heat-pump water heater if your mechanical room is in the basement. We remodeled a historic home five years ago and have replaced our heat-pump water heater three times (and are about to replace it again for different model altogether). The reason? If there isn’t enough warmth in the air, the heat pump runs almost constantly because there’s no heat to suck out of the air for heating the water. Because they run without much of a break, ours have broken in short order.

HVAC Inst
3 months ago

This article is ignoring crucial information in regards to an HVAC install, most importantly cost breakdown. Variable speed motors, (ECM motors), while efficient are two to three times as expensive to replace compared to a standard rescue motors. When it comes to zoning on an HVAC system yet again a major cost increase comes along. Every zone will need it’s own thermostat and electronic damper installed in the duct branch. These can be problematic and expensive to repair as well. For most home owners many of these “do’s” will be too costly. Heat pumps have come a long way over the last 2 decades, but the more smart technology you add to the system, the more things can go wrong. I myself install over a hundred Rheem/Ruud systems a year, and love the quality of the brand. My company works on all brands of HVAC and we get fewer Ruud/Rheem breakdowns than any other brand. If you have a home less than 2000 sqft one non-zoned system will be your best choice. Larger than 2000 sqft, we usually install two separate systems. You will save the most by going with a higher SEER unit period, as far as ECM motors… Read more »

Juanita
3 months ago
Reply to  HVAC Inst

We did a whole townhouse reno in Wash DC in 2003: we replaced the existing 1982 heatpump with a newer higher SEER model — but DID NOT take the Variable Speed FAN— which I have come to regret! For one, our townhouse neighbor on one side complains they hear it every time our heat pump comes on; evidently the Variable Speed models don’t have this problem. And, most critically, inside our home, the Humidity and temp from the NEW heatpump were never as ‘balanced’ vis a vis the (older, undersized) unit. DEFINITELY talk to your contractor if you are in a high humidity area (DC, the South,), and DO consider the Variable Speed Fans. They DO save energy in the long run, and would have made our townhome more comfortable.

Susan Marie
3 months ago

I wanted to chime in to say that just changing our old thermostats to the Nest smart thermostat has reduced our energy usage by a LOT. It knows when we are home and also challenges us to keep the house warmer in the summer and cooler in the winter, and we barely notice. So if you don’t have the $$ to make a huge investment, just changing the thermostat can do a lot.

Topic adjacent: We also just got a wifi/smart control box for our yard’s drip irrigation system, and it skips watering when rain is forecasted, and it sets the watering schedule automatically based on what types of plants you have and what season/month it is. It has reduced our water bill by OVER 50%! We are using the brand Rachio, it is so cool and one zillion times easier to use than the RainBird control box we had.

Mathilde
3 months ago

A good heat pump is great but what about the rest of the efficiency of the house? Will this be covered? Insulation? Windows? Passive heating? Etc.

🥰 Rusty
3 months ago

Yaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyy!!!!!💗😁💗
So pleased you did this!

Super-well explained, too.

I have a small nearly 10p yr old cottage and 3 split-sytem units. Usually, these are instslled on the ground on a concrete pad or attached to the wall outside with a bracket. Two are along the long driveway between the house snd the dividing fence. Because it couldn’t be on the ground due to ut being the driveway and would be gell-ugly on the wall at standard height, I thpught putside of the box snd asked the installers to use brackets right up high under the eaves. You basically don’t notice them. Fabulous! I’ve used them a heap and they’re still gping 20 years later – a trick with these is to run just the fan for @ 20 minutes after use, to dry the guts of the system out so you don’t have maintenance issues and the system lasts longer.

“Design Star (lol)”🤣🤣

🌱🌏🌱💗

🥰 Rusty
3 months ago
Reply to  🥰 Rusty

*100 yr old

Dalton Sego
3 months ago

Mechanical Engineer here: You don’t want to place a supply vent that directs cold air to your thermostat like you have shown. It’s better to have the thermostat near a return grille. The way your vent is oriented can cause the thermostat to think your room is colder than it actually is and your heat pump will stop earlier than it should to fully condition your zone.

Christa
3 months ago

I’ve installed mini-splits for heat/cooling, along with in-floor heating for bathroom floors, and have been pleased with the quiet and efficiency of the units. And an induction cooktop that I love. And an electric car. Where I live, over 70% of the power is now solar. This is the future, embrace it!

Eli
2 months ago

What do you mean you were able to install your mini split units inside the wall? Are your walls super thick?? Please share as I’m considering converting but don’t like the look of the wall units!

Kj
2 months ago
Reply to  Eli

Look at concealed duct minisplit systems (or ceiling casette if you have a drop down ceiling).

pam
2 months ago

I’m thinking there could be additional returns on the second floor. Bedroom doors are often closed at night which will balance/pressure.

pam
2 months ago
Reply to  pam

“which will effect balance/pressure”!

2 months ago

A lot of this read was good, but it usually takes the average tech 5 year’s to learn these systems and be fluent with them, it sounds like you do some research and now are a expert, I just find that very hard to believe, there will be home owners reading this and will believe this read more so than a experience tech. The variable speed is awesome and helps solve a lot of air flow problems, but I don’t think I seen anywhere that you talked about a mult stage compressor which makes the huge difference in heat pumps, I think you think it’s the variable speed blower that is located on the inside of these units. I’m not going to keep on criticism this article, but I do want to say since you mentioned zone, zone, zone, if your ductwork is not sized correctly you will create premature failure and lose energy.

I highly recommend finding a knowledgeable contractor who specializes in HVAC to get the system that best fits the needs and wants of the home owner as well as matches and fits the home.

#Garyknowshvac
Garyknowshvac@gmail.com

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