Heat pumps 101: Common questions about a greener option for heating and cooling your home

·2 min read
Heat pumps cost thousands of dollars to purchase and install, but provincial rebates may be available depending on the project type and existing fuel sources, according to the website betterhomesbc.ca. (Robert Jones/CBC News - image credit)
Heat pumps cost thousands of dollars to purchase and install, but provincial rebates may be available depending on the project type and existing fuel sources, according to the website betterhomesbc.ca. (Robert Jones/CBC News - image credit)

More British Columbians want to install electric heat pumps as a greener way to save money long-term while heating and cooling their homes — and one contractor says it's getting harder to keep up with demand.

"It's pretty crazy right now," says Joe Cheriex, owner of Controlled Air Heating and Cooling in Courtenay, B.C., on Vancouver Island.

"You're just seeing heat pumps going in everywhere. It's not even just new residential homes. They're going into condo developments. They're going into hotels. There's just such a need for them."

Heat pumps, which use electricity and refrigerant to transfer heat from outside to inside and vice-versa, are a greener heating option than natural gas, propane or oil in a province like B.C. that relies heavily on hydroelectricity, according to Cheriex.

Don Campbell/The Herald-Palladium/The Associated Press
Don Campbell/The Herald-Palladium/The Associated Press

In warm weather, heat pumps are up to 50 per cent more energy efficient compared to a typical window AC unit, according to B.C. Hydro.

They cost an average of $8,000 and $16,000 to purchase and install, Cheriex said, although provincial rebates may be available depending on the building project and existing heat sources.

Common questions Cheriex often fields about heat pumps include cost, longevity, noise and effectiveness in cold weather.

The lifespan of a heat pump should be in the range of 20 years, Cheriex said, while some newer units have warranties in the range of 10 to 12 years on major parts.

While some older units may be noisy, "the newer stuff is getting quieter and quieter, some of it as low as 50 decibels, which is basically as loud as a dishwasher."

As for cold weather, Cheriex says the cold-climate heat pump at his Vancouver Island home worked in -15 C temperatures and auxiliary heat kits are available for colder climates.

In terms of cost, it may take a homeowner about a decade to recoup the price of a heat pump through savings from not using fossil fuels.

"But if you're getting rebates.... it's going to take a lot less of time to get your money back out of it," Cheriex said.

Peter Sundberg, executive director of City Green, says those interested in installing a heat pump may end up on a wait list. In the interim, he says, homeowners can focus on upgrades to insulation and windows to make their home more energy efficient.

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