Energy Adviser: Ductless heat pumps save energy

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Homeowners with aging and expensive-to-use electrical baseboard, cable ceiling heat or wall heaters may want to consider upgrading to ductless heat pump technology introduced to Clark County about three years ago.

“We’ve been surveying customers who’ve installed ductless heat pumps as part of our incentive program and the technology is getting rave reviews,” said Clark Public Utilities energy counselor DuWayne Dunham.

The utility has sponsored a ductless heat pump rebate program since October 2008 and has tracked the installation of 1,841 ductless systems countywide. That’s the most installed in any utility service area in the four-state Northwest region.

“Ductless heat pump units are nothing short of amazing,” Dunham said.

Here’s how ductless technology works:

• The systems use the same “refrigerator” compressor technology as in a regular heat pump by pulling ambient heat from the outside atmosphere in winter and reversing that technology in summer to become a cooling air conditioner.

• Ductless technology uses a highly efficient zonal system that operates without a central blower and without air ducts.

• Systems consist of a small (as well as very quiet) outdoor compressor unit about the size of an average suitcase.

• The outside unit connects to one or more indoor zonal units installed on a wall or ceiling that actually do the heating and cooling in interior spaces such as a main living area or bedrooms. The indoor units are called “heads.”

• The outside unit and the inside unit (or units) are connected by electrical wiring and a separate refrigerant line. These need no more than a three-inch hole where the insulated refrigerant lines passes through to the outside unit.

• Each indoor head corresponds with a heating and cooling zone that can be managed independently. The system is controlled by a hand-held remote control device.

Heat pump technology uses about half the electrical power of baseboard units to create heat and ductless systems are even more efficient and less expensive to operate than standard heat pumps.

Cost savings

Ductless systems can cut energy use and related power bills by as much as 30 to 70 percent over typical baseboard or wall heaters depending on usage, said Jerry Sutherland, an estimator for MetFab Heating Inc. in Vancouver, which has installed more than 500 units in the past three years. Replacing outdated or inefficient heating systems with a ductless heat pump can translate to typical power bill savings of $40 to $75 a month for an average electric-heated Clark County household. Meanwhile, installation cost of a ductless heat pump system with one indoor heating/cooling zone ranges from $4,000 to $5,000. Cost depends on the heat production capacity of the system and difficulty of the installation, Sutherland said. Costs can be as high as $7,500 for a dual outdoor system with multiple indoor heads. Clark Public Utilities offers a $1,500 rebate to homeowners who install ductless systems as well as financing on approved credit. Homeowners may also qualify for a federal tax credit of up to $300 on certain equipment models, Sutherland said.

Dunham refers interested consumers to www.goingductless.com, a website geared to homeowners.