Energy Adviser: Training helps avoid mishaps on heat pumps

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It would be a shame to spend $15,000 on a new heat pump only to find out that it's not operating efficiently because it wasn't installed correctly. Or that the air you paid to condition was seeping into your attic or crawl space, instead of heating or cooling your living room.

These are the kind of mishaps that hiring contractors trained by the regional Performance Tested Comfort System program can help you avoid.

The program, administered by the Bonneville Power Administration, trains and certifies heating contractors to install heat pumps to the highest standards so that the units deliver the greatest energy savings and comfort possible.

"There are a lot of different things about heat pumps that need to be done correctly to be as efficient as the manufacturer says it is," said Stephanie Vasquez, PTCS program manager for BPA.

Additionally, it's important that the ductwork is tight, she said.

"A lot of times, the ductwork is put together in a way so that air is coming out of cracks and holes all over the place, heating the crawl space or attic instead of the rooms," Vasquez said. "It can waste up to 30 percent of the energy used by the unit."

PTCS provides step-by-step support to contractors to ensure that your new heat pump has been commissioned and configured to deliver conditioned air to its greatest potential.

That's why homeowners should look for contractors certified by the PTCS program, Vasquez said. Plus, if you want to take advantage of Clark Public Utilities' $500 rebates for installing a new energy-efficient heat pump or sealing ducts, hiring a PTCS-certified technician is a requirement. The utility offers a list of contractors who have received the PTCS training and certification.

Higher standards

Contractors certified by the program install heat pumps to standards higher than current building codes so that the units will perform well and have a long life -- and so you can avoid the need for backup heat.

According to BPA's website, a PTCS-certified technician will:

• Recommend energy-efficient equipment that is right for the home.

• Test to ensure proper sizing using a heat gain and loss calculation.

• Install a system properly to ensure best performance and longest life.

• Test a system for the right amount of refrigerant, and adjust if necessary.

• Test airflow and make any adjustments for optimal performance.

• Set up the thermostat and controls to prevent the backup heat from coming on prematurely and increasing heating costs.

• Seal leaky ducts to ensure the system delivers conditioned air where it's needed and not outdoors.

"These technicians have above-and-beyond training," said DuWayne Dunham, an energy counselor at Clark Public Utilities.

Savings add up

Installers submit paperwork to the PTCS program for quality control review, and 10 percent of the jobs then undergo independent inspections.

"The program provides assurance to our customers that the heat pump is installed to perform at its highest energy-efficiency and comfort level," Dunham said.

These energy savings, home by home, add up.

Since 2006, the program -- which serves Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana -- has provided guidance to more than 3,500 installers on the proper installation and commissioning of heat pumps, as well as testing and sealing of ductwork, Vasquez said.

In 2007, the PTCS program recorded more than 3,000 heat pump or duct-sealing projects, and saved .34 average megawatts. Given that the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance figures that 1 average megawatt is enough to power 730 homes, that saved enough energy to power 467 households. By 2011, the program was involved in 12,000 jobs that saved 2.6 average megawatts. That's enough energy to power 1,898 households -- a fourfold increase.

For more information about PTCS requirements, contact info@ptcsnw.com or 800-941-3867, or visit http://www.bpa.gov/reshvac.

For information about the rebates for which you may be eligible if you hire a PTCS-certified contractor, visit http://www.clarkpublicutilities.com/index.cfm/your-home/energy-conservation/rebates/ or call our energy counselor of the day at 360-9925-3355.

Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to energyadviser@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.