Energy Adviser: All heat pumps are not created equal

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Your home may be losing heat where you least expect it — through the very ducts that circulate it from the furnace into a room. “As much as 5 to 20 percent, and sometimes more, of heat escapes through leaky ductwork,” said DuWayne Dunham, energy services supervisor at Clark Public Utilities.

As houses become tighter and more energy efficient, performance-tested comfort systems (PTCSs) can increase the comfort and livability of a home. Replacing older furnaces and heat pumps with high-efficiency heat pumps and sealing ductwork ensures a comfortable home along with energy savings.

“Sealed ductwork ensures that the entire heating and cooling system delivers conditioned air where it’s needed inside the home and keeps it from escaping into the attic or crawlspace,” Dunham said.

While all heat pumps operate like air conditioners with a reverse cycle for heating, so they can cool homes in summer and heat them in winter, not all heat pumps are created equal. The savings a heat pump delivers depends on the efficiency of the unit, and on how it’s installed. This is where the PTCS comes into play.

The benefits of PTCS include reduced heat loss, greater energy savings, greater comfort and improved air quality. It can also help you reap the incentives offered by Clark Public Utilities by ensuring your system is eligible and as efficient as possible. With some models running as much as $15,000 to install, you don’t want any mistakes or lost incentives.

Testing and sealing ductwork means reducing wasted energy. PTCS technicians use special equipment to pressurize the ductwork, measure leakage and then seal up any escape routes they find. Having your ducts sealed by a PTCS technician gives you the maximum energy savings for your investment and increased comfort in your home.

‘Conditioned areas’

Heating and cooling systems are also evolving as homebuilding grows greener and homebuyers increasingly demand higher energy efficient dwellings. Some newer homes locate ductwork in “conditioned” areas, which means that any leakage is still heating or cooling living spaces as desired, increasing efficiency. Builders are also testing the ductwork not located in conditioned space for leaks and making sure homes are tighter from the start.

Existing homes can achieve similar savings using ductless heat pumps. Just like traditional heat pumps, they have two primary parts: an outdoor unit and an indoor air-handling unit. But the conditioned air comes right out of the wall-mounted unit instead of traveling through ducts.

If your home is without ductwork and uses radiant heat, baseboard or wall heaters, upgrading to a ductless heat pump can make your home more comfortable and save you money.

Ductless heat pumps are an especially good choice for additions where extending or installing distribution ductwork is too costly or just not feasible. They are also great for very efficient new homes requiring only a small space conditioning system.

Builders including Peter Glavin of Glavin Homes are not only making sure that ductwork in new homes is free of leaks, but also that the furnace is tucked into a closet in the attic or inside the home. Among its other features, the attic space is “conditioned” and reduces heat loss from the furnace and the ductwork.

For information about PTCS, contact info@ptcsnw.com, call 800-941-3867 or visit www.bpa.gov/reshvac. For information about rebates you may be eligible for, call the energy counselor of the day at 360-992-3355.


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