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May 31, 2020

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Energy Adviser: Ductless heat pumps are coolers on hot days

The Columbian

The hottest June on record sent many Clark County residents shopping for air conditioners to make the prolonged 90-degree days bearable. And this week we’re back at it again with a long stretch of high temperatures.

For those still looking for a cooling solution, there may be an unexpected answer: heating upgrade. If your home is electrically heated and you’re in the market to make a change, installing a ductless heat pump is a simple way to cool your home now and save on your electric bill in the winter.

“Ductless heat pumps are ideal for ranch-style, modular homes or any house with zonal heating,” said Ashley Spurgeon, program coordinator for Clark Public Utilities. “They need no ductwork and easily replace wall and baseboard heaters, cable ceiling heat, or electric furnaces. For cooling, they are more efficient and cool larger areas than typical in-window or portable air conditioners.”

Ductless heat pumps offer several other advantages, too. They are quieter than seasonal air conditioners. They are dual-purpose and efficiently heat, as well as cool, a home. Once installed, they’re permanent. So there’s no need to pack them away when summer ends. They need no extra construction to support their weight. (In-window units often need a shelf to support their weight and protect the window casing.) Because both in-window and portables vent out a window that often needs to remain unlocked, they can pose a potential security problem.

Back in 2008, Clark Public Utilities was among the first in the region to offer incentives for DHPs. So far, the utility and its contractor network have installed almost 4,000. Costs can vary based on a number of factors (house size, in particular) and it’s recommended that you get bids from a few contractors in the utility network.

Installation takes about a day or a little longer. Installed by a contractor participating in Clark Public Utilities’ Contractor Network, yours may qualify for a $750 utility incentive. (Visit the utility website for a contractor list or call an energy counselor at 360-992-3355 for details.)

Once your DHP is installed, learn to manage your unit to get the savings you expect. That is, talk with your installer, read the operator’s manual, keep the filter clean and update the system settings as the seasons change.

Although DHPs may save a little money as you cool your home on hot summer days, compared to some portable units, they put the biggest dent in your utility bill during the winter months. With properly managed and maintained units, some Clark Public Utilities customers have reported a savings of up to 30 percent on the heating portion of their electric bill.

Another benefit is improved air quality. In-window models suck in whatever is outside, which can cause breathing problems. Because DHPs have filters, they strain out dust, mildew and pollen that aggravate asthma and other respiratory troubles during the spring and summer months. But, only if you clean the filters monthly. If you don’t, then the filters get clogged up, your unit works harder, its efficiency drops, your energy savings falls and the unit’s life is shortened.

“It’s important for households to manage their DHP for comfort year-round, not just during the summer,” said Spurgeon. “During the hot summer months, however, we suggest setting one to 75 degrees to keep cool.”

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