If home heating and cooling were a sport, heat pumps and ductless heat pumps would be the professional athletes among a field of amateurs. But even at the elite level, some athletes simply do it better than everybody else. The same is true with heat pumps and ductless heat pumps.
They’ve proven to be reliable and extremely economical ways to heat and cool our indoor spaces — especially when compared to electric furnaces or other electric heating systems. New models aim to be more efficient than ever.
The Department of Energy requires all heat pumps and air conditioners manufactured after Jan. 1, 2023 to meet higher energy efficiency standards.
Heat pumps and air conditioners measure their performance with two metrics: a heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF2) and a seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER2). The HSPF2 rates how efficient a heat pump is in heating mode whereas SEER2 rates how efficient an air conditioner or heat pump is in cooling mode. Heat pumps use both HSPF2 and SEER2.
Broadly speaking, the higher the HSPF2 or SEER2 rating, the more efficient the unit’s heating or cooling operations. The more efficient a system, the less energy you need to live comfortably. In the Pacific Northwest, it’s wise to focus on the HSPF2 rating over the SEER2 rating, because heat pumps in our region spend more time heating homes than cooling them.
The DOE sets the minimum standards at slightly different levels for different regions of the United States. Newly manufactured heat pumps sold in the northern part of the U.S. have to reach at least 7.5 HSPF2.
Along with the higher standards, the DOE revised the testing methods to more accurately reflect real-world operating conditions. The old ratings, HSPF and SEER, were replaced by HSPF2 and SEER2 and resulted in an overall lower rating for many systems.
“These revised tests are a good step, but still don’t necessarily represent how a system will perform at your home,” said Trevor Frick, Clark Public Utilities Energy Services Residential Program Manager.
Many heat pumps, air conditioners and ductless heat pumps on the market have higher ratings than those recently set by the DOE. But a SEER2 or HSPF2 rating is just one factor that determines performance efficiency.
For starters, a heat pump’s capabilities should match the building it’s installed in. If it’s too small the home won’t stay comfortable, or the system may rely on the backup electric heat too often and waste energy. If it’s too large, the system can short-cycle causing poor performance and reduced equipment life.
Even a perfectly sized system will perform poorly and waste energy if the home or building is plagued with air leaks, underinsulated, or connected to leaky or improperly sized ducting.
“A wise and knowledgeable HVAC contractor will consider all of those factors well ahead of recommending any specific heat pump or air conditioner,” Frick said. “That’s why it is so important to research HVAC companies ahead of time and solicit multiple bids before hiring anyone. It’s a little extra work, but it’ll pay dividends down the road.”
Clark Public Utilities offers rebates for customers in electrically heated homes to lower the cost of a new or replacement heat pump. It also maintains a network of contractors who have proven capable of explaining and processing those rebates. The network is not a warranty or endorsement, but it’s a good place to start. To learn more, call 360-992-3355 during business hours or visit ClarkPublicUtilities.com/rebates.
Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to email@example.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.