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This Is Part Of A 4-Part Article

Click Here To Read Part 1:  AlsPlumbing.com Heat Pumps Part 1 of 4

Click Here To Read Part 2: AlsPlumbing.com Heat Pumps Part 2 of 4

Click Here To Read Part 3:  AlsPlumbing.com Heat Pumps Part 3 of 4

Al’s Plumbing, Heating & A/C in Plano, Texas provides maintenance & repairs for all brands of Central A/C, Gas & Electric Furnace, and Heat Pumps.  Additionally we sell and install new HVAC Systems from American Standard (same company as Trane), Ameristar (same company as American Standard) and Coleman HVAC (same company as York HVAC).

Al’s also provides full service plumbing maintenance, repairs and replacements for every plumbing component in your home.  Al’s sells and installs Rheem Professional Series gas & electric water heaters, and tankless water heaters.  Al’s is near your home in Plano, Allen, and Frisco.  We service all homes in southern Collin and Denton Counties with no travel charges.

Call Al’s today to discuss any concerns or problems you have with your HVAC System or Plumbing.  We will arrange an appointment at your convenience and offer 24/7 Emergency Service.

Heat Pump Characteristics — Part 4 of 4

Considerations When When Thinking About Buying A New HVAC System With  A Heat Pump

american standard platinum gold silver series hvac

 

While Heating, Heat Pumps Have Characteristics Unique To Them  

NOTE: In cooling mode, a Heat Pump operates like a conventional central air conditioner.

central air conditioner outside unit

Image Source: DreamsTime.com

  • Heat Pump Characteristics:  Noise generated by a Heat Pump during a Defrost-Cycle during winter.   As temps drop to near freezing, the moisture in the air passing through the outside unit will freeze on the coils.  At recurring intervals, the Heat Pump Defrost-Cycle will melt this frost.  The cycle will continue until the coil (within the outside unit) reaches about 57 degrees. Then, the system returns to heating mode.
  • Heat Pump Characteristics: Heat Pump noises never made by a central a/c (or heat pump during summer).  These noises were described in Part 3 of this article. When available, a YouTube Video was provided so you can hear a specific noise.
  • Heat Pump Characteristics: Output-Air Temperature (at the air vents) is notably lower with a Heat Pump than with a gas or electric furnace.  On a 35 degree day, a Heat Pump produces heat at 90-95 degrees (which is enough to heat your home).  As the outside temp drops lower, the air coming from the vents will drop a little more.   A furnace produces heat at 130-150 degrees.
  • In above-freezing outdoor temperatures, Heat Pump output temperatures are enough to heat the house.  If at any time the Heat Pump cannot keep up, the electric back-up heat will turn on.  Output temperature at the vents will rise notably when the heat-strip (inside the furnace) is running.
  • Heat Pump Characteristics: A Heat Pump HVAC System runs longer than a furnace.  Running time increases with lower outdoor temperatures.
  • Heat Pump Characteristics: Unlike a furnace, turning the thermostat 2 or more degrees higher will heat the house faster with a Heat Pump.  This applies to Heat Pumps, because they have a 2nd-stage of heating (using the back-up heat).  With any furnace, turning the thermostat higher will not heat the house faster, only longer.
  • Heat Pump Characteristics: With a Heat Pump, if you want the home to heat faster, raise the thermostat two (2) degrees or more.  This causes the electric back-up heat to come on and the temperature at the vents will rise considerably.  Once the home’s temp is within 1 degree of the thermostat setting, back-up heat turns off and the output temperature drops back to the 90-95 degree range because only the Heat Pump is running. Using electric back-up heat costs up to nearly twice as much as running the heat pump, so the system runs back-up heat only when needed.
  • Heat Pump Characteristics: During the defrost-cycle, output temperature (at the vents) will temporarily drop.  This is because the Heat Pump switches to cooling mode in order to warm the outside unit in order to melt the frost.  The back-up heat often comes on during the defrost-cycle, but the air at the vents will not be as warm (as when the back up heat turns on during heating mode) because the Heat Pump is cooling while defrosting.
  • Heat Pump Characteristics: When the output temperature (at the vents) is notably warmer than 95 degrees, the back-up heat is running.  This will occur automatically if the temperature drops 2 degrees below the thermostat setting.  The HVAC System will turn the back-up heat off once the temperature is within 1 degree of the thermostat setting.   This will happen automatically when outside temps are too cold for the heat pump to be able to heat the home by itself.  As outside temperatures drop, there is less heat in the outside air for the Heat Pump to extract, so it needs to use the back-up heat.
  • Heat Pump Characteristics: Any thermostat used with a Heat Pump must be a 2-Stage Heating Thermostat.  This type of thermostat runs the heat pump by itself (Stage-1 Heating) most of the time. When the Heat Pump can’t keep up, the thermostat also turns on the back-up heat (Stage 2) and runs both heat pump + back-up heat until the indoor temperature is within 1 degree of the thermostat setting.  At that point, the thermostat returns to Stage-1 Heating.
  • Heat Pump Characteristics: A Conventional Set-Back Thermostat won’t fully minimize heating costs with a Heat-Pump.  A Conventional Set-Back Thermostat will simply increase the temperature at the designated time, causing the electric back-up heat to operate until the desired temperature has been reached. Then it returns to single-stage (heat pump only) heating.  Any thermostat designed for Heat Pumps will be a 2-Stage Heating Thermostat.

To fully minimize heating costs, a Smart Thermostat is required.  Not all brands of Smart Thermostat may include this feature, check before you buy.  To understand why a Smart Thermostat fully minimizes Heat Pump heating costs, see the paragraph just below.

Most Smart Thermostats fully minimize Heat Pump heating costs by minimizing the amount of time back-up heat runs. This applies when using the Smart Thermostat’s set-back feature too. 

nest thermostat in heating mode

Image Source: ShutterStock

SHOWN: The Nest Smart Thermostat Displays An Orange Background When Set To Heating

The NEST Thermostat’s “Heat Pump Balance” feature allows you to choose how fast you want your home to rewarm (after heat was lowered).  You can choose: only the heat pump, a combination of heat pump + back-up heat (thermostat regulates), or back-up heat only.

  • The most current Nest Thermostats support two stages of heating. 
  • Nest goes online and gets the outside temperature.
  • Nest estimates how long it will take your reheat your home (to your desired indoor temperature).  This helps the Nest decide how much time is needed to operate each stage of your heating system (heat pump only OR heat pump + back-up heat).
  • If the 1st stage of heating (heat pump only) won’t reach your desired temperature soon enough, the Nest Thermostat activates back-up heat to heat the house faster. The Nest Thermostat displays which stage of heating is active by displaying “AUX. HEAT” when both the heat pump + back-up heat are running.

With a Heat Pump, using a conventional Set-Back thermostat will cause the HVAC Sytem to use more energy than if the temperature had not be lowered.  This is because the conventional set-back thermostat with turn the more expensive electric back-up heat to warm the house faster.  With a Nest thermostat, this won’t occur.  This is because the Nest Thermostat learns how quickly your home heats up with the Heat Pump, and adjusts the temperature sooner in order to maximize Heat Pump heating.

The Nest Thermostat allows you to choose:

  • Least Expensive Way To Heat — uses back-up heat the least amount of time.  It will heat the house more slowly, and at the least cost.
  • A Balance Of Least Expense & Maximum Comfort — Nest decides whether to use back-up heat or not, depending on outdoor temperature and thermostat setting.
  • Maximum Comfort — uses back-up heat the most amount of time.  It will heat the house faster (at the highest cost).

two central air conditioner outdoor units

Image Source: DreamsTime.com

Additional Considerations When When Thinking About Buying A New Heat Pump HVAC System

(Or A Conventional Central A/C + Furnace)

  • Air Conditioning has become dramatically more energy-efficient over the years.    Today’s ultra high efficient air conditioners (up to SEER-24) are up to 4 times more efficient of one built before 1980 (SEER-6).  And that assumes the pre-1980 a/c is working at its like-new capacity (which is unlikely).  Even a properly maintained A/C likely loses efficiency as it ages due to normal wear & tear.

If you have an a/c older than 1998 (SEER -8) in many cases it’s less expensive to replace it with a more energy-efficient system — taking into consideration:

  • purchase cost
  • operating costs
  • repairs that will likely be needed on older units
  • NOTE:  If your existing a/c uses R-22 refrigerant (freon) it has become very expensive to recharge it.  Freon  refrigerant has been discontinued in the U.S. because it harms the ozone-layer above the earth.  No new HVAC systems use freon.
  • The Chart Below Shows SEER Efficiency Ratings of Air Conditioners based on when they were made (this information is on the silver tag on the outdoor unit).  A new air conditioner or heat pump installed in DFW has a minimum SEER of 14. This means it may be twice as efficient as a system installed in 1980-85.   Many outdoor units will show the SEER, and nearly all will have the date of manufacture.   If your current a/c was installed as late as 2005, a new system may be as much as 40% more efficient (SEER-10 versus SEER-14).
  • Before 1980    SEER 6 or lower
  • 1980-1985       SEER 7 or lower
  • 1986-1991        SEER 8 or lower
  • 1992-2005       SEER 10-12
  • 2006-2016      SEER 13 or higher
  • 2016-                SEER 14 is minimum that can be installed in TX

 

Click Here To See The Silver Tag On A Central A/C Outdoor Unit: Central A/C Outdoor Unit Tag

The silver tag shows a manufacture date of 11/2000.   It shows the refrigerant is HCFC–22 (Freon).

Click Here To See A Trane XE-800 A/C.  It Has A SEER-8: Trane XE-800 (SEER-8). It was made during 1986-1991.

Click Here To See The Amarican Standard Heat Pumps Brochure: American Standard Heat Pumps Brochure

American Standard’s / Trane’s Highest (cooling) SEER Today Is Rated Up To SEER-22. (Min. SEER=14)

American Standard’s / Trane’s Highest (heating) HSPF=10. (Min. HSPF= 8.7)

 

  • According to the U. S. Department of Energy, a new Energy Star rated Heat Pump will save up to 20% on heating and cooling bills if your existing Heat Pump is more than 15 years old.  A new standard-efficiency Heat Pump installed in DFW has a cooling SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating) = 14 and a HSPF (Heating Season Performance Factor)= 8.7.  Ultra High-Efficiency Heat Pumps have SEER as high as 20.5 and HSPF = 13.
  • Finding HSPF rating on old Heat Pumps is difficult, but you can use SEER as a guide.  If the SEER doubles, the cost to operate the system should roughly be cut in half.  This can be a guide as to what you may expect with heating cost savings with a new, higher-efficiency Heat Pump.
  • Operating costs include: energy usage, maintenance, repairs and refrigerant recharges (if leaking).  If your existing Heat Pump is needing nothing more than routine maintenance, energy savings alone may not justify the cost of replacing it.  If it’s requiring increasingly expensive R-22 Refrigerant (freon) recharges and / or repairs, the cost to replace it may be well justified.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) “ENERGY STAR Most Efficient 2017″ Report 

This report recognizes “The most efficient products among those that are ENERGY STAR certified.” These exceptional air source heat pumps represent the leading edge in energy-efficient products this year.

How Does EPA Choose which Products Earn the Energy Star Label?

Products can earn the ENERGY STAR label by meeting the energy-efficiency requirements set forth in ENERGY STAR product specifications. EPA establishes these specifications based on the following set of key guiding principles:

  • Product categories must contribute significant energy savings nationwide.
  • Certified products must deliver the features & performance demanded by consumers, in addition to increased energy efficiency.
  • When the certified product costs more than a standard efficiency unit, purchasers must be able to recover their additional investment through utility bill savings within a reasonable period of time.
  • Energy efficiency can be achieved through broadly available, non-proprietary technologies offered by more than one manufacturer.
  • Product energy consumption and performance can be measured and verified with testing.
  • Energy Star Labeling would effectively differentiate products and be visible for purchasers.

ENERGY STAR Most Efficient 2017 Criteria:  This effort identifies the most efficient products among those that qualify for the ENERGY STAR rating within particular product categories. Product categories were selected and recognition criteria were established to ensure that products receiving this recognition demonstrate efficiency performance that is truly exceptional.  In the 2017 Report, Coleman HVAC’s Echelon Series Heat Pump HVAC System was recognized.  Below is what appears in the 2017 Report.  Note: Al’s sells & installs Coleman HVAC Systems.

Coleman Echelon Series™ with Touch Screen Communicating Control

Features:  The Coleman Echelon™ 18 SEER Heat Pump HVAC System combines a premium look, low WhisperDrive™ sound levels and convenient serviceability. This communicating outdoor unit integrates with the Residential Communicating Control and a communicating indoor unit to provide easy setup and troubleshooting, superior comfort, and energy efficiency.

Outdoor Model NumberIndoor Model NumberCapacityEnergy Use:Annual Energy Use (kWh)Annual Cost (National Average)*Lifetime Cost to Operate**% Savings over Federal Minimum
EERSEERHSPF
HC8B036F4FC/MC62D+MV12D+TXV36,0001418103,063$334$4,00726%

Click Here To Visit Coleman HVAC Website: Coleman Echelon Series Heat Pump HVAC System

 

An Internet Search About HVAC Brands Shows These Common Themes:

two central air conditioner outdoor units

Image Source: DreamsTime.com

Larger Homes Benefit From Two Or More HVAC Systems

  • The system’s installation is at least as important as the brand (possibly more).  A poorly installed, High-Efficiency HVAC System’s performance can possibly be inferior to a correctly installed, Standard-Efficiency system.
  • Value-brands (except Goodman — they make their own & Amana) are typically made by the same companies that make premium brands.
  • Value-brands, such a Ameristar (made by American Standard) are not made with the same components (Copeland brand compressors instead of ClimaTuff brand).
  • This doesn’t mean Value-brands are bad, simply they likely do not live up to the performance standards of Premium Brands.
  • Value-brands will have fewer features & options, and most do not offer an ultra energy-efficient model.

Standard & Trane are premium priced brands.  Not everyone needs, wants, or can afford a premium brand.

  • American Standard’s Platinum Series Best A/C has a SEER-22.    American Standard & Trane have their own ClimaTuff compressor.
  • American Standard Gold Series Best A/C has a SEER-17
  • American Standard Silver Series Best A/C has a SEER-16
  • Ameristar’s Best A/C has a SEER-14  (Ameristar has a Copeland brand compressor).

This may help one choose which system (premium or value) is best for you:

  • For those with a large home and/or someone who is home all day, a premium-priced, higher SEER System may be the best choice.
  • For those with a small home and/or no one is home during weekdays, a value-priced, lower SEER may be the best choice.

Where & How To Spend Your Money To Lower Heating & Cooling Costs

photo of blown insulation in an attic

Image Source: Shutterstock

Today’s Texas Building Code For Attic Insulation is R-38

You can have notably lower cooling bills with the lowest rated SEER / HSPC Heat Pump with a well insulated home that has had air-leaks sealed  than with the highest rated SEER / HSPF Heat pump in a poorly insulated house that leaks excessive amounts of air.

  • In 1970 Texas Attic Insulation Requirement = R-19. 
  • Today Texas Attic Insulation Requirement = R-38 (twice that required in 1970).
  • Through 2014, there was No Standard For Air-Leakage (ACH) in homes. *2
  • In 2015 the  International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) was established. *2
  • Today’s homes cannot allow more than 3-5 air changes per hour (ACH) with outside air (based on where home is located).  In Texas it’s 5 ACH.  *3
  • 3-5 ACH is required for Indoor Air Quality (based on where home is located). *3

How Much Air Leakage In A 1970 Home?

Brady Bunch House

Photo Source: Dreamstime

Do You Recognize This Famous House?  (Hint: The Brady Bunch)

A study was performed by Dow Chemical to discuss the effects of air leaks in existing homes.  On Page 20, there is a chart with the following results:

Whole-House Air Air Changes Per Hour (ACH): 

  • Newly Built Home = 1.2 ACH *4 (before mechanical ventilation systems are activated)
  • 1970 Built Home = 10.6 ACH! *4  This clearly demonstrates how much air leakage exists in a home built in 1970.
  • Sealing air leaks in an existing home won’t make it as tight as a new home (due to different construction methods & technologies).
  • An older, existing home can experience up to 20% reduction in heating & cooling costs when air leaks are located & sealed. *5

The International Association of Certified Home Inspectors created a manual to explain the value of these air sealing measures.  Studies showed the measures (described in the guide) can typically reduce whole-house energy usage by 10-20%.

Click Here To Read The U.S. Dept. Of Energy Guide To Air Leakage In A Home : EnergyCodes.gov *5

 

How & Where To Spend Your Money To Lower Heating & Cooling Costs

  • If you have a home built before 1990, you will almost certainly get a better return on your money purchasing a minimum SEER / HSPF Heat Pump + Insulation + Sealing Air Leaks.  The older your home, the more return you will see on energy-saving measures.
  • If you have a home built 1990–2015, you would likely get a better return on your money buying a minimum SEER / HSPF Heat Pump + Sealing Air Leaks.
  • If you have a newer home 2015+, your home is built to today’s Energy Conservation Standards.  Your HVAC system is rated at today’s standards too.  They are  SEER=14 & HPSF=8.2 (if you have a Heat Pump) or higher.

*2 SOURCE: https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2017/08/f35/bto-webinar-Codes-and-DOE-ZERH-071717.pdf

*3 SOURCE: https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2014-08/documents/building_codes_and_iaq.pdf

*4 SOURCE: https://www.resnet.us/uploads/documents/conference/2012/pdfs/Jeng-Cao-How_Much_is_the_Air_Infiltration.pdf     (Page 20).

*5 SOURCE:  https://www.energycodes.gov/sites/default/files/documents/BECP_Buidling%20Energy%20Code%20Resource%20Guide%20Air%20Leakage%20Guide_Sept2011_v00_lores.pdf

T0day’s Homes Are Deliberately Built Too Tight — Until Mechanical Ventilation Systems Are Activated 

This may seem counter-productive at a glance, but there is more to the story.  Mechanical Ventilation Systems extract the heat or cool from the air and use it to warm or cool the incoming fresh air before the air is distributed by the HVAC System.

A very tight home is very energy efficient — but it’s too tight to maintain acceptable Indoor Air Quality.  An Energy Recovery System ensures good Indoor Air Quality with controlled ventilation while minimizing heat or cooling loss.  The two components of new homes make them very comfortable and energy-efficient.

These are typical pollutants found in a home’s indoor air:

  • water vapor / humidity
  • radon
  • mold spores
  • carbon monoxide
  • formaldehyde
  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s).  The most easily identified VOC is a “new” smell.  Like the smell from new paint, carpet, wood floors and furniture.

In a home with less than 3-5 ACH (actual number depends on location — in DFW, it’s 5) would have a build up of pollutants the indoor air.  In a short time, the home’s occupants will start to experience breathing and / or health issues due to excessive pollutants in the home’s air.

The number of changes per house increases when any of the following are running / occurring:

  • dryer
  • vented kitchen range hood
  • bath vents
  • Fireplace is being used.  This will continue to happen until the fireplace damper is closed once the fire has gone out.

As compared, a home leaking outside air into the home allows the air inside at what ever temp the air is at that time.  The reason new air is leaking into the the home is because existing (heated or cooled) indoor air is leaking out of the home through other leaks.  Cold travels toward warm because cold air is more dense.  So you loose cooled air through leaks in summer and heat through leaks in winter.   This often makes the home feel “drafty” and the home will likely have cold / hot spots due to large amounts of outdoor air leaking in at that location.

If you weatherize an older home, it’s highly unlikely (nearly impossible) you could reduce Air Changes Per Hour (ACH) below the recommended 5  (ACH 5 means indoor air exchanges with outdoor air 5 times each hour).  Earlier we stated a 1970’s built home (featured in one of the studies) had an ACH of 10.6.

New homes are built far more airtight than older homes.  They are built to ensure air-leakage at or below today’s energy Building Codes.  Older homes cannot achieve the low ACH numbers (new homes achieve) because of the way they were built.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates DFW homeowners can save an average of 14% on heating & cooling costs by sealing air leaks + adding insulation in attics in homes built prior to 1990.  *6   This equates to an 8% savings in total DFW energy costs.  That number can become impressive when determining potential savings on your yearly energy bills.

*6 SOURCE: https://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=home_sealing.hm_improvement_methodology

Individual Heating & Cooling Energy Costs & Savings Will Also Be Notably Affected By Your Lifestyle Habits:

dirty air filter on left. New air filter on right.

Image Source: CanStockPhoto

  • Frequency of furnace air-filter check (and change when needed) – at least once per month
  • Maintenance of your HVAC System and ductwork.
  • Your heating & cooling desires and habits.
  • Lifestyle habits that add heat (such as using the oven during the summer)
  • Lifestyle habits the reduce summer heat-gain (such as closing blinds during hours while the sun shines through windows during summer)

For in-depth details on the topics above and much more, click on this link for another article from our Blog:

55 Ways To Lower Cooling Costs WITHOUT Buying new A/C

For in-depth details on air conditioner performance, click on this link: 

Is Your A/C Performing At Its Best? — 5-Part Series

SUMMARY

Heat Pumps offer a much lower heating-cost option for those who own an all-electric home with an electric furnace.   Operating a Heat Pump will reduce heating costs by up to nearly 1/2 the cost of running an electric furnace.  If your all-electric home currently has central a/c, there is nothing additional needed to install a Heat Pump.  In the case of an all-electric home, the most cost-efficient way to heat your home (considering both purchase costs and operating costs) is to upgrade to a Heat Pump with Electric Back-Up Heating.

Note: A gas furnace is less expensive to operate than a heat pump (about 2/3 of the cost).  If your home has natural gas inside the home, it likely has a gas furnace, and that is your best heating option.  If your home is all electric, you can run a gas line to the furnace location, but the cost to bring gas into the home is likely cost-prohibitive.

 

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Al’s Plumbing, Heating & A/C in Plano, Texas provides maintenance & repairs for all brands of Central A/C, Gas & Electric Furnace, and Heat Pumps.  Additionally we sell and install new HVAC Systems from American Standard (same company as Trane), Ameristar (same company as American Standard) and Coleman HVAC (same company as York HVAC).

Al’s also provides full service plumbing maintenance, repairs and replacements for every plumbing component in your home.  Al’s sells and installs Rheem Professional Series gas & electric water heaters, and tankless water heaters.  Al’s is near your home in Plano, Allen, and Frisco.  We service all homes in southern Collin and Denton Counties with no travel charges.

Call Al’s today to discuss any concerns or problems you have with your HVAC System or Plumbing.  We will arrange an appointment at your convenience and offer 24/7 Emergency Service.