Protect your investment when buying a heat pump

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]My career has taken me on an amazing journey through the heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVAC & R) industry.  Starting in 2002 as an apprentice I had the opportunity to work directly with a Journeyman for my first 3 years.  This is fairly rare in the HVAC & R trade as most employers expect their apprentice’s to work alone after about 6 months experience.  This is much too soon and allows bad habits to develop early in my opinion.  Eventually my career brought me to another much larger company where I found a passion in sales.

 

Years in sales brought me a new understanding to consumer demand and consumer misconceptions.  This is what I see as the top 3 consumer misconceptions when buying a heat pump.

#1 Heat pump brands are NOT the most important factor in the decision:

Everyone knows that in the age of internet it is very easy to go online and look at what people think about products.  The problem with heat pump product reviews is most of them do not take into account of the installation.  This is a vicious cycle I see all too much.  Consumer wants a heat pump, consumer asks the wrong questions and hires an unqualified installer, consumer pays bill, heat pump breaks down or is inefficient due to installation problems, installer can’t or wont fix problem and blames the manufacturer, consumer agrees and goes online to vent against manufacturer.  My best advice is to not get too caught up in brand names,  Instead focus on the installer.  The heat pump industry has reached what we call product purity.  I have toured a few factory’s now and all heat pumps are meticulously constructed with many tests and fail safes in place.  The manufactures also claim about 50% of their return warranty parts are not defective meaning the people diagnosing them are either wrong in their diagnosis or changing parts until they fix the problem.  Did you know all heat pump manufactures use a lot of the same parts as their competition?  They also all have their “good, better, best” product range that match their competitors.  Comparing heat pump brands today is almost like comparing Coke and Pepsi or Ford and Chevy.  The only significant difference is there is an installer involved.

#2  NOT all companies are qualified to install heat pumps:

Many consumers believe that if a company installs heat pumps they are then adequately qualified to do the job.  This could be further from the truth!  There are 2-3 trades required to install a heat pump depending on the type of heat pump.  The most involved and important trade is the Refrigeration Technician.

It takes 5 or more years to complete the Red Seal Refrigeration program.  Most experienced Refrigeration Technicians will say it actually takes about 10 years to really understand the trade.  Some contractors will say they have a refrigeration ticket but they  only have someone with a CFC handling ticket.  A CFC handling ticket is a 4 hour course that allows people to purchase and handle refrigerant.  It has little to to with best installation practices for heat pumps and is focused on best handling practice’s for ozone depleting substances like refrigerant.  There is no one in place to ensure qualified people are installing your heat pump but YOU!

Sheet metal technicians are another Red Seal trade used for the installation of ducted heat pumps.  Heat pumps require more air than a gas or electric furnace.  If ductwork is undersized it will directly affect the refrigeration cycle making the compressor work harder.  When a compressor works too hard for too long it fails earlier than expected.  Careful design and installation by a qualified Red Seal Sheet Metal Technician will help ensure this does not become a problem for the purchaser.

The electrical can be completed properly in two different ways.  Either a licensed red seal electrician or an electrically endorsed Refrigeration Technician can do the job in a qualified manner.  Either way an electrical permit is usually required.  Don’t be afraid to ask about electrical permits.  If problems arise from electrical work completed without permits complications can arise if insurance needs to be involved.

 

Remember buyer beware!  Ask the hard questions!  If you ask the tough questions you will get a good understanding of the type of people and company you could be dealing with.  Try to keep the excitement of rebates and “deals” off the radar and keep the professionalism and knowledge up front in your decision making.

 

#3 Lowest price is the best deal:

Although lowest price is becoming less of an issue it is still out there.  This type of attitude is most prevalent among builders but it is also a common attitude with individual purchasers.  I have had the extreme displeasure of repairing or replacing many systems much sooner than they should have.  I find it hard to gain the trust of a new customer when they have had such an awful experience from another company.  When working on the system it quickly becomes evident the installer did not know or did not care to do the job right.  Duct sizing, heat loss, piping practices and many other factors contribute to in efficient systems and early failures.  Most of these things are not taken into account on poor installations because the contractor wants to install the system as quickly and cheap as possible to be able to turn a profit.  They purchase the same heat pumps and material from the same suppliers for the same price.  The only way an installation can be done for less is to provide less effort, lower wages from unqualified people and cut corners.  The consumer might save $1000 by choosing the lowest bid but they are more likely to face thousands in repairs and energy costs.

Here is an example of one very poor installation I came across.  Unfortunately this is only one of many over my career.

This is where the thermostat wires enter the air handler.  The installer did not install a factory provided rubber grommet to protect the wires from damage on the sharp metal cabinet.

 

The Condensate pump overflow safety switch was not wired in.  This extra 10 minute step ensures the system will not cause water damage in the event of condensate pump failure.

The installer placed the heat pump in front of a dryer vent.  This allows excessive build up of dryer lint on the outdoor coil causing an extremely inefficient system.  The filter drier (blue can) is recomended to be installed on the indoor unit.

 

The thermostat wire is unprotected.  Thermostat wire is not rated to be outside as it breaks down easily in sunlight.  It should be protected with a UV rated conduit.  They also did not use a rubber grommet to protect the wire as it enters through the metal cabinet.

 

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_single_image image=”227″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” alignment=”none”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]This is where the thermostat wires enter the air handler.  The installer did not install a factory provided rubber grommet to protect the wires from damage on the sharp metal cabinet.

 

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_single_image image=”228″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” alignment=”none”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]The Condensate pump overflow safety switch was not wired in.  This extra 10 minute step ensures the system will not cause water damage in the event of condensate pump failure.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_single_image image=”229″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” alignment=”none”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]The installer placed the heat pump in front of a dryer vent.  This allows excessive build up of dryer lint on the outdoor coil causing an extremely inefficient system.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_single_image image=”230″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” alignment=”none”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]The thermostat wire is unprotected.  Thermostat wire is not rated to be outside as it breaks down easily in sunlight.  It should be protected with a UV rated conduit.  They also did not use a rubber grommet to protect the wire as it enters through the metal cabinet.  The filter drier (blue can) is recommended to be installed on the indoor unit.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]Having said all of that here is my MUST ASK list of questions that will help you find the installer you are looking for.

 

  • Is your heat pump installer red seal qualified? Can I have his/her Refrigeration TQ #?
  • Is your sheet metal installer red seal qualified? Can I have his/her Sheetmetal TQ#?
  • Can you provide a heat-loss calculation? (rule of thumbs are a red flag)
  • Is nitrogen purged when brazing refrigerant lines? (This is a crucial step skipped by some installers. Purging nitrogen keeps the sealed refrigerant system clean from copper oxidation)
  • What size insulation is on the refrigerant pipes? (1/2” wall is recommended most use 3/8”wall)
  • How do you size your duct work? (all ducting for heat pumps should be sized for .1”wc. It is common for installers to undersize duct work leaving the end user with issues like noise, water leaks and shortened compressor life)
  • Do you use acoustic insulation? (Acoustic insulation is designed to absorb noise and ensures a quiet system when installed in the duct)
  • What size registers will be installed? (4×10 complements 6” branch lines best some installers use 3×10)
  • Do you use canvass connections on the ducting? (Canvas connections isolate the air handler from the duct work ensuring a quiet system)
  • How do you seal the ducting? (“its ok if the ductwork leaks” is not an acceptable answer best practices are duct sealant and foil tape)
  • What material do you use to vent bathroom fans? (Flexible duct is quick and easy to install but greatly diminishes the efficiency of a bathroom fan)
  • Do you insulate ducting outside the building envelope? (Very important to avoid moisture problems)
  • What type of air filter is going to be installed? (washable filters pick up very little and need to be cleaned every 3-6 months and 1″ pleated filters are very restrictive to the system.  High efficiency filters are a low cost way to improve efficiency and reduce replacement needs to an annual basis)
  • Do you use an outdoor air sensor? (some installers don’t use them!! It is a $20 part that saves hundreds in annual heating costs)
  • What temperature is the outdoor air sensor set at? (should be set at or very close to freezing temperature. Anything above freezing is an indication the heat pump is not sized correctly allowing more electric heat to be used costing the end user without knowing)

 

Don’t be afraid to ask! Any installer will be proud to answer these questions for you.  Remember it’s YOUR investment.  Educate yourself and protect yourself![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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