I'm in North Carolina so the weather is relatively mild. I would like to
switch to a heat pump. According to http://hes.lbl.gov/hes/about.html , I
could conservatively save about $1600/year on heating alone. I was as
thorough as possible when completing the survey. Last year my hvac guy, a
friend of the family, told me I wouldn't recoup the cost of replacing the
propane but I'm spending thousands each winter on propane. My propane
company has kept the price right at the break even point with electric, or
a little higher when it gets cold. The central unit is 7-8 years old,
propane heat/electric ac.
I'm going to sit down and discuss this with him next week. What are my
concerns and what questions should I ask?
Where in NC? There's quite a difference between the coast and, say,
I'd consider the geothermal -- in TN (Knoxville area) it cut our power
usage as compared to an air-exchange heat pump by almost two-thirds.
It'll take somewhat longer to recoup as installation is higher but if
it's a long-term residence, certainly worth the investigation imo. And
remember, it's a benefit in the A/C season as well as the heat sink is
as important as the source. (BTW, w/ my experience, I'm sold on the
WaterFurnace brand for geothermal.)
I'd think it would be nearly impossible to go wrong but it does depend
on the length of time for recouping then gaining net overall. But, many
utilities have special rates for heating/cooling usage as compared to
regular residential and there may be some (albeit minor) tax credits
possible as well to help offset a little as well.
your figures on geo thermal are close... you are assuming the thing
will have a long enough life cycle to
pay off. many do not, counting the service calls etc,.. they never
pay off. 10 years is a long time for
a heat pump to last... for that reason, as a rule, i dont recommend
geo thermal..... industrial or large commcl appllcations using heavy
cast iron compressors have 20 to 40 year life cycles.. maybe geo
thermal is a real good idea in those cases.
I can think of cases were I would however.. the installing contractor
needs to be an actual pro.. rare breeds those.
All of the above are why I am sold on WaterFurnace.
The unit was installed about 15 years ago, perhaps even a little
earlier, I don't recall the exact year any longer. The house was sold
in '00, the current owner has told me more than once how pleased they
are with it...
W/ energy prices unlikely to retrench greatly, it only makes the payback
I'll stick w/ the recommendation that it's worth investigating...
energy is going a lot higher, real incomes are going a lot lower...
saving energy is crucial.
My take on the water furnace is this... Ive been in the business 40
years. WATER FURNANCES ARE TERRIFFIC! If they are installed
correctly, your local water is not too hard, or corrosive, your local
contractor has good talent working for them (not common) and you are
If not, the service, repair and replacement costs can eat you
ALIVE... this system you are talking about is 15years old. thats
about 5 years past the normal life cycle for a water furnace. The
owner will have to factor savings in with the replacement costs.
Hopefully they will do what the Marriotte hotel chain does (and those
guys are penny pinchers).. they will replace it at first glitch.
(Marriotte wont spend a dime on anything over 10 years old as a
rule).. Not spend thousands on repairs first, then replace it.
There are many options. Ive listed them, the pro's and cons. Your
mileage may vary... it always does. One thing that never varies
though, the more complex any system is, the more nodes there are for
failure and the more service it needs over a life time. The water
furnace is an exceedingly complex piece of equipment.
Here is a story for you...about the first heat pumps... 'Typhoon
corp'... real junk, complex as hell, and in the early days they all
used a buggy tranfer valve, the O rings in it tended to leak and wear
I was a young man at the time...went on a service call to an old lady
that had two of them..both over grown with weeds, vines and debris....
had been working perfectly for at least 10 years... no way I had ever
seen that before, but one of them had failed. Blown fuse. I
replaced it... they were still running 5 years later, no service at
so there ya ago....
that experience and proven record of extreme reliabilty did not make
Typoon viable... they were already out of business when I did that
service call. The exception does not make the rule.
What works in one area, especially with ground source heat pumps
(water furnace is a brand name for that application), will fail within
months in another. ..or work even better in another area... or with
the same geology but a crappy contractor never even get off the
Any recommendation for anything needs to have the relevant caveat's.
So geothermal is a good bet...what's to argue????
One out of four ain't too good.
WaterFurnace is a good brand; that's what I said. There's no need to
use open-loop or well necessarily. One very good thing about
WaterFurnace (the company) is that they "vet" their authorized
dealers/installers so your chances of competence is greatly increased.
I agree that a groundloop system needs an installer who's got experience
w/ the technology. I'll disagree it takes much luck on the part of the
homeowner--all it takes is reasonable due diligence in evaluating the
proposals and the contractor.
There are plenty of sources for additional information on geothermal
from TVA, O(klahoma)SU, T A&M, etc., ...
It is no more complex than any other heat pump; in some ways it's
simpler as the external exchange unit is nothing but a simple pump
(again for the closed loop).
And, again, if you'll just shut up and read what I said instead of
arguing against them, I said specifically they are worth evaluating.
If you don't want to and have prejudices against them, fine.
The relevant caveat is "they're worth evaluating". Period. Plonk.
Ive installed a good many ground source (pool source, cooling tower,
and solar water source) systems.... they look fantastic on paper....
the larger ones can pay off too. the smaller you get the less likely
a pay off.
I will exagerate an example: say its a 1 ton system, anual operating
cost 700 dollars in its particular circumstance.. and you can put in a
system that saves 50%...but it costs $5,000 more... thats a 10 year
pay back...but then the system is worn out.. you have to buy a new
one.. no net savings... servicing the 5k loan over 10 years cost you
another 4,000 dollars or so... a net looser.
You do not see these listed on many contractor or manufacture
evaluation forms...and thats why Ive mentioned them here. you had not
some of this stuff, solar voltaics for instance has a 20 year pay pack
in some if not most applications.
Luck enters into all things.. some good brand name cars for instance
are lemons..it happens. same with contractors.
thats why you see so few of these water source heat pump systems...
they simply do not pay back within their life cycle...often they cost
a lot more...actually thats predominantly the case.
and yes I know this offends the dealers and those sold on the
alternatives but thats just how it is...and the installed base proves
that... if these approaches really saved enough to pay for themselves,
and the capitol loan costs etc.. they would be more common.
I was retained in 1982 by Daikin Kogyo corp (japan) to assist in the
develpment of their split system ductless heat pumps, then present
them and assist in the field application around the US... I did
seminars in most states... always there were ground source heat pump
people there, claiming that their systems were the best... always,,
and vocal and sometimes tried to interrupt my presentations.... I
always assured them that they were right about ground source... its
the best for energy efficiency in many cases..
I still like it. But it does not pay back in most smaller
applications ... so now here we are 25 years later.. these guys are
still beating the drum...I am still agreeing with them...and they are
still in a miniscule market share...
thats because when you run the numbers with *all of the considerations
re replacement, cost of money etc... they dont even come close to
But i still recommend them in some cases, lately in calif we have 3
tier electric utility rates...first tier is 10cents a KWH for the
frugal folk...carefully calculated to barely run a refrig.. second
tier is 20 cents or so... and third tier is 35 cents a KWH! Most end
up in the highest rate range. Electric bills have skyrocketed.
a ground source heat pump can keep a home within the 2nd tier usage
range...thats a significant savings...no matter how you slice it.
Or you can simply set your stat up to 78F or so on a hot day, with a
zoned system and save the same amount.
There are many options. One should be careful to note what each
leaves out of their evaluation criteria... no offense.
thats just how it is, especially in the ground source business.
For the last time, I said _only_ "they're worth evaluating".
If your evaluation isn't the same as somebody else's, so be it.
They aren't the low-price spread so if initial installation cost is
primary evaluation factor they won't suit.
Daikin Kogyo was selling these wiz bang, load shifting multi room
motel ac systems... 3,000 dollars per
room installed. really nice stuff. The motels went for $500
dollar through the wall units. 10% less
efficient, saved 2500 dollars a room, and that capitol and interest
costs...and no repair bills what so ever.
they just trash the bad units...they get about 7 years on em... thats
75 dollars a year.
now you can remote control em from the check in desk...
wireless...cost 100 bucks.
the next iteration is from Mitsibushi, 'the city system'...truly
wonderful... vast improvements in efficiency...really nice, except
that its a huge octopus of 50 zones... when you get a refrigerant leak
you have to tear up 50 different zones to find the leak !!....that
will do them in ..imo. I see it in grocery stores these days
also.... payback if you have no service calls (huge if) about 5
years... in 10 its junk.
there is a core level difference between these two options..
with propane, say kept at the same exact price as electric heat per
BTU you still pay drastically less for heat with a heat pump... key
word 'pump'. with a heat pump you are *not using the electricity to
heat a resistance heater to produce heat directly. You are using
the electricity to *pump heat from outside to inside... by running the
heat pump compressor. That is vastly more efficient than burning
propane, or using electricity in an electric heater.... 'burning
electricity' so to speak.
Even if its say 40F outside, you can pump the heat out of that air...
via the refrigeration / compressor circuit in a heat pump..
When it gets much below 35 or 40F outside a heat pump begins to loose
its advantage, so are not seen as comonly in very cold climates.
These do come with electric resistance booster heat though for times
when it gets colder than the ideal range for heat pumps.. allowing you
to reap the advantages of a heat pump while, having the capabilty to
heat on the rare occasions its below 35 or 40 outside... it i not
nearly as efficient in the pure electric heat mode though. no big
deal if its only say 10% of its run time.
My guess you will save between 30 and 50% on heating costs by going to
a heat pump ...
If you want to really save money, go to a zoned system, Many ways to
do that. say one smaller heat pump for the bedrooms, used at
night... and one for the living areas, used in the day. then program
them to set back in hours those rooms are not in use... that will save
another 20 or 30%.
If you add an electric matress warmer you can run the bedroom system
much cooler at night saving a lot more money.
two systems have the advantage of redundancy... when one dies, you can
still live in the house.
....also two smaller units will tend to run nearer 100% of capacity
when each runs.. thats more efficient.
to save more undersize the systems by 20% or so.. this means for
instance that in the summer it may get up to 76f in your house between
3 and 6 pm (gasp)... but you will save on first cost, and run closer
to 100% of max load when you do run. (in humid climates there are
some caveats I wont get into here).
go with 14 seer units though...highest efficiency.. for many reasons,
operating costs and what that does to vastly extend the life of the
systems. Go with an ultra simple system (not carrier for
example)...Rheem is superb... Trane is not so bad. Complex systems
cost a lot more to repair.
to save a whole lot more, go with ductless systems.. these have a
component that mounts on the wall or like a radiator near the floor...
eliminates duct losses.. about 10%... and can zone to operate one room
at a time.. very very efficient... saving another 20% on top of the
two unit zoning I mentioned earlier. Not cheap to install though.
Daikin Kogyo and Mitsibushi both make them. The chinese are now
making them if you can find em, for about 70% less using the japanese
compressors (superbly reliable roller compressors)... search ebay.
The quality of the installation is crucial for whatever you get. ...
unless its window type heat pumps.. one in each major room. and dirt
cheap btw... offering 100% zoneabilty... when it dies just shove
another one in the opening. yourself... no service call. Most
major motels and many hotels have gone this route for those reasons.
geo thermal, using ground water for a heat source... very efficient.
costly to install and service.. easy to screw up the engineering,
local ground water issues vary..can be a big problem. for a large
building maybe the complexity is worth it... not for a smaller
home ..... imo. ymmv.
Phil scott.. in da business since 1810.
I'm in North Carolina too. Up in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I have a
combo system. I have a heat pump for air conditioning and heating. My
heat pump does not have a heating resistance coil though. When the temp
goes down below 40 (adjustable) the heating chore is moved to a gas
furnace that I have in the attic. With the moderate temps we have here
most of the heat is given by the economical heat pump. Only when it gets
cold (and that's a relatively short time) do I use the more expensive
There are closed loop systems as well...almost as efficient, less
complicated, less expensive unless there is water available easily.
I don't see the service issue as any significant difference from my
experience w/ the unit--
yes, closed loop is almost always in my view a much better choice,
exceptions are in some
clean water mountainous regions, no sediment, lime stone etc.. but
granite.. those work well
with ground water cooling directly.
Less complicated depends on the brand and the installation...some
companies (such as carrier for instance) can make a wet dream into
rocket science with 9 computer boards in it.
you are undoubtedly more than 100% correct...stated another way, 'not
inccorrect, but fully accurate'... or one could say you have stated
the pure truth of the matter... for *your system.
After 40 years in the business (and Im still in the business) I can
tell you that the reason water furnaces and other ground source heat
pumps after 30 years on the market still have less than a 1% market
share is because they are very often a massive pain in the ass, and
end up being replaced with more conventional equipment long before
they even remotely recover their original costs.
Having said that, I am also 100% sure you can find at least 500
contractors who will assure you that all they ever put in is ground
source heat pumps and have yet to see any with a problem.
so...my advice... google it up 'water source heat pump
reliability'...'water source heat pump market share'.
when something that good in theory (and in some applications, work
wonderfully) is not selling more than 1% of the market.... there are
reasons.... good reasons.
What part of NC ? I live near Charlotte and probably don't spend that much
on all the electricity I use. I have installed a Trane 2.5 ton heat pump
about 2 years ago with a 14 sear rating.
While it is just the two of us now, we keep the house at 75 in the summer
and 70 in the winter all night and day.
Not sure of the sqft of the house , but it has 2 bedrooms downstairs and 2
smaller ones with a full bath upstairs, We do keep the upstairs bed room
doors closed as they are not really being used now.
Also a basement for what it's worth.
YOu do need to be sure the insulation of the house is up to stuff and there
are no air leaks in the walls.
Then the insulation is what you really need to put in first.
I lived in a 1200 sqft house built in 1965 near Charlotte with almost no
insulation in it and the heating bill was very high with a natural gas
furnace. While I was in the process of moving and selling the house, it was
costing a large ammount with an empty house and the thermostat set as low as
it would go just to keep the pipes from freezing.
In a 2000 sqft house where we only use about 1300 sqft downstairs , the
total bill for electricity including the heatpump is less than the nautral
gas bill was. The house is well insulated.
it ALL epends on how much you have to pay for electricity. Most
utilities have different rate tiers depending if you have electric
heat or if you have time of day or peak demand metering.
Your first step is to get all this rate info from your electric
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