Missoula Heating Contractors Play 20 Questions: Heat Pumps

Whether you are planning to build a new home or an addition or want to upgrade your system, a heat pump could be your answer!  There are a number of options when it comes to heat pumps, and there is likely a heat pump to resolve your situation.  Let’s play a version of 20 questions where your favorite Missoula heating contractors answer your questions about HEAT PUMPS! Let’s jump in!

1.      What is a Heat Pump?

A heat pump is an HVAC unit that functions as both a heater and an air conditioning unit.  Heat pumps can keep your Missoula home comfortable year-round. It is installed outside of your home like a typical AC unit. 

2.      How Do Heat Pumps Work?

Heat pumps pull heat out of the air and send it to another place.  In the summer, it pulls the heat from your inside air and sends it outside to cool your home.  In winter, it pulls heat from the outside air and sends it inside to warm your home.

3.      Can Heat Pumps Work in Conjunction with Another Type of Heat?

Heat pumps can be set up to have an auxiliary heat source, like a furnace. Missoula heating contractors can set up your home so that the heat pump will do the majority of the heating and cooling and switch to a furnace when the outside temperature makes the heat pump less efficient.  You can also set the furnace as the primary heat source and the heat pump as the primary AC source.  This is an option for homes with propane but less common for those with natural gas hookups.  If you have a specific combination in mind, it is best to check with Garden City Plumbing and Heating to see how it would work and what would work best in your Missoula home.

4.      Where does a Heat Pump Get its Heat?

Heat pumps pull heat from the air, the ground, nearby water, solar, or waste heat from a nearby factory.  Most commonly, heat pumps pull heat from the air outside and send it into your home in the winter and vice versa in the summer.  Outside air temperatures in the winter are typically pretty far from the desired temperature inside homes.  Ground source heat pumps can be incredibly cheap and efficient because the ground maintains its temperature around 60 degrees, which is not that far from the temperature most people want their homes to be.  Because of this, ground-source heat pumps are common but are limited to homes with yard space that is not rocky or difficult to work with. 

Ground source heat pumps can use vertical or horizontal wells for the pipes. Horizontal pipes can be about 6 feet deep while vertical pipes can be several hundred feet deep.  Your home and your property will determine what source, size, and type of heat pump is best for you.  Your local Missoula heating contractor will help you determine the heat pump best suited for you!

5.      What is the Difference Between Mini Splits and Heat Pumps?

Ductless heat pumps are called mini-splits because they do not need a duct system throughout the home or the area in the home in which it will function. Mini-splits function like regular heat pumps in that they move heat from one place to another.  Keep in mind that some mini splits only have an AC function and no heat function.  Mini-splits are often installed in garages or in add-on sections of homes, while heat pumps function through a thermostat and a fully installed system across a full home.  If you are considering a mini split for an existing part of your home or trying to decide how to heat a new section of your home, contact a Missoula heating contractor to see what your options are!

6.      What is the Major Disadvantage of a heat pump system?

Installation costs tend to be higher for a heat pump than for an AC unit. The cost will vary widely depending on the type and size of the unit.  However, when you install a heat pump, it replaces both the AC unit and the heater.  If you combine the costs of both heat and AC, a heat pump will be the cheaper option.

7.      At What Temperature is a Heat Pump Useless?

Late-model heat pumps are extremely efficient machines.  Older heat pumps would struggle below freezing, but newer models have incredible efficiency down to about 10 degrees Fahrenheit.  We start to see a reversal of efficiency with electric furnaces at about negative 15 degrees Fahrenheit.  Check out this article we wrote about the bottom temperature limits and what happens when a heat pump struggles to maintain your desired interior temperature.

8.      Is a Gas Heat Pump Better Than Electric?

It depends on how you define “better.” Gas heat pumps typically warm up faster than electric heat pumps, but electric heat pumps are less expensive to purchase.  Also, gas heat pumps are often more efficient in colder temperatures than electric heat pumps. We can call this question a tie.

9.      Is a Hot Water Heat Pump Better Than a Forced Air Heat Pump?

This is highly subjective.  Many people prefer hot water heat because it is cleaner.  On the other hand, forced air heats a space faster.  You can get some great advice by calling your favorite Missoula heating contractor.

10. How Efficient Are Heat Pumps?

Heat Pumps are incredibly efficient, not just as a unit but also because they do not require fuel to be consumed to create heat.  Seasonal Energy Efficient Rating (SEER) is the standard rating measurement used to compare units and legislation.  It is a measurement of how much energy is used over the course of one cooling and heating season.  The less energy used, the higher the rating.  Heat Pump technology has developed in recent years creating effective and efficient products.  Additionally, Federal Energy requirements are becoming more stringent, producing more efficient heat pumps.

11.      How Expensive are Heat Pumps?

Costs can vary depending on the type of heat pump.  A heat pump unit can cost from about $4000 to about $7000.  You can generally expect a heat pump to pay for itself in about 10 years.

12.      How expensive are Heat Pumps to Install?

Costs can vary depending on whether it is a new structure or retrofitting a pre-existing structure.  A more basic installation, such as an air source heat pump installed in a new structure, will cost much less than a ground source heat pump being retrofitted into an existing structure.  Installation costs can run from a few thousand to over 10 thousand.  Your best bet is to contact Garden City Plumbing and Heating and get a specific estimate for your situation.

13.      How Expensive are Heat Pumps to Repair and Maintain?

Forbes recently reported that the average yearly maintenance is $100 to $200.  This yearly appointment is strongly encouraged to ensure proper functioning and keep repair costs low.  The average repair cost of a heat pump is $550, typically ranging from $150 to $1,950.  A point to consider is that because of the technology used and the availability of parts, a technician must be used for most issues. 

14.      How Expensive are Heat Pumps to Run Monthly?

This is where you will love your new heat pump the most.  Because the heat is sourced from the ambient area, your only monthly cost is to actually run the unit.  If you have solar panels, the cost of running your heat pump is next to nothing.   

15.      How Environmentally Friendly are Heat Pumps?

Because heat pumps do not use fossil fuels or other non-renewable fuels to create heat, they are very Earth-friendly! They have no toxic waste or fumes. They most commonly use electricity to power the unit, which can come from a number of sources of varying levels of environmental friendliness.  If you have solar panels on your home, your home can be both heated and cooled with incredible efficiency with entirely renewable resources. Give a call to your local Missoula heating contractor for more details about a specific unit.

16.      Do Heat Pumps Use Renewable Energy?

Whatever your source of electricity is, is what type of energy your heat pump will use.  If solar panels, then solar panels.  If coal, then coal. If windmills, then windmills.  Northwestern Energy, responsible for supplying 95% of Missoula’s energy is committed to providing 100% clean energy.

17.      How Long Will a Heat Pump Last

This is a loaded question.  The average lifespan of a heat pump is 15 years.  It will vary depending on how consistently you maintain your unit, how much demand you put on your unit, and how extreme the weather is during the years of use. It is also important to note that heat pumps are used in both winter and summer, while AC units and typical heater units are only used in one season.  This doubles the wear and tear over the span of each year.

18.      What Are The Common Problems With a Heat Pump?

Like any other piece of equipment, any part of the heat pump can go bad over time as it experiences wear and tear. The most common problems you will experience come down to a thermostat problem, dirty components (including a dirty air filter), and the refrigerant charge being low.  All of these are relatively quick and simple fixes. The best way to reduce repair costs is to schedule a yearly inspection to replace worn-out parts before problems have a chance to get bigger.  A local Missoula heating contractor can come out and service your equipment to keep your heat pump functioning optimally.

19.      How Do I Know If I Have a Heat Pump?

If you have moved into a home with a heating and cooling system already set up, it is not that hard to figure out what you are working with.  As an AC unit can look nearly identical to a heat pump, you will have to look closer.  You can check your thermostat for an “emergency heat” function.  If you have this, then you have a heat pump.  If you cannot figure out where to look for it, turn your heat on and go outside to see if your outside unit turns on.  If it does turn on, then you have a heat pump.  If not, it is a standard AC unit with another type of heat.  If you are still unsure, you can look closely at your outdoor unit for a model number and get googling.  You should be able to find your unit online to determine if it is a heat pump or air conditioning. 

20. How Do I Pick the Right Size Heat Pump for My Home?

The best way to determine the right heat pump for your situation is to compare the options best suited to your house, property, and desired comfort specifications. Talk to the folks at Garden City Plumbing and Heating to see what your options are and what would work best for you!

Schedule a visit with a Missoula Heating Contractor Today!

With the variety of options and the extent of efficiency, you really can’t go wrong with a heat pump.  Call Garden City Plumbing and Heating at (406) 728-5550 or contact us online to schedule a consultation and get started upgrading your home before winter hits!