Before calling a contractor/installer, here are five steps to follow. (These are taken from the “Air Source Heat Pump Buying Guide,” Northeast Energy efficiency Partnership (NEEP).
Step 1: Plan Ahead
If you wait until your existing heating system fails, you won’t be able to find the right contractor or properly plan for a heat pump installation. Most likely you’ll get an updated version of exactly what you have now, which may not be the best choice. At the same time, the full installed cost of a heat pump often isn’t justified on energy cost savings alone. If you’re planning a renovation, if you have a comfort problem, or if your existing equipment is getting older (15 years is considered a typical lifetime for most furnaces and boilers), you will soon be spending money anyway on a system; now is the time to plan for a partial or full heat pump conversion.
Step 2: Find a Quality Installer
Contact your trusted heating and cooling company and say you’re interested in a heat pump. Also, see if your local utility or rebate program has a list of qualified installers. We also maintain a list of qualified installers on the Love Electric site for your convenience. Selecting a qualified installer can help ensure you receive any available rebates. You can also get referrals from family, friends, or neighbors.
Step 3: Shop Around
Once you find an installer, ask if they’ll do a free evaluation and quote. Avoid shopping only on price; the quality of the design and installation matters just as much. Think through the section “Additional guidance to help you choose the right system size and design” below, and talk over the options with your potential contractor(s). Make sure they have a reputable track record, and can service equipment when needed. If your contractor says “heat pumps don’t really work in cold climates” or “every heat pump needs a backup system”, find someone else. Remember, the lowest bid isn’t always the best value, and a high price doesn’t guarantee competence or quality.
Step 4: Insist On Load Calculations
If you’re getting a ductless heat pump for the main living space and it’s clear that it won’t heat the whole house, it may be fine to estimate the heat pump size based on installer experience. But if you want to heat your entire home, the proposal should always start with a load calculation. This means the installer measures the rooms and window dimensions and makes a list of the insulation values in attics, walls, and basements, along with window types and direction. All are needed to calculate the amount of necessary heating and cooling to keep the house comfortable (called heating and cooling loads). This is often called a “Manual J” (the name of a widely recognized load calculation procedure). “Bigger” is not “better” when it comes to heat pumps. In fact “too big” can create real performance problems. Installers should always start with measurements of the house and avoid using additional “safety factors”; the procedures already have a healthy margin of safety built in. Also note that for multi-zone systems, it is extremely important to calculate loads correctly and avoid indoor units that are too large for the rooms they serve. Central systems and single-zone systems (ductless or ducted) are somewhat more forgiving, because they allow for a wider range of efficient operating conditions.
Step 5: Checklist of important questions to ask a contractor
Keep the following checklist of questions on hand to help ensure your contractor is prepared to correctly design and install your system:
Always ask for a quote that details the equipment model numbers and itemizes any other parts and accessories that you’ll be charged for. If possible, try to get options for two or three alternatives from the same contractor so you can consider a range of options, with some explanation of the differences and the benefits of the various options.
Love Electric aims to accelerate the adoption of heat pumps, heat pump water heaters, and other efficient electric technologies in homes and businesses across Colorado, to lower consumer energy costs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and provide improved health, comfort and other benefits. Love Electric is an initiative of the Beneficial Electrification League of Colorado (BEL-CO).