Beginners Guide to Heat Pumps

Heat Pump Buyer’s Guide

Whether heating the home or an office, a heat pump provides an efficient, affordable and convenient way of achieving the perfect temperature year round.

But selecting the right heat pump can appear daunting. It certainly requires a little homework. This guide will ensure the investment you make into a heat pump system reaps rewards in the long term.

So why choose a heat pump?

·       All-year-round comfort.

As long as you live in a suitable climate you won’t need an additional air conditioning unit as a heat-pump both heats and cools.

·       Save on your energy bills.

A heat pump system harnesses heat originating from solar energy to warm inside spaces. A standard electric resistance heater can cost up to $500 more per year to generate the same level of heating. The savings will only increase as heat pump technology improves and becomes even more efficient. Choosing a heat pump is a step in the right direction towards more cost effective, sustainable and environmentally friendly living.

·       Long-life expectancy

Heat pumps are reliable and robustly engineered. A quality brand will offer a 5 year warranty on parts and labour as long as it is installed by a professional. Frequent servicing can significantly extend the lifespan of your product.

How does a heat pump work?

Heat pumps work by exchanging heat.

The process begins when an outdoor unit draws in air around an evaporator which contains refrigerant fluid. Heat from the air is absorbed by the refrigerant which boils and evaporates into a gas. The refrigerant gas then passes through a compressor. The compressor uses energy from the mains supply to increase the pressure and temperature of the refrigerant gas. The gas is then transferred into a condenser unit located indoors. As the gas cools and condenses into liquid, it releases heat to warm the inside space. Finally, the refrigerant passes through an expansion valve and back into the evaporator. The process is then repeated.

Ingeniously, a valve can be switched so that the process runs in reverse for cooling. The refrigerant is heated by the air indoors which is then exchanged to the outside. This is the same principle your fridge uses to keep food cool and fresh.

What do I need to look out for when buying a heat pump?

1)    How many rooms are being heated/cooled?

You may need temperature solutions for a single indoor space or multiple rooms. Read below what options are available.

  • For a single room, a single-split system composed of one outdoor unit connected to one indoor unit.
  • For multiple rooms, a multi- split system means a single outdoor unit can service multiple indoor units in different rooms of the house.
  • A ducted-heat pump can blow heat from one unit through ducts to multiple rooms.

2)    Are your spaces insulated?

Whilst heat pumps are efficient ways of heating or cooling a space, insulation will make the unit even more effective and reduce energy bills further.

3)    Understand efficiency

Heat pumps have efficiency ratings indicated by stars on product labels– red for heating and blue for cooling. This goes up to a maximum of 10 stars.

The top 25% performing models will also carry the blue ENERGY STAR mark.

Stars are a useful but do not tell you exactly how much cash you can save per year.

To get a more concrete idea, ask your heat pump specialist to calculate annual savings for a given amount of heating for your space. This way, you can compare savings from other models and decide whether investing in a more efficient and expensive model will save you money in the long run.

For those more mathematically inclined, you can calculate a heat pump’s cooling efficiency known as Energy Efficiency Rating (EER) or heating efficiency known Coefficient of Performance (COP). Divide Capacity Output by the Power Input, two values clearly displayed on the heat pump label.

The ratio you get from this sum can help you get a rough idea of savings compared to a conventional heater or heat pump model. For example, if the ratio is 3.0, for every dollar you spend you generate $3.00 dollars of heat or cooling capacity. The most efficient heat pumps can have a COP of nearly 6.0. This could result in some serious savings during the life of the heat pump.

4)    Right size for the job?

Don’t fall for installing a small heat pump for a room that is too big; especially if your budget is tight. On the other hand, you may be tempted to oversize your heat pump because you want instant heating or cooling. Both scenarios will only overwork your system, reduce its lifespan and be less cost effective.

A heat pump should be sized for the room it is heating to deliver the best results.

5)    Consider climate.

New Zealand is yet to implement a zone map for heat pumps so you need to consult a specialist to ensure optimum performance for your climate and environment. They can tweak and fine tune standard models, installation practises or refrigerant types to adjust for colder climates. Also check the manufacturer guarantees the unit performance down to colder temperatures as most heat pumps are only tested to 7°C.

Corrosion may be enhanced in coastal or geothermal areas. Ensure you are covered by your warranty if you live in such an area. Corrosion can be prevented by washing with fresh water according to manufacturer’s instructions. For added peace of mind, ask your heat pump provider about corrosion resistant parts.

6)    Blending in.

Heating and cooling solutions need to fit in with the design and habitability of interior and exterior spaces. A specialist installer can help to integrate a heat pump into spaces discretely. You can consider hi-wall heat pumps, low-level floor consoles or ceiling cassettes to blend into rustic or stylish interiors.

7)    User friendly.

Convenience is key. Monitoring and controlling temperature, airflow and timers can really improve your experience of a heat pump. You can select from wall mounted panels or remote controls and advanced timer options to make sure your house is cosy just when you need it.

8)    Hire installation professionals.

You may be very handy when it comes to DIY but it is ill-advised to attempt to install a heat pump unless you are trained to do so. Installation requires a wide range of skills and experience. The key to optimum heat pump performance is good workmanship. Choose a specialist who is aware of the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) good practice principles.

9)    Tune up frequently.

Specially trained technicians can identify wear and tear and ensure your heat pump system is running at is full potential.

Trust a specialist.

Ben’s refrigeration has considerable experience in the procurement, installation and servicing of heating/cooling systems. They tailor systems to your needs to optimise comfort, control, convenience, safety and efficiency. Operating in the Auckland area for 26 years means they have the experience and capability to deal with the unique environment the city provides.

Get it right the first time, trust Auckland’s heat pump specialists for installation and maintenance of your heat pumps.

Recommended reads:

Why Air Conditioning and Heat Pump Maintenance is Important.


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