It’s getting cold out there — even during some of these bright, sunny days. That means most all of us have started up our heating system for the year, because keeping ourselves and our homes warm is a priority again.
However, typically once the first heating bill of the year arrives, many folks start grabbing for a sweater along with their checkbook.
So, we thought this might be a good time to talk about the benefits of a ductless heat pump.
CHEAP ALTERNATIVE FOR HEAT
Is your current heating system inefficient or expensive, or both? A ductless heat pump may be your answer.
In this climate, a regular outside heat pump and inside air handler furnace is often an efficient way to heat a house. The technology of a heat pump basically recovers any heat from outside air and transfers it via a closed-loop refrigerant gas to the inside air handler — the furnace inside your house. The air handler blows circulating air through a radiator coil that was heated by the gas, and that is what is delivered through the house via your ducts.
In the summer, it will do the reverse: drying out the indoor air and pulling the heat out of the air inside the house and blowing it outside at the heat pump. The returning air feels cool, providing you with a nice air-conditioned space either way.
In the 1970s and ’80s, when fuel prices shot up and environmental concerns came to the fore, oil furnaces went out of favor. Some were converted to natural gas or propane. Now you hardly ever see oil furnaces in new construction.
It was about that time that the better heat pump technology, home-sized air handler systems were developed and priced for residential use.
Ductless heat pumps — which are just as they sound, not needing ductwork to convey the heat or cooling — were the next iteration of this technology, coming strongly onto the scene some 20 years ago.
Their benefits are many. Here are a few:
• They do not pollute.
• They are relatively easy and inexpensive to install and sometimes come with a rebate from the PUD.
• They provide clean air — good for folks with allergies and health concerns.
• No ductwork in or under your house, saving that floor space for what you want it for and saving you money on installation cost.
• They are inexpensive to operate — paying for themselves in just a few years and lasting 20 years!
• They are easy to maintain.
• They help to keep your home healthy.
We think the drawbacks are few, but we do need to mention them:
• The heating units are visible so the location of both the exterior and interior units might initially be a practical or aesthetic concern.
• If the electrical power goes out, you lose your heat — unless you have a compatible generator or another backup source.
IT WILL HEAT WHAT
IT CAN SEE
To be most efficient, you will want the inside ductless heat pump unit located where it can see the most main living areas possible — living room, dining room and kitchen — where the space is more open and where you spend most of your time. If it can also see down a hallway, it may also heat that and the rooms connected to it when doors are left open.
A house that’s chopped up with lots of little rooms will not benefit as much as one with a more open concept. However, either way you may want to have some kind of backup heat in the bedrooms.
Figuring ways to recirculate the air back to the unit is worth it. One little trick is to open a window a crack in the room, which relieves pressure and draws in heated air. Some homes benefit from multiple indoor units or more than one setup. Your contractor will know which is best for what you want to achieve.
The ductless air heating units are about 3 feet wide and a foot tall and protrude from the wall about a foot. Using the remote control, they have control features so the air flow can be pointed just the way it is needed in your house.
While you may not have conceived of having a nice-looking heating unit on your wall, after about a week of clean, consistent, cheap heat, you won’t even notice it’s there.
To maintain a ductless heat pump, you just need to open the unit and rinse the filters in the sink, dry them and put them back in the unit. If treated correctly, the filters shouldn’t wear out. Can you tell we really like this heating device?
BEGIN TO CONSIDER
FOR the FUTURE
Maybe your oil or gas furnace, cadet wall heaters, electric baseboard or pellet stove or ducted heat pump is nearing retirement age. If that’s the case, before you replace it with the same, try researching a ductless heat pump.
In our experience, most homes need just one unit and the cost runs about $4,000 for a 1-ton unit installed and goes higher for bigger units or complicated installations.
Most heating contractors on the Harbor can install a ductless heat pump. We suggest that you get three bids before choosing which contractor to go with — as you would on any major home-improvement project.
A ductless heat pump will provide most of what you need to keep your home a comfortable temperature 90 percent of the time.
However, if we get a long-lasting, deep cold snap, there simply isn’t enough heat in the air for it to extract, so some sort of backup heat is suggested. Keeping your old system as backup could make up the difference for short-term needs.
You may want to have something like a furnace-rated propane or gas fireplace or pellet stove for those very, very cold days instead. Regular fireplaces are the last resort. Never heat with a barbecue or other non-vented appliance.
ADDRESSING HEALTH CONCERNS
We at NeighborWorks are usually talking about how to make your house “live” longer and what to do to maintain it. There is a direct correlation between a healthy house and healthy occupants.
Next week we’ll let you in on some of the ways proper heating and home maintenance can boost your health in your home.
Dave Murnen and Pat Beaty are construction specialists at NeighborWorks of Grays Harbor County, where Murnen is executive director. This is a nonprofit organization committed to creating safe and affordable housing for all residents of Grays Harbor County. For questions about home repair, renting, remodeling or buying, call 360-533-7828 or visit 710 E. Market St. in Aberdeen.