Mighty Ductless Heat Pump ?>

Mighty Ductless Heat Pump

I don’t know about you, but I am so happy that cooler weather has arrived in the Pacific Northwest. I enjoyed the hot, dry summer we had but I am definitely ready for fall. I wore boots and a rain coat to work, walked through crunchy fall-colored leaves and made soup this week, all signs that fall is upon us.

But as much as I like the shift to cool, crisp days in the fall, I don’t like being cold, especially at home. And last winter, I was cold all the time. The electric heaters in our house couldn’t keep up, and so I was forced to wear thick socks, slippers, sweaters, a hat and sometimes even gloves to stay warm.
But not this winter, because last week we said goodbye to those terrible heaters and hello to our new friend, the mighty ductless heat pump!
A ductless heat pump is a heating and cooling system that consists of an indoor unit that is mounted on an exterior wall, an outdoor unit that sits on the ground and a remote control to adjust settings. It uses fans to circulate air throughout rooms, which will allow us to heat (and cool in the summer!) our home, only requiring us to supplement with the heaters in each of the bedrooms when the doors are closed.f3150-photo2b2

The ductless heat pump is a good fit for us because we have a 960-square foot ranch style home with an open floor plan and a non-ducted existing electric heating system.

Ductless heat pumps have been popular in Europe and Japan for decades and are starting to gain traction in the U.S., probably because they’re awesome. They are more efficient than many ducted heating systems because energy isn’t wasted traveling to rooms through ducts. I have been well aware of these benefits for a few years because of my job, but because the price starts at $5,000, Josh and I figured it would be at least five years before we could afford one.

However, this fall I discovered the perfect combination of tax credits, incentives and discounts to save us 60 percent off the base price, so we immediately jumped at the opportunity.

Original price: $5,137
Manufacturer discount: -$515
Portland General Electric discount: -$200
Oregon Department of Energy Tax Credit: -$1,390
Energy Trust of Oregon incentive: -$1,000
Total out of pocket cost: $2,032

I would not call myself a bargain hunter. I shop for convenience over savings because I would rather spend my time doing other things than searching for the best deal. But in this case, I was definitely searching for the best deal I could find. At the peak of last winter’s cold snap, our electric bill was almost $200 per month, up from the $40 bill we have in the summer. Based on the fact that our new system should save us about 50 percent on our heating bills in the winter, the payback time could be as little as three years. We expect to be in our house for at least the next five years, so we’ll definitely see the savings while we’re living here. You can be sure that we’ll be tracking that and I will report back on that front.

Once we discovered how much money we could save, it was time to find a contractor to do the work. First, I found an approved Energy Trust contractor so we would qualify for an incentive and cross-referenced the list with PGE’s approved contractor list so we would qualify for their advertised discounts. To be sure we were hiring a quality contractor, I also checked them out on Angie’s List and did a basic online search to see what I would find.

Through my research I found four contractors to give us estimates, and chose Climate Control Heating & Air Conditioning to do the work. Their sales rep Jason was knowledgeable and friendly and said his they been installing them for 25 years, which made us feel confident they’d do a quality job. Plus Jason had good things to say about the electrician who has done work on our house and the company that installed our windows last year, which told us that he was a good relationship builder. When it came time for installation, the crew, Adam and Tristan, were equally as friendly. They efficiently and were respectful of our house, which I really appreciate.

After the efficient windows we had installed last fall, the ductless heat pump is the second major efficiency upgrade we’ve made to our house. But it won’t be the last. In order to make sure it’s working at peak efficiency, we need to increase the insulation in our attic and tack up loose insulation in our crawl space. Thankfully, neither of those will require as much of an investment so our bank account will have time to recover a bit.

Living in a comfortable home that is also efficient and low cost to operate is a high priority for me and I want to be as helpful as I can to others interested in making similar upgrades. If you want to hear more about the process of choosing the right model, contractor and having it installed,  please let me know in the comments below and I’d be more than happy to share.

6 thoughts on “Mighty Ductless Heat Pump

  1. Hi Kelly! Happy for you guys! We have a heat pump now and it's been so wonderful! Montana is COLD, and almost every night gets below freezing and our bill has been so so so affordable. I don't think I could go back to a regular base heater – ever. NO WAY!

    -Danielle

  2. Thanks, Danielle! I'm glad to hear you've had a good experience with yours. We turned ours on for the first time this week and our house was so warm. I'm actually looking forward to getting our bill next month so I can see how efficient it is. Ha!

  3. Hi Kelly, Does your cost breakdown include installation? I would be super interested in knowing if you are OK with sharing 🙂 Thanks for the wonderful post! -Sam

  4. Hi Samantha, the breakdown does include installation and all other costs associated, like the electrician and permits so the total cost I list is, in fact, the total cost.

    Are you looking into getting a DHP?

    Thanks for posting!

    Kelly

  5. I got a ductless heat pump in April 2012, having spent my first winter in my then-new 2-story townhouse which has the original mid-70's electric furnace…and choking and nearly crying with every bill. I keep my house on the chilly side, and the upstairs around 60…give or take a couple of degrees. My Fall/Winter bills are $70-$90/mo less than they were with the furnace (which I lazily consider about half or a little less).

    However, my townhouse is far from ideal for a DHP because of the very limited areas available for good placement of the interior units. I use the unit on the 2nd floor for cooling the entire house, and the unit on the 1st floor for heating the entire house. I wouldn't be able to spend much time at all in the room with the A/C on because of the placement – it's FREEZING. And you don't get to control the fan direction as much as you might think – the unit often makes the decisions for optimal performance when reaching the temp you set. That means, depending on the size of the room, the configuration of furniture, and the placement in the room of the unit, it can be blowing right on you – often.

    I had 6 or 7 estimates, with about a $3K spread, the lowest being under $5K (which I went with), by a smaller company which I liked. The owner came out for the estimate and also worked on the installation, so there's some $$ to be saved in skipping the middle-managers, sales commissions and other incentives (all of which benefit someone who is not you).

    I was going to go with one of the larger companies because the guy who came out for the estimate was awesome – very knowledgeable and had no problem sharing some of that knowledge with me. He seemed like an honest, decent person. When I didn't hear from him, I called him – unfortunately he'd been reassigned at the end of that day of the estimate, coincidentally, because he wasn't – to be frank – gouging enough customers. So he was taken out of sales and put onto installation.

    What he taught me was really valuable when dealing with the other estimators, and I could see through their BS easily. But the most important aspect in the long run is that he told me that I probably wouldn't be happy with the ductless system because of the difficulties in getting the best placement of the interior units. I have townhouses on either side of me and there would have been a LOT of extra cabling and tubing to reach from the exterior to the optimal interior installation points, and there was legitimate doubt that the max allowable lengths would be long enough.

    Turns out he was right about everything. I love my ductless heat pump, but if anyone else had to deal with the room upstairs where I use it for A/C they'd probably come after me with a machete. (Cold air falls, warm air rises, so your A/C upstairs can cool the whole house and the heater downstairs can warm the whole house, if other variables of the home are suitable.)

  6. @lwmoore, thanks for your comment. Our house is set up perfectly for a DHP. We only have one story and the main living space is pretty open. It has done a good job of reaching the back bedrooms enough that they are relatively warm. We like to sleep in a cooler room so it doesn't bother us that there is a slight temperature difference.

    The one drawback we've identified is that the placement of the indoor unit is above our couch, so it blows directly on us, which is annoying and I can see it being a problem especially in the summer when it's blowing cold air. You are supposed to be able to adjust it so that doesn't happen but it can't go high enough.

    Our heating bill last month was around $90 which isn't too bad, but I think we can keep it down around $80 if we don't rely on our back up heaters. We turned them off at the beginning of the month so we'll see what's like next month. Thanks for sharing your experience!

    Kelly

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