For most people, air conditioners and furnaces are familiar. They’re built to generate cool or warm air and maintain a constant temperature. But they are inefficient compared to heat pumps, which can save close to $1,000 per year in a colder region, especially if you have an oil-run system, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.1 Heat pump installation can have many benefits, but there are many things to consider before switching over.
What Is a Heat Pump?
A heat pump is a device capable of heating and cooling. It’s designed to move heat from one place to another instead of mechanically creating heat. This is much more energy efficient. Depending on the system, it can obtain heat from the outside air or underground. When operating in reverse, the unit can take heat from your home and disperse it outside to provide cooling. Like a traditional central AC system, a heat pump consists of an outdoor unit and indoor air handlers.
Considerations for Heat Pump Installation in San Jose, CA
Why Do You Want/Need a Heat Pump?
Whether your primary reason to invest in a heat pump is cost savings, comfort, or environmental conservation, know why you want one before proceeding. In some homes, a heat pump can be the main, and only, heating system. In others, it may serve as a supplement to another heating system. Knowing your expectations helps installers determine the best equipment, specifications, and configuration.
Type of Heat Pump
A geothermal, or ground source heat pump, uses a network of underground pipes to move heat. The temperature below ground is fairly constant all year, making the system more efficient. The ground loop can be vertical or horizontal.
An air source heat pump extracts or releases heat into the outside air. It draws ambient heat from the air in winter. In summer, it operates in reverse to pull heat from the inside and release it outside.
Air source heat pumps are common because they don’t require any digging. The line set is run through a small hole in an exterior wall. Sometimes, it can be run through closets, garages, basements, crawlspaces, attics, etc. to avoid having exposed tubing and wiring. Types of air source units include:
- Ductless: Only a three-inch hole in a wall is needed to link the outdoor condenser to the indoor air-handler of a mini-split heat pump.
- Ducted: A heat pump can be connected to ductwork if your home is newly built or has an existing ventilation system.
- Short-Run Ducted: Large ductwork is placed in only one part of your house; it may be installed in conjunction with ductless units.
- Split: Inside and outside coils are connected by supply and return ducts, which in turn are connected to a central fan in the home.
- Packaged: Both coils, the fan, and other components are contained in the outdoor unit, with ductwork passing through the roof or a wall.
- Single-Zone: A heat pump that’s intended for a single room; the indoor unit is linked to an outdoor compressor.
- Multi-Zone: An outdoor condenser is connected to two or more indoor air handlers, each of which provides its own “zone” of heating and cooling.
- Absorption: A gas-fired heat pump, in addition to heat or thermal energy, uses natural gas, heated water, or another heat source; units are larger and more complex.
To achieve maximum efficiency, a heat pump must be properly sized for your home. A qualified professional will perform a calculation to determine the best size. Factors impacting system size include the amount of air your ductwork can handle. The square footage of your home, air leakage/sealing, and size, number, and placement of windows are also important factors. The outdoor unit must be sized according to how many units it supports, while indoor coils also vary in size based on the characteristics of the zones they serve.
Sealing air leaks (in windows, doors, walls, ducts, etc.) and improving ventilation will help your heat pump run more efficiently. Installing and upgrading insulation helps as well. When measuring a heat pump’s efficiency, ratings to consider include the seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER), which measures cooling capacity compared to the system’s energy requirements. Heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF) compares heating capacity to energy consumption.
*To receive an Energy Star label, a unit must be rated at least SEER 15 and HSPF 8.5.
Outdoor Unit Location
An outdoor unit can be mounted using foundation brackets, which minimize noise and keep the unit out of the way. Ground stands help reduce noise but may be susceptible to frost. A wall-mount system is out of the way but can transmit noise into your home. Here are some other considerations as to where to put the outdoor unit:
- Airflow: Hiding the unit in a tight space or behind shrubs can restrict airflow. Make sure there’s ample clearance around it.
- Aesthetics: Some units can be large and imposing, depending on the type, so carefully consider placement and home design to control its visual impact.
- Ease of Service: Choose a location that’s accessible to simplify maintenance and professional service.
- Doors and Windows: Outdoor units can interfere with opening doors and windows. Defrosting in winter can create icy patches on walkways. Therefore, placement must be carefully considered.
- Runoff: If a roof drip line is near the unit, water exposure can be a problem. Choose a better location or install a rain cap on the unit.
Location of the Indoor Unit
Indoor wall units are the most popular, efficient, and convenient. Mounted high on a wall, they can heat or cool large areas. Less visible options include floor units and ceiling cassettes that can be mounted above a suspended ceiling with only the vent visible. A mini-duct or compact-duct unit may also be located above the ceiling or below the floor.
When installing an indoor unit for a heat pump, consider the following:
- Airflow: An indoor unit should be located near an open space and not next to a doorway. Heat doesn’t easily pass through closed doors.
- Rising Heat: Naturally, heat rises, so a unit in heating mode won’t heat a level below it. However, some heat may rise to the floor above.
- Thermostat Placement: An existing thermostat should be moved to an area not served by the heat pump, to avoid interfering with its readings. The heat pump’s thermostat should be located only in the area it serves.
Other Heat Pump Equipment
When considering heat pump installation in San Jose, CA, there’s more than the outdoor and indoor units to install. The system also has line sets. Indoor lines can be hidden while outdoor lines can be matched in color to the exterior or made shorter to reduce visibility. A condensate drain line is needed to remove water (into a sewer line, garden, gutter, or sump hole) when the unit is running in AC or dehumidification mode.
Other considerations with air-source heat pumps include the use of thermostatic expansion valves, which move refrigerant with more precision. Variable-speed blowers increase efficiency, while copper tubing with inside grooves increases surface area for heat dissipation and extraction. Local code requirements are also important to consider, as they can impact installation costs and there could be costly fines for violations.
Hire a Heat Pump Installation Professional
At IRBIS, our experienced technicians provide a consultation, whole-house inspection, and custom solution. When installing a heat pump, we obtain the proper permits as well. Each installation is one-of-a-kind while home size, temperature preferences, and all other relevant factors are considered. To learn about special offers and financing or request heat pump installation in San Jose, CA, or surrounding areas in Northern California, call 669-266-5464 or book an appointment online.