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Heat Pumps

Many members have contacted the Claverack offices requesting information about heat pumps. Heat pumps are an excellent option for heating and cooling your home. There are many advantages to installing a heat pump.

There are basically two types of electric-heating options. The first is electric radiant heat. Most people know this as electric baseboard heat, but it can also refer to portable plug-in heaters. Some members even have electric radiant heating components in a furnace. This type of heat is 100 percent efficient because all of the heat is applied directly to the living area. There is no loss of heat or fuel in a combustion process, as there is with an oil, gas or propane burner. You get 3,413 British Thermal Units (BTUs) of heat for 1 kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of BTUs to heat a typical home, and that can get expensive at 3,413 BTUs per 1kWh.

The second electric heating option is the heat pump. After the development of modern refrigeration, someone realized that the refrigeration process removed heat from the freezer to make it cold. The heat that was removed from the freezer got put into the kitchen. Anyone who has stood barefoot in front of the refrigerator can attest to this. This concept launched the heat pump.

A heat pump does not actually make heat, it simply moves heat through manipulation of the refrigeration process, as refrigerants can be super-heated or super cooled. You may ask how it can move heat on a cold day. There is always some heat in ambient air (the normal outside air around us). Let’s consider a freezer that is 20 degrees. If we continue to run the refrigeration equipment, we can remove more heat from the freezer until the temperature is further reduced, even down to well below zero. A central air-to-air heat pump outside your home can remove heat from the ambient air and apply that heat to your home. An advantage of this process is more efficient heating. A 300 percent efficient heat pump produces 10,239 BTUs for 1 kWh of electricity (three times the amount of heat compared to electric radiant heat). Another advantage is that by reversing the refrigerant cycle, the same unit can remove heat from your home and move it to the ambient air (air conditioning).

There is, however, a down side. As the ambient air temperature goes down, it is more difficult to extract heat, and the unit must work harder. Efficiencies decline as ambient air temperatures go down. Historically, below 20 degrees, air-source heat pumps drop in efficiency to 100 percent (no better that electric radiant heat). They do not drop below 100 percent efficiency. Because of this reduced efficiency, the cost of producing the same amount of heat is a lot more than the cost of producing it with an ambient air temperature of 50 degrees. Some people even experience cold homes when low temperatures are extreme because the heat pump simply can't produce the needed heat fast enough. This is why air-to-air heat pumps are popular in the South, but see limited use in harsh Northern climates.

Many years ago someone realized that the heat pump worked great when the ambient air temperature was 50 degrees or more. It was very efficient. Was there a way to have 50-degree temperatures all the time, in any climate? The temperature of the earth is about 50-degrees even in cold climates, once you get below the frost line (about 5 feet underground). What if we could use that temperature to run a heat pump? How could we harness the heat in that 50-degree soil? If a hole was drilled or a trench was dug, a series of pipes could be installed. Properly constructed, we could circulate water through a maze of pipes and regardless of the water temperature going in, the return flow would be 50-degrees because of the ground temperature.  That 50-degree water could then be used to extract heat using the heat pump. Heat from the home could also be transferred to this ground loop if cooling were needed. This process is known as a ground-source or geo-thermal heat pump.

The ground source heat pump never loses its full efficiency because the ground water loop temperature always stays the same. Some manufactures claim newer models are achieving efficiencies of up to 500 percent. That equates to 17,065 BTUs for just one kWh of electricity. This heating option, when compared to others, offers a tremendous savings.

The ground-source heat pump is not for everyone. Your home must be properly constructed and insulated to ensure that this option will work for you. Ground-source heat pumps are also very expensive to install, often costing $20,000 or more. Any serious consideration of a ground-source heat pump should weigh your investment against your expected payback in operational savings. When looking for heating alternatives, comparing electric heating options to traditional fossil fuel systems is a good idea.

Listed below are some local heat pump installers in our area. We hope that this information is helpful in your search for the heating system that is right for you. If you would like additional information about heat pumps please call your member services department at the 1-800-326-9799 or 570-265-2167.

  • Ace-Robbins Inc., Tunkhannock, PA (570) 836-3232 info@acerobbins.com
  • Campbell Mechanical Contracting, Laceyville, PA (570) 746-3459
  • DeCristo, Inc., Canton, PA (570) 364-5251
  • EB Heating, Rome, PA   (570) 637-8381     etbeckwith@hotmail.com
  • Monk Heating & Air Conditioning, Dallas, PA   (570) 333-2665
  • Meadowlands Geothermal, Binghamton, NY  (607) 765-2359     pgrill@stny.rr.com
  • Schoonover Heating & Plumbing, Canton, PA   (570) 673-5123 or 1- 800-634-1038

 

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