Preparing to Update the Heat Pump | Heat & Air Conditioning, Comfort | Synergy Home Advantage

Preparing to Update the Heat Pump

by Edward Foskey

Based on the life expectancy of the heat pump that came with my house when I bought it, I know that I am already living on borrowed time. I just recently had a minor repair and the semi-annual check-up. My plans are to start preparing to replace it by next spring.

I know that there are some Foskey Road News Readers who will be looking at that decision even before I do, so it is time for looking at what to consider for the upgrade.

First things first, try to have a good idea about the quality of knowledge your HVAC contractor has. Does he know how to size a system properly? Ask him about doing a Manual J on your house at minimum. If you get that deer in the head lights response over the phone or they do not schedule a time to come out and get some measurements on your house first, then call another contractor. Just because you may have had a 3 ton system in your house does not necessarily mean that is the size your house needs.

When deciding on what type of heat pump to get, you want to talk about SEER (for the cooling side) and HSPF (for the heating side). Get the highest number on both of these that you can afford. I recommend a minimum of 14.5 and 8.5. Here in Middle Georgia, since you will be running the cooling side much more than you will the heating side, I would go with as high of a SEER as I could afford. At pricing as of this date, four HVAC contractors I regularly work with in my inspections tell me that 16 SEER systems are at the "sweet spot" for energy savings versus price.

If you do not have one, you should go ahead and put in a programmable thermostat. When you do, get one that has adaptive recovery. This feature in your thermostat allows it to "learn" how long it takes to get your house back to the comfort temperature without wasting energy. For example, during the winter, you have your thermostat to drop to 62 degrees while everyone is out of the house during the day. However, you want your house to be at 68 degrees when you get home from work at 5:30. After a few days, the thermostat learns just how long it takes to efficiently get your system up to temperature. It also works very similarly in the cooling mode.

Do not forget your ducts when changing out your heat and air system. You may or may not need to change your duct system, but odds are that if the ducts are more than 10 years old, they may need some maintenance.

Here is what to do if you do not plan to replace your ducts:
  • Have them tested BEFORE beginning work on your system to determine the level of leakage (how much of your conditioned air is going into your attic or crawl space).
  • If the level of leakage is moderate to high, it is not too difficult to locate most of the leakage sources. The target is to have less than 4% of your system's leakage leaving your conditioned space.
  • Have them tested AFTER the work is completed to make sure that the air handler cabinet was sealed properly and that all connections to the air handler cabinet were sealed properly. Here is a link to more information about Georgia Energy Code requirements for testing systems where duct work has been performed
  • Make sure that all of your ducts are properly insulated.

You may consider replacing your ducts if you have air flow problems in certain rooms--especially if the duct runs are long and the ducts are small.
Here is what to do if you plan to replace your ducts:
  • Mention the word mastic to your HVAC contractor. Again, if he gets the deer in the headlights look, call another contractor.
  • If your ducts are in the attic, make sure that your contractor put AT LEAST R-8 duct insulation on them. If they are in the crawl space, they need to be AT LEAST R-6 duct insulation.
  • After completion, make sure the system tested for leakage by an independent third party qualified HERS Rater or DET Verifier. In the state of Georgia, the Energy Code requires that all systems that are replaced be tested for leakage to assure that it reaches a minimum standard. Having a third party person verify the work just keeps everyone honest.

Finally, here are a few pictures of what you should see while this process is taking place:
mastic at boot connection

mastic on air handler

mastic on boots


Call (478) 697-5609 for more information about testing your duct system.

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