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heat pumpWhen you invest in a new heat pump, you do so with the understanding that it will provide you with a decade or more of energy-efficient comfort. Getting that kind of performance, however, takes more than picking an affordable heat pump and dropping the equipment into place.

Even a seemingly minor difference in efficiency can mean a major difference in your long-term heating and cooling costs. No matter what its efficiency rating, without careful installation, a heat pump may not reach its full performance potential. Energy Star-funded research found more than 50 percent of heat pumps don’t operate at full efficiency due to installation problems such as poor airflow and incorrect refrigerant charge.

Know Your Energy Efficiency Ratings

Because heat pumps both heat and cool, there are two efficiency ratings to pay attention to when you’re shopping for new equipment. You’ll find these ratings listed on the heat pump’s yellow EnergyGuide label.

A heat pump’s heating efficiency is indicated by its heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF). This ratio tells you the amount of heat, measured in BTUs, the system can move per watt-hour of electricity used. The higher the number, the more efficient the heat pump. Today’s most efficient heat pumps can reach efficiencies as high as 13 HSPF, although HSPFs between 8 and 10 are enough for many homes.

Seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) indicates the heat pump’s cooling efficiency. This number is a ratio of cooling power in BTU over the amount of electricity used, with a higher SEER indicating greater efficiency. Systems with SEERs in the 20s are available, but SEERs between 14 and 18 are often sufficient.

While more efficient heat pumps cost more, the amount they can save on heating and cooling bills means you’ll save money in the long run. The payback period for a new heat pump depends on your individual situation. It may be as little as two or three years if you’re switching from natural gas heating. A heating and cooling professional can help you determine the ideal efficiency ratings for you based on your location, heating and cooling habits, and budget.

Size for Optimal Efficiency

The size of your new heat pump is also a critical consideration. If the heat pump is either too large or too small for your home, it will suffer performance and efficiency problems. An undersized heat pump will often have to run constantly to provide enough heating or cooling, which could cause the components to wear out early. In unusually cold or hot weather, the heat pump may simply not have the capacity to keep your home at a comfortable temperature.

To make sure the system can handle weather extremes, some contractors are tempted to error on the side of oversizing. This causes its own problems, however. An oversized system will repeatedly push out a more warm or cool air than you really need, then turn off again until the temperature becomes uncomfortable. This issue, known as short cycling, causes uncomfortable temperature swings and places undue wear on the components.

For accurate sizing, your contractor should follow the Air Conditioning Contractors of America’s (ACCA) Manual J for load calculation.

Prepare for Installation Carefully

Before you have the system sized, reduce your home’s heating and cooling load by sealing air leaks around doors and windows with weatherstripping and caulk. Add insulation to the attic if necessary. Also consider upgrading to Energy Star-certified windows.

If you’re having new ducts installed, keep as many as possible within the your home’s insulation and air barrier. This means not installing ducts in an uninsulated area such as the attic. If ducts are installed outside the insulation barrier, use batt insulation or duct wrap to insulate them to R-8 level.

To ensure good airflow, request registers in every room and check that air from all your rooms can easily reach a return air grille. This may require adding return ducts or installing grilles in the walls or doors between rooms.

Ask your contractor to ensure less than 10 percent air leakage from the ducts. With care, less than 5 percent is possible.

After installation, your contractor should check the system’s refrigerant charge. A heat pump that contains even 15 percent more or less refrigerant than the manufacturer recommends won’t run as efficiently as possible.

If you’re considering installing a new heat pump in your Tampa area home, contact the home comfort pros at Senica Air Conditioning, Inc., Inc.

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