Heat pumps are an incredible way of saving tons on future bills. This is true for homeowners and businesses alike. If you’re researching your options for a new installation, here are a few ways to make that heat pump investment reach its best possible savings potential. Some of these tips may also apply to existing heat pump owners as well.
1. Get your heat pump plan and installation tailored
Installing a heat pumps is one of the most financially sound decisions a homeowner or business can make. Even though the vast majority of heat pump installations achieve a very fast payback period and have a 25 year life expectancy, there is always room for greater savings. Out of the box solutions, even with experienced installers don’t often reach their maximum potential. Even a small increase of efficiency of 5% or 10% really adds up over 25 years. To maximize your heat pump’s efficiency make sure you get the system planned for your specific demands and that the system is tailored to suit these. Even non-customizable systems that are installed properly can see an increase in efficiency that translates into thousands of euros in savings over the installation’s lifetime.Find an installer that is experienced with various types of projects (commercial and housing). This should increase your chances that the installation plan isn’t off-the-shelf. Make sure that they use an engineer to conduct a thorough inspection of the building as well as your current and future needs. If your project is a new building you have an enormous opportunity to make many provisions for a holistic system that will make the building extremely efficient.Take your time. Do your research. Rushing into a heat pump installation almost always results in efficiency losses and mistakes that cost you money.If you have requested multiple bids from installation contractors, don’t be enticed by the lowest offer. Be prepared to spend a little more upfront for a proper installation and you will soon see the benefits of getting the job done right. That doesn’t mean you should spring for the highest bidder. Ask them to visit the site and offer you a consultation. You’ll be able to tell a lot from the way installers examine the site and the suggestions they put forward.
2. Pick a unit with a heaterless design
What is a heaterless design? Aren’t heat pumps supposed to heat? These questions get asked a lot and for good reason. Heat pumps can provide heating without an electric heater. As a matter of fact, heat pumps are much more efficient than electric heaters. Without having to go into the details of how a heat pump works what you need to know is that some heat pumps are sold with integrated electric heaters while others are not. The reason for this is that to achieve a high level of heat some products may struggle if they are underpowered. For this reason their manufacturers incorporate an electric heater which can increase temperature further. Of course, using an electric heater to “boost” heating adds to the power consumption of the system and as a result means less efficiency and savings. You may have heard of many heat pump owners that purposefully tamper with their installation in order to disable the heating element. There are numerous videos online that are shared by users as “tutorials” for “hacking a heat pump installation”. Users do this to force the heat pump to operate more efficiently but often to the detriment of comfort and economy as the heat pump overexerts itself to produce the required heat.There are some manufacturers on the market however that offer heaterless heat pumps (TermoPlus being one of them). Heaterless heat pumps are built to achieve the rated heating outputs without the need for a heating element. This means that they can actually produce the necessary heat without a power hungry heater. As a result owners enjoy both comfort and electricity savings.In addition, heaterless heat pumps can sometimes be upgraded to incorporate an electric heater element as an optional extra. This is useful in rare occasions where an existing heat pump installation is required to produce higher temperatures or volume and the owner wants to avoid the cost of upgrading or adding another heat pump. An example is a gym that has grown its membership and needs unlimited amounts of hot water for constant shower usage during peak hours. The vast majority of heat pump owners don’t need this option though.
3. Integrate domestic hot water (DHW) properly
Heat pump technology has made its way into domestic hot water (DHW) heating. As a result, DHW units using heat pump technology to produce hot water are extremely efficient. So much so that switching to a DHW heat pump is the often the highest performing investment a homeowner can make for that amount of money.Essentially hot water heating may cost on roughly around 1/4th of a household’s electricity bill. This varies for businesses but there are heavier DHW users such as hotels, gyms, pools, etc.A heat pump DHW tank can be installed without the need for an additional heat pump and can make a significant reduction in the electricity consumption for water heating.If you are considering installing a heat pump without a DHW unit you may want to reconsider. Not only does it cost less to get both installed together, but they can also take up less space as a combined unit. You can get a better deal overall and the units offer integrated controls as well. More importantly, if you use an air conditioning unit, you can recycle the heat extracted by the air conditioner in order to heat domestic hot water for free (you’d have to choose a hybrid model for this). We’ll discuss thermal recycling later on in more detail but it is worth noting that the more you see your space’s needs as interrelated, the greater efficiencies you can achieve.
4. Combine the heat pump with an existing solar collector / solar hot water heater
A solar hot water heater (or solar collector) is a rooftop system that captures solar heat which is used to heat up domestic hot water. It is less efficient than a heat pump, but if you already have one you can combine it with a heat pump to increase efficiency and output.What is probably the most important issue you will need to consider when it comes to solar hot water heaters is whether you already have or intend to install a solar photovoltaic system (solar panels). The reason is that they often compete for space on your rooftop. You may be lucky enough not to have that problem but if you do you’ll have to see what works best for you financially and practically. Now let’s take a look at PV solar panels in a bit more detail.
5. Install solar photovoltaic panels with net metering to power your home or business.
There couldn’t possibly be a better match than solar power and heat pumps. A heat pump can replace your gas, diesel or other heating bills with a slightly higher electricity bill. Adding solar power can then completely wipe out your electricity bills. So that’s at least two utility bills you wouldn’t have to worry about any more. With both investments averaging between a 3 and 6 year payback and a life expectancy of 25 years the savings add up to a large sum.If you have are considering a net metering contract there are more ways you can benefit from the combination of the two. With net metering you don’t have to invest in a battery bank since the grid acts as a virtual battery bank. This can really cut your solar installation cost down but introduces a few more considerations. Even though you can store power on the grid it is likely that you will have a small tariff or surcharge for using the grid as storage. A heat pump will allow you to store electric energy in the form of thermal energy so that you can use most of your power during the day as opposed to making large power withdrawals during night. As a result your small grid surcharges can shrink even further.An important consideration regarding a PV/HP combo is that you will need to have an engineer assess your heating / cooling needs before the solar power system is designed. That is because introducing a heat pump replaces other energy forms with electricity, increasing the business or home’s power requirement.It is usually best that the heat pump is installed first or simultaneously with the solar PV panels. If you are going to postpone one of the two investments for financing reasons this makes sense because 1) the heat pump is most likely to achieve greater savings during this period 2) by getting a full year’s use of the heat pump you will be able to more precisely size-up the specification for the solar power system and 3) if you install a larger net metering solar system in anticipation of a future heat pump installation the excess power you produce in the meantime may not be compensated for (this depends on your local net-metering scheme).Either way, you would be hard-pressed to find a better performing energy saving combination than a solar powered heat pump system.
6. Invest in passive design and insulation
This one is perhaps a not much of a surprise. Whether you are looking at an existing building or a new construction there are a lot of things that can be done to improve its thermal efficiency. Unfortunately, most of these are not cheap so we’ll stick to those that make more financial sense.
For existing buildings (old and new):
You may not have the ability to make many changes to an existing building or even some basic changes in some cases. Most changes you can make have to do with the buildings’ envelope insulation. This basically means the external walls, windows and roofing of the structure. Upgrading your attic insulation can also help. The cost for upgrading your home’s overall insulation can vary but it can easily spiral out of control.One of the most common upgrades is the replacement of single glazing windows and doors. Double glazing windows offer a significant improvement over single glazing but if you are in a colder climate or wish to adopt Passivhaus standards you’d likely be considering triple glazing. While triple glazing improves comfort levels compared to double glazing, the impact on the heating bill is relatively small. A practical alternative that costs less but can help is to use thicker drapes and curtains during winter and draw them at night.Get an engineer to do an energy audit. The audit will tell you where your home / business loses heat and wastes energy most. The engineer will also provide you with recommendations to improve problem areas. Try to find an independent engineer that doesn’t earn commission on products or have any interest in undertaking a project that may not even be necessary.Take a look at energy efficiency grants. Between the EU and national sponsored programmes you may find a source of financing part of your energy efficiency improvements. Some of these programmes can also subsidise the cost of installing a heat pump or a solar PV installation. Other programmes can also fund low interest loans via financial institutions so that you can finance environmental upgrades at a lower cost of borrowing.
For future buildings:
Consider using the principles of Passivehaus design. Passive buildings are designed in such a way that they require very little heating during winter and very little cooling during summer.
An architect or engineer that has specializes in these areas can offer tremendous value to your project by eliminating many unwanted utility costs.
7. Choose a reversible heat pump
A reversible heat pump can essentially be used for both heating and cooling. It is called reversible because the process of heating a space can be reversed in order to cool it. The flexibility offered by a reversible heat pump brings important value to the table.If this heat pump happens to be a ground-source heat pump it also increases the system’s coefficient of performance. This happens because you can extract the summer heat from the house and store it in the ground only to extract the stored heat during winter. And of course this process can be reversed by cooling the ground during winter for extraction during summer.The ability to both heat and cool as well as the efficiency gains from using a reversible heat pump are why these units are the recommended over non-reversible units.
8. Use smart programmable thermostat apps
Even at its most basic level, programming your usage schedule with the humble programmable thermostat offers important savings. With a smartphone app and wireless smart controller you can now do so much more to save on electricity and manage your comfort.One of the benefits of having an intelligent heat pump controller is that you can “train” the system to adapt to your habits. This means that you won’t need to leave the heating on while you’re gone so that it’s warm when you return. Of course with app access you can also remotely tell the system to warm up the home when you’re on your way back. One of the best features available in smart apps for a heat pump systems is that you can learn about your own energy consumption habits. By tracking your usage and the savings that you have made through the system you can make small changes that can help get even more out of your heat pump.
9. Use underfloor heating instead of radiator units
Heat pumps can be installed in buildings with radiators but they will be less efficient than if they were used with underfloor heating. The reason for this is that underfloor heating systems don’t require the same high temperature input that radiators require. This means you can use a heat pump optimized for use with underfloor heating which operates at a more efficient temperature. Essentially you can achieve greater efficiency using underfloor heating as opposed to radiator heating.If you already have radiator units installed you can still use a high temperature heat pump and you will still be able to achieve superb savings from such an investment.Is it worth switching from radiators to underfloor heating? The short answer is no. Even though underfloor heating is more efficient the difference is not important enough to justify investing in underfloor heating. However, if you anticipate doing this soon for other reasons (for personal preference, or the radiators are very old) then it may be worth doing as you will be able to use a more efficient heat pump.
10. Use energy recycling
With energy recycling you can essentially use the same energy for more than one things. Instead of wasting the heat or cold that you extract from a space you can use it for something else. For instance, cold extracted from a room that you have been heating with your heat pump can be used to cool a computer room, server station, cool room or a wine cellar. If you extract heat while using an integrated air conditioner you can use it to heat your domestic hot water for showers, warm tap water etc. This heat can also be used to warm up heated pools. And the energy you contribute towards these activities costs you absolutely nothing.You can also use captured ambient heat from other systems such as wood stoves, fireplaces etc.Heat pumps can also recycle energy from other processes as well. In industrial applications any heat produced during production can be captured and recycled into other heating processes such as hot water or heating.To be able to take advantage of thermal energy recycling you will need to make sure that you examine the way you use your space, the processes involved and discuss your options with an expert. To take full advantage of any energy recycling opportunities you need to discuss your options thoroughly with an engineer and mention any and all current and future processes that may be used to harvest heat or cold from. Even though it is easier and more cost-effective to plan and make provisions for the future you can still reap important savings from retro-fitting thermal recycling into existing facilities.
Hopefully you found these tips useful for your next heat pump installation. If you have any questions or would like to find out more you can get in touch with us for a free consultation.