Good Guys Heating, Cooling & Plumbing Blog

Air Source vs. Geothermal Heat Pumps: Comparing efficiencies

It used to be considered “common knowledge” that geothermal (or ground source) heat pumps are a lot more efficient than air source heat pumps.  During the winter,  temperatures are a lot higher under the ground than they are in the air, which means a geothermal system should be able to extract heat much more efficiently. The opposite will be true in the summer- a geothermal system should be able to move heat into the cooler ground more easily than an air source unit can expel it into the warmer outdoor air. However, you also have to remember that a geothermal system has to pump a heat transfer fluid (usually a mixture of water and antifreeze)  through the ground, and running this pump can take a lot of energy. Recently, “cold climate” air source heat pumps that specialize in extracting heat from cold winter air have been released. This has caused some to question whether geothermal systems are really much more efficient.

Comparing the efficiency ratings of geothermal and air source heat pumps

Geothermal heat pumps are given a COP (coefficient of performance) rating. This is the ratio of heat energy produced to the amount of electricity consumed. For example, a system with a COP of 4.0 is estimated to produce 4 watt-hours of heat for every watt-hour of electricity it consumes.

Air source heat pumps are given a Heating Seasonal Performance Factor rating, which is an estimate of the BTU’s of heat  that will be produced by each watt-hour of electricity. Different HSPF ratings are given for different regions, as the efficiency of an air source heat pump is highly dependent on the climate. The average COP (across all temperatures) of an air source heat pump can be roughly estimated by dividing the HSPF by 3.41 (the number of BTUs in a watt-hour). Note that the HSPF also takes into account the need for back-up heat (it assumes an electric furnace with a COP of 1 is being used on very cold days). Some manufactuters publish tables of the COPs their systems achieve at various temperatures, but others do not.

The pump reduces the efficiency of a geothermal heat pump

The COP (coefficient of performance) numbers that are published by geothermal heat pump manufacturers do not account for the electricity required to run the pump, as this will vary from case to case. However, this can be a substantial amount of energy. In an article on Green Building Advisor, energy consultant Henry Gifford estimates that pump usage will cause a typical geothermal system’s COP to drop from 3.5-4 down to less than 3.0- a level that can be achieved by many air source systems.

New air source systems deliver much higher COPs at lower temperatures

Until recently, air source heat pumps were just moderately modified central air conditioners. They were primarily engineered for maximum cooling efficiency. But now “cold climate” air source heat pumps are being released. Mitsubishi has been a leader in this regard, and their Zuba central heat pump maintains most of its heating capacity and efficiency down to -25C. Carrier recently released their Greenspeed heat pump which is rated at 13 HSPF, meaning it offers superior efficiency levels than many geothermal systems. Other manufacturers are expected to follow.

Are geothermal systems worth the extra expense?

Installing a geothermal system usually costs at least $20,000 more than an air source unit- and that doesn’t include the cost of repairing your lawn after it is dug up. With geothermal systems offering marginal or even no energy savings over cheaper air source units, we don’t feel they are suitable for many homes.

Real word performance comparison: UK study

A study done in the UK by the Energy Saving Trust measured the real world performance of 28 air source heat pumps and 53 geothermal systems. Although the geothermal systems performed slightly better on average, note that the best performing geothermal systems had similar performance to the best performing air source units. The wide range in performance within each category highlights the importance of a quality installation.

UK study on real world heat pump efficiencies: The geothermal systems did slightly better on average, but the best performing air source systems performed just as well as the best performing geothermal systems.

 

Learn more about air source heat pumps on our heat pumps page.

 

To schedule a free quote on an air source heat pump, call 604 GOOD GUY (604 466 3489), or use our online form.

Bosch Vs. Navien Vs. Rinnai Tankless Water Heaters: Who makes the best tankless water heater?

Deciding which brand of tankless water heater to install can be a difficult decision, as there are no consumer publications that provide brand recommendations and seemingly no sources of unbiased reviews. Hiring an established contractor that guarantees their work remains the best way to ensure you get a quality unit, as such a contractor will only install units that have a good reputation within the industry and have worked well for them in the past.

 

Bosch

Bosch offers a fairly complete line of tankless warer heaters. Their models have efficiency rating of 78-95%, and heating capacities of 75,000-225,000 BTUs. The larger units are capable of supplying 2 showers simultaneously. All systems include a 15 year heat exchanger warranty and a 2-5 year warrranty on other parts, depending on the model. We mainly install Bosch  tankless systems  when the homeowner does not wish to install a condensing (more efficient and expensive) model. We have been installing them for over 10 years and find them to be very dependable when installed correctly.

 

Rinnai

Rinnai also offers a complete range of tankless water heaters. Their systems range in efficiency from 82-98% efficiency, and have capacities of  120,000 to 199,000 BTUs.  They claim their 199,000 BTU high efficiency model can supply up to 4 simultaneous showers, but we think this might be an overly optimistic claim (probably referring to  light showers on a warmer day). Their 10-12 year heat exchanger warranties are shorter than Bosch’s, but all other parts are covered for 5 years for all models. We mainly install Rinnais when the homeowner wishes to replace an existing furnace and hot water tank with a tankless water heater and attached hydronic air handler. This is usually done when a new high efficiency furnace will be too difficult to install. Since we still have mid efficiency furnaces in stock, we don’t do this very often right now. However, we expect it to become a more popular option in the future.

 

Navien

Navien introduced the first condensing tankless water heater (“condensing” means “high efficiency” or over 90% efficient), and they currently make the most efficient systems on the market, with verified efficiency levels as high as 97%. Their heat exchangers are made from durable stainless steel and are warrantied for 15 years. Other parts are warrantied for 5 years. We usually install Naviens when  a homeowner requires a very efficient high capacity system.

Tank or Tankless

Tankless systems offer advantages such as lower energy costs, an unlimited supply of hot water, and  longer system life. But they are also much more expensive to install.

To learn more about the advantages and disadvantages of tankless water heaters, visit our water heaters page.

To schedule a quote on a tankless water heater, call 604 GOOD GUY (604 466 3489) or use our online form.

Hot Water Tank Reviews/ Ratings: Which brand is best?

When buying a new hot water tank, one of the main questions homeowners ask is “which brand is the best?” Unfortunately, no major consumer publication  (such as Consumer Reports) or surveying organization (such as JD Power)  conducts brand reliability surveys. Consumer Reports just recommends to install a tank with a longer warranty, because “sawing open a cross-section of gas and electric storage-tank models in our lab confirmed that paying a little more typically buys a better water heater. Those with longer warranties tended to have larger heating elements, thicker insulation, and thicker or longer corrosion-fighting metal anodes. ” However, since efficiency standards are higher in BC than the rest of Canada and the US, only the tanks with longer warranties  (8 years) are available.

2006 JD Power Water Heater Subcontractor Satisfaction Study. This is the closest thing to an impartial reliability survey that can be found. Reliability, product quality, and warranty fulfillment were among the factors considered.

The closest thing to a reliability test ever performed was a 2006 Subcontractor Satisfaction Study performed by JD Power. Some of the most important factors surveyed included reliability, product quality, and warranty fulfillment. Of the three major manufacturer’s, Bradford White finished first an Rheem finished  a close second. Incidentally, these are the two  brands we install (we install Rheem Energy Star  gas hot water tanks and Bradford White tanks for other purposes). We have found both brands to be relatively reliable.

Learn more about the hot water tank models we install on our hot water tanks page.

To schedule a hot water tank replacement or repair, call 604 GOOD GUY (604 466 3489) or use our online form.

Air Source Heat Pumps: The Importance Of A Quality Installation

Consumer Reports: Poorly installed heat pumps are much less reliable

In a recent report on central air conditioners, Consumer Reports found that “19 percent of systems installed by new-home builders failed compared with 12 percent installed by homeowners. The gap was even wider for heat-pump units, where 28 percent of the builder-installed units failed compared with 18 percent for owner-installed systems.” (Note systems “installed by homeowners” refers to homeowners who hired a heating & AC contractor, not to homeowners who performed the installation themselves.) This shows the type of installer chosen can increase breakdowns by more than 50%.

Note that these figures do not include minor problems. They also don’t take into account the difference in quality within each category (quality will also vary within the heating & AC contractors category). It’s also important to remember that a poor installation can reduce efficiency as well as reliability. The EPA states that “More than half of new systems in U.S. homes do not perform to their rated efficiency as a result of improper installation. In fact, improper installation can reduce performance by as much as 30%”

Energy Saving Trust (UK) Study: Air source heat pumps often underperform due to improper installation

In the UK, a study found that most air source heat pumps achieved well below their potential efficiency due to improper installation.

UK Study: Only 4 of 28 air source heat pumps were “well performing”. Several of the heat pumps achieved less than half of their potential efficiency due to poor installation.

Good Guys: Your choice for top quality heat pump installations

At Good Guys, our heat pump installers have received manufacturer’s training as well as weekly company training, to ensure they are able to install heat pumps to the manufacturer’s specifications. Our 100% money-back satisfaction guarantee (available on most installations- call our office for details) and labour warranties are your assurance that we will perform a quality installation.

Learn more about heat pumps on our heat pumps page.

To schedule a free quote on a new heat pump, call 604 GOOD GUY (604 466 3489) or use our online form.

Tankless Water Heater Prices: Cost to install a tankless system in Vancouver BC

Many people are interested in the benefits of a tankless water heater, but have a hard time finding out the cost to install one. We have decided to post some “ballpark prices” just to give homeowner’s a general idea of the costs involved. FortisBC has also published price ranges you can expect to pay.

Ballpark prices for a tankless water heater installation

System TypeTypical Good Guys PriceFortisBC Price Guide
Non-condensing tankless water heater$2000-$2500$2000-$4000
Condensing tankless water heater$4000-$4500$2500-$5000
Condensing hybrid water heater$4000+$3500-$4500
Condensing storage tank$4000+
($7000+ to provide both space and water heating)
$4000-$5500
Standard hot water tank (for comparison)$950
Energy Star hot water tank$1250 ($200 FortisBC rebate available)

These are intended as a general guide, so you can see if a tankless water heater is likely within your budget. Actual costs can vary widely according to your home’s needs. Call 604 GOOD GUY (604 466 3489) to schedule an in-home quotation and consultation on a new tankless water heater. Our comfort advisor will evaluate your home and determine the exact cost to install a tankless water heater.

Note that our prices for non-condensing tankless units are towards the lower end of FortisBC’s price range, while the prices for our condensing models are near the upper end. This is because non-condensing models are usually much easier to install and homeowners who choose them usually install lower capacity modes. Condensing models are usually much more difficult to install and homeowners who choose them also usually install higher capacity models.

Note that until June 30th, 2013, FortisBC is offering rebates of $400-$500 on tankless water heaters, $1000 on condensing storage tanks, and $200 on Energy Star hot water tanks. $200-$300 grants are also available through the LiveSmartBC program.

Learn the pros and cons of a tankless water heater on our tankless water heaters page.

To schedule a hot water tank installation or a quote on a tankless water heater, call 604 GOOD GUY (604 466 3489) or use our online form.

How to clean an electronic air cleaner (with video)

According to a 1999 CMHC study, electronic air cleaners can do a very good job of cleaning the air in a home. However, a more recent CMHC study shows that regular cleaning of these filters is necessary to maintain their performance.

Our technicians have found that furnaces with EACs are often very dirty due to irregular or improper cleaning. Luckily, a heating company in Dallas has posted a video showing how to thoroughly clean an EAC.

Learn more about the importance of regular maintenance on our tune ups page. To schedule a furnace service, call 604 GOOD GUY (604 466 3489) or use our online form.

Furnace & AC Extended Warranties: Buyer beware

Over the past 10 years or so, the cost of new furnaces and air conditioners has been steadily rising due to increasing energy efficiency standards. As a result, homeowners have become more interested in extended warranties in order to protect their investment.

Unfortunately, as the Air Conditioning Contractors of America warns, many contractors are providing “valueless warranties.”

The problem rests on the fact that many heating & air conditioning installation companies are giving out extended warranties when they do not intend to perform the repair work themselves. These include installation specialist companies (including companies who specialize in new home installations), some subcontractors for big box stores, and general renovation companies. They sell the new furnace including the extended warranty, with the intention that service companies will perform any necessary repairs.

Some of these warranties are sold by the manufacturer, and some are sold by dedicated warranty companies. Often, the labour rate can be selected. For example, the installer could select a warranty that will pay the service company $50/hour, $100/hour, or $150/hour for repairs.

Unfortunately, most warranties sold are at the lowest level possible, and the number of hours paid for each job is also typically low. For example, for a major repair such as an inducer motor replacement, a contractor might normally charge for 4 hours at $100/hour for a total cost of $400. But a warranty might only pay $50/hour for 2.5 hours, or $125 total, for the same repair. This has resulted in many (probably most) service companies charging additional processing fees for warranty work, or else only serving warranty customers when they aren’t busy, or a combination of the two.

Here are some things to keep in mind when buying a new heating or AC system with an extended warranty:

What are the payouts? Who is providing the warranty? Prices for a 10-year extended parts & labour warranty on a new furnace range from less than $100 to over $1000, depending on the provider and the payout level selected. As you can imagine, the amount the warranty company will pay to the service company varies accordingly. One warranty might pay $250 for a given repair and another $50 (which might not even be worth filling out the paperwork for).

Some wholesalers now charge for warranty parts processing. As reported in Contracting Business magazine, some wholesalers are starting to charge warranty processing fees for parts covered under warranty, so you might still have to pay these fees (in addition to the service company’s warranty processing fees).

How much paper work is necessary? How will the service company even locate it? To avoid fraud, some warranty companies are requiring greater amounts of paperwork to be filled out. The above mentioned magazine article described a warranty company that requires “a copy of every tune-up sheet since the system was installed, as well as a wholesale parts invoice and a job invoice signed by the customer, plus their extended warranty form.” This requires a lot of work on behalf of the service company. Furthermore, unless your warranty was provided by one of the more popular manufacturer’s in your area, service companies may be unaware of the warranty’s requirements and where to acquire the paperwork. In this case, for minor repairs, the service company might inform the homeowner that it’s not worth it to go through the warranty process.

Annual maintenance is required to keep warranties valid. This is the case with all the major manufacturer’s warranties and with most extended warranty providers as well.

If the warranty is backed up by a service company, how long have they been in business? According to the US Small Business Administration, heating & AC companies have the second highest failure rate of all business types, behind only restaurants. If a company that has only been in business for 2 years is offering 10 year labour warranties, this may be a cause for concern.

The bottom line:

Unless you bought your extended warranty from a company that also provides service and you have been performing regular maintenance, your labour warranty is likely of little value.

To schedule a service/repair, call 604 GOOD GUY (604 466 3489) or use our online form.

To schedule a free quotation on a new heating or air conditioning system, call 604 GOOD GUY (604 466 3489) or use our online form.

Learn more about your maintenance and repair options on our services page.

BC Electric Furnace Installation Options: Cut your energy costs

The cost of electricity in BC has risen substantially over the last few years, and further increases are expected. At current energy prices, it costs more than three times as much to heat a home with an electric furnace than a high efficiency gas furnace (assuming you are being billed at the higher tier 2 rare, which will be the case in most homes with electric heating). This has left many homeowners with electric furnaces looking for lower cost alternatives.

Option 1: Install a more efficient electric furnace

You might have noticed ads stating that new furnaces use up to 40% less energy than older models. Unfortunately, these ads are referring to gas furnaces. When it comes to producing heat, electric furnaces have not gotten much more efficient over the years, as they have always been close to 100% efficient (unlike with a gas furnace, the heat produced does not have to be extracted from exhaust gasses and can directly enter the home). The only part of a new electric furnace that is significantly more efficient than with older models is the fan motor (as long as a variable speed furnace is selected). According to BC Hydro, a furnace with a variable speed fan motor will use 2300 kWh (about $250) less electricity annually when the fan is used continuously for circulation and 400 kWh (about $44) less when used for heating only. One positive thing about electric furnaces is that they are easier (and less costly) to install than gas furnaces, as new venting and drainage won’t be required.

Option 2: Install a gas line & gas furnace

Due to the current low cost of natural gas, some homeowners with electric heat are considering having gas service installed in their home. FortisBC has a web page where you can inquire about the cost of installing a gas line, if gas service is available in your area. In some cases, this can be inexpensive. However, when installing a gas furnace, you will also be responsible for the cost of running a gas line from the meter to the furnace (as well as the other costs associated with installing a gas furnace). Plus, if natural gas prices rise again, you might not save much in the future.

Option 3: Install a heat pump?

Due to the additional costs associated with installing a gas furnace in a home previously using an electric model, it might not cost much more to add a heat pump to your existing furnace instead. A heat pump is basically an air conditioner that can run in reverse in the winter, to provide both heating and cooling (see our heat pumps page, or see our video for details).  Since a heat pump only moves heat  from one location to another, rather than burning a fuel to create heat, efficiencies of over 100% are possible. In fact, a  heat pump will typically operate at about 400% efficiency, meaning that 4 watts of heat  will be produced for every watt of electricity consumed.

To sum things up: A heat pump can provide air conditioning most of the heating your home requires while only using about 25% as much electricity as an electric furnace (but you will still have to keep your furnace to circulate the air and to provide back up heating on the very coldest days).

To schedule a free quote on a furnace or heat pump installation, call 604 GOOD GUY (604 466 3489) or use our online form.

Heat Pump Prices: Heat Pump Installation Cost In Vancouver

Here are some ballpark prices for installing an air source heat pump in Vancouver BC.

Basic heat pump added to existing furnace: $5000-$6000
Premium heat pump added to existing furnace: $7500-$9000
Basic heat pump with basic variable speed high efficiency furnace: $10,000 (A heat pump could be installed with a non-variable speed furnace for less, but heat pumps work much better with variable speed furnaces.)
Premium heat pump with premium furnace: $12,500

•You will save about $1000 when you have a furnace and heat pump installed together. This is because certain tasks such as making a new duct work transition and installing a new thermostat will not have to be repeated separately.

•These are only ballpark estimates for an average home. Actual costs can vary widely depending on your home’s requirement, the contractor selected, present equipment costs, and several other factors.

•These are approximations of what you should expect to pay for an installation by a reputable, established contractor who performs quality work. You can get a heat pump installed for less if low price is your primary concern.

To determine the actual cost to install a heat pump in your home, call 604 GOOD GUY (604 466 3489) to schedule your free in-home quotation. Or use our online form.

What about geothermal heat pumps?

Geothermal heat pumps costs at least $20,000 to install. In many cases, they can cost over $50,000. We don’t install geothermal systems, because they offer only moderately higher efficiencies for much higher prices.

How long does it take to install a heat pump?

Installing a heat pump requires several tasks, including:

1) Running refrigerant lines from the indoor unit (above the furnace) to the outdoor unit of the heat pump.
2) Running a power line from the breaker panel to the heat pump.
3) Reworking the ductwork above the furnace to accommodate the indoor unit of the heat pump.
4) Installing a new thermostat (and running a line to it).
5) Testing the system.

There are many corners that can be cut (such as not verifying the refrigerant lines have been properly cleared of air before adding the refrigerant, and not making sure the unit is properly levelled). However, installing a heat pump to the manufacturer’s specifications will usually take a team of 2 technicians at least 1.5 days. If a new furnace is also being installed, it should take a minimum of 2 full days.

Visit our heat pumps page to learn more about your options for installing a new heat pump.

Tankless Water Heater Reviews / Ratings: Which brand is best?

When buying items such as home appliances, homeowners often look to publications such as Consumer’s Reports for guidance.

Unfortunately, none of the major consumer publications (such as Consumer Reports or Consumer Guide) have reviewed or conducted reliability testing on tankless water heaters. Also, none of the major surveying organizations (such as JD Power) publish ratings for tankless water heaters.

There are many forums and online stores where homeowners can place reviews of tankless water heaters. Unfortunately, going over these forums can be very time consuming and confusing due to the many contradictory opinions (and many of the bad reviews are likely due to systems performing poorly due to improper installation, rather than the unit itself).

So how can you ensure a quality tankless water heater installation? By choosing a well-established contractor that guarantees their work and provides long term labour warranties on their tankless water heater installations.

A company that stands behind their installations will be sure to install high quality systems. In the past, we have installed some tankless water heater models that didn’t work well. But due to our guarantees & warranties, we ended up paying most of the costs, not our customers. We currently install Bosch and Navien tankless water heaters, and we are very satisfied with their reliability and performance.

At Good Guys Heating, Cooling & Plumbing, we include a 100% money-back satisfaction guarantee with most installations, and provide labour warranties as well. This ensures that we only install high quality units, and install them well.

To schedule a quotation on a tankless water heater, call 604 GOOD GUY (604 466 3489) or use our online form.

Learn more about tankless water heaters (both the pros and cons) on our tankless water heaters page.