Heat Pump Chronicles Vol 1

This is the first in a series of posts on our journey to navigate government grants and loans available for home energy retrofits and to replace our natural gas furnace with a cold-climate heat pump. Click here to see all articles in the series.

The Break Up

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the dormitory,
Nothing was stirring, not even the reverberatory,
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes the furnace repair guy soon would be there.

Dayle and I had been thinking of getting a heat pump for quite a while. We’d done all the usual things to make our house more energy efficient. We’d upgraded windows, sealed baseboards and electrical outlets, installed weather stripping on all our doors, and blew more insulation into our attic, bringing it to a lofty R62. Replacing the natural gas furnace perhaps was the next logical step to reduce our carbon emissions. We just weren’t expecting we’d have to start the process over the holiday season.

Maybe we’d jinxed our 16 year old natural gas furnace by having it cleaned last fall for the first time in a while. The September maintenance repair person, vacuumed and drained, checked voltages, replaced a capacitor, told us our furnace would last several more years and left us with a $200 bill. We felt comforted and comfortable when the furnace sprang to life during the first of October’s cold nights.

Then, the Christmas Eve storm came with fierce winds and plummeting temperatures. We like our house on the cool side, 20.5°C during the day and 16.5°C at night. But it was 4:00pm and I felt chilly even with a sweater. I looked at our programmable thermostat. “Heat on,” it said. “Following regular schedule,” it said. “Set temperature 20.5°C,” it said. “Indoor air temperature 17.5°C,”. No wonder it felt cold!

I went down to the basement. The furnace fan was purring quietly. But no heat. I flipped the switch to turn it off then back on again, hoping a cold restart, would reset it like a computer. Everything runs on electronics these days. Sure enough, success! The furnace lit, the fan switched to high and began distributing much needed warmth through the ductwork.

Then, after a couple of minutes, just as I was beginning to think I was a genius at furnace repair, the flame went out and the fan resumed its quiet purring. I raced to the upstairs thermostat. It had not budged. Heat on; following regular schedule; set temperature 20.5°C; indoor air temperature 17.5°C. Time to call a professional. On Christmas Eve!

The good news, a repair guy was available and came to our house around 7:00pm. The bad news, after 2 ½ hours of investigation he still wasn’t sure what was wrong. Something to do with lights flashing in an unusual sequence. He told us to replace the filter even though it wasn’t that dirty. And, by resetting the furnace several times, he was able to get it to run long enough to raise the temperature to 19 °C. He handed us a bill for $190, gave us a case number, told us to call the office the following week if the problem persisted and wished us happy holidays as he walked out the door! I made a pledge there and then that I wouldn’t invest another dime in that fossil fuel-based appliance. The next week I started investigating heat pumps in earnest.

Over the next month or more, I’ll chronical our journey through the maze of government grant programs, energy audits and dealing with different heat pump manufacturers and HVAC contractors Stay-tuned, our saga has just started.

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