Heat Pump Chronicles Vol 4

This is the fourth 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.

Our heat pump is installed. It’s beautiful and, although it’s only been five days, we love it! We are noticing a more comfortable, consistent temperature throughout the house. In fact, it has felt so warm, even in the basement, that we’ve been able to lower the thermostat temperature by .5°C and not feel cool.

We also love the new thermostat that monitors both the inside and outside temperature, displays the weather as well as the inside humidity, and provides a range of programmable settings including sleep, away and vacation. All these are available at the touch of a button, either on the console, or on my smart phone! It even supports voice commands if I can ever figure out how to interact with Alexa.

By signing up for Ontario’s Save On Energy Peak Perks Program, we’re also eligible to receive a $75.00 rebate on the cost of our Ecobee thermostat in return for allowing Alectra, our electricity service provider, to adjust our house temperature setting by one or two degrees during times of high energy demand. This allows us to save money on energy consumption while helping reduce the risk of system-wide interruptions of service.

Did I mention that the unit is beautiful? And so quiet. We’d heard that heat pumps can be noisy but our outdoor unit is much quieter than our old AC unit. We’ll see what happens as the winter takes hold. Right now, there’s nothing operationally to complain about.

I should mention too that our contractor, Maple Air, was thorough and competent in preparing for and completing the installation. The engineering manager Reza, came to our house on Saturday of the Thanksgiving weekend, along with our account manager Phillip. They double-checked the measurements, both inside and out to make sure everything would fit. We discussed different options and scenarios and they answered all our questions.

Nav and Taha, were our installation team. They arrived at noon on the Tuesday after the holiday. Within a couple of hours they had the old furnace removed. And, with the help of Farhad, the electrician, the new unit was installed and working by 6:00pm the following day.

There were, of course, a few challenges. The outside unit is more than twice as tall as the old A/C. We wanted it installed in the same location, under the porch steps. Nav was doubtful there was enough room, but we insisted. With help from Dayle and me the four us were able to lift and wedge the 200lb unit into place on its stand. It fit, with an inch to spare!

There were also challenges with the duct work as the heat pump has a much larger air intake that didn’t match our old plenum. I didn’t understand the language that Nav and Taha were speaking to each other although I assume some swear words were exchanged. But they kept their cool and, after considerable banging, the parts fit neatly into place.

Perhaps the biggest challenge was connecting the unit to the electrical panel. Our Mitsubishi Zuba is a “cold-climate’ heat pump system which provides high heating performance even under extremely low outdoor temperatures. The system maintains 100% of its heating performance down to -15°C and continues to operate at reduced efficiency down to -30°C. In those rare instances of extremely low temperatures, our Zuba unit can augment the heat pump with a built in auxiliary electric resistance heater.

Without getting too technical, the combined electrical load of heat pump and heater would be too much for our electricity supply panel. We knew that and our installation quote from Maple Air included a panel upgrade to double our input capacity from 100 to 200amps. Unfortunately, no one thought to tell me that I needed to apply to Alectra for a panel upgrade permit. So, without the permit, the upgrade couldn’t take place. That may have been a blessing in disguise.

It turns out that our panel upgrade is more complicated than initially thought. The meter is on the outside of the garage and a conduit runs under the garage floor connecting the meter to the panel. There is no easy way to reroute cables through an existing underground conduit, meaning we have to run new conduit. I’m told that’s beyond the scope of our quote. We agreed to split the cost difference with the contractor absorbing half of the difference. Never-the-less this is an un-forecasted expense.

Then, Alectra responded to my application, to say that our neighbourhood wasn’t designed to handle large electrical power loads and it may take more time and way more money to increase our power supply from the street to our meter. This is another expense we weren’t counting on. And all this to ensure we have heat in the unlikely event that winter temperatures fall to minus 25 or below.

At the time of writing this our heat pump is working fine without the resistance heater being energized. We are still mulling this over what we should do as a longer term fix. I’ll report back in a future post, once we have a more detailed quote from Alectra. Stay tuned.

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