2023 Heat Pump Buyers Guide
Heat pumps cool your home on hot summer days and are a reliable heat source for cooler days in the spring, fall and parts of the winter. In Ontario, homeowners are increasingly turning to heat pumps when they decide to replace their heating and air conditioner equipment.
If you’re new to the world of heat pumps, this guide is for you.
First, we will cover how much heat pumps cost to buy or rent, alongside rebate and incentive programs. We will also discuss how heat pumps work, their pros and cons, how to choose one, and what to expect in terms of maintenance and repairs. By the end of this guide, you will feel empowered to make a decision about renting or buying a heat pump for your home.
In this guide, you’ll learn about:
Heat Pump Cost: Buying and Renting
The cost of a heat pump system is highly variable. When selecting a system for your home, consider the following factors.
- Size: Larger systems may cost more than smaller systems; it’s important for your HVAC expert to install the correct size heat pump for your home.
- Features: Heat pumps with variable speed compressors and variable capacity blowers offer better efficiency than standard units but often cost more.
- Personal Choices: Extended warranties, maintenance plans, and service guarantees can add to the cost of your heat pump system.
- Number of Units: If you’re using multiple mini-split systems to create a multi-zone heating and cooling environment in your home, you will pay more than a homeowner who only purchases a single unit. The same holds true for customers in larger homes who need to purchase more than one central heat pump system.
- Renting vs. Owning: The up-front costs of purchasing a heat pump are much higher than the cost of renting a unit. Some homeowners choose to own their heat pump, but renting can be more cost-effective when large upfront costs can pose a barrier to entry.
|Heat Pump Type||Starting Rental Rate |
When you’re ready to discuss a heat pump system for your home, an Enercare Energy Management Consultant will visit your home to help you select the right option for your needs and budget.
Should You Rent or Buy a Heat Pump?
Heat pumps require regular maintenance to help increase the system’s lifespan and reduce the chance of expensive breakdowns. Choosing to forego regular maintenance can result in expensive repair costs and system underperformance.
Many service calls can easily range from $100 to $200, plus the cost of parts and labour if the heat pump requires repairs. Keeping breakdowns to a minimum helps increase the lifespan of the system and reduces your overall maintenance costs.
For this reason, many Ontario homeowners choose to rent their system from Enercare. The Enercare AdvantageTM Rental Program includes regular maintenance and covers the cost of expensive repairs that you might have to pay for out-of-pocket if you own the system.*
With every Enercare heat pump rental, you get the following:
- Free system installation
- Preventative maintenance visit once a year
- Free repairs for the lifetime of your equipment*
- 24/7 service from our trained and licensed technicians
These benefits give you peace of mind and help make heat pump rental a stress-free option for many homeowners. If you want to learn more about Enercare’s rental program, talk to an Enercare Energy Management Consultant today to determine whether renting a heat pump makes the most sense for your home.
Government Rebates, Grants, and Interest-Free Loans
At the time of writing, Ontario homeowners can qualify for the following incentives when they purchase a new heat pump system**:
- Up to $4,500 for installing a heat pump with a smart control system
- Up to $5,600 after completing an energy audit and implementing the recommended energy-efficient retrofits (non-Enbridge Gas customers)
- Up to $10,000 in grants for completing an energy audit and retrofitting your home with energy-efficient improvements (Enbridge Gas customers)
- Up to $40,000 in interest-free loans with a 10-year repayment plan when you complete a retrofit project that qualifies for the Canada Greener Homes Grant or HER Plus
Encouraging homeowners to install more energy-efficient heating and cooling systems is part of the Canadian government’s effort to combat climate change. In most cases, government rebates and grants will cover part of the cost of your heat pump. The higher amounts are for homeowners who install heat pumps as part of larger energy improvement projects, such as upgrading insulation, air sealing their homes, and installing other energy-efficient appliances.
What is a Heat Pump?
A heat pump is a type of heating and cooling system that moves heat from one location to another.
During the summer, a heat pump moves, or “pumps,” heat from inside your home to the outdoors. This results in a cooler indoor environment. During the winter, a heat pump moves heat from the outdoors to the indoors, resulting in a warmer, more comfortable home.
Here’s one way of thinking about it: A heat pump is an air conditioner during the summer and a reverse air conditioner in the winter.
Whether a heat pump is busy cooling your home or heating it, the physical equipment looks a lot like a standard air conditioning system. There’s a condenser unit that resides outside, an air handler or blower unit that lives inside, and a copper refrigerant line set that connects the two components. If you already have a central air conditioning system in your home, your new heat pump will look pretty much the same.
The big difference is that a heat pump doesn’t just cool your home off in the summer but also heats it in the winter. Heat pumps do this without burning any fuel on site. They are powered by electricity – there’s no local combustion, no flames, and no risk of carbon monoxide (CO) leaks.
How a Heat Pump Works
Different from a boiler or natural gas furnace that generates heat by burning fuel, a heat pump creates heat through refrigerant vapour compression as well as the extraction of heat energy from the outdoor air.
Heat pumps transfer ambient heat to the refrigerant that cycles between the outdoor and indoor units. In the summer, the system transfers indoor heat to the refrigerant and expels that heat to the outdoors. During colder times of the year, the system transfers outdoor heat to the refrigerant. The heat is then distributed throughout the home via the blower unit.
With that process in mind, here’s how heat pump operation functions during daily use.
- You set the thermostat to “heat” or “cool” depending on the time of year and select a target temperature.
- If the thermostat is set to “cool,” the heat pump works like an air conditioner. It moves heat from inside the home to the refrigerant inside the unit and, ultimately, outside the home.
- When the thermostat is set to “heat,” the heat pump removes heat from the outdoors, transfers it to the refrigerant, cycles the heat to the air handler unit, and blows the warm air into the home. This warm air replaces the cooler air that’s already there.
Using a heat pump is no different from using an air conditioner, except that you get to enjoy the system’s heating capabilities on cold days and nights.
Different Types of Heat Pumps
There are two main types of residential heat pumps: central heat pump systems and mini-split ductless heat pump systems.
Central Heat Pump Systems
In Ontario, central heat pump systems are the most common type found in homes. A central system is capable of cooling and heating your entire home. All of these systems rely on ducts to move air through the HVAC system and distribute the conditioned air to different rooms.
Central heat pumps resemble a central air conditioning system, and, as we explored earlier, the way they operate is very similar to the AC system you may already have in your home. There are two main components:
Outdoor unit: This part of the system contains the outdoor coil, reversing valve, and the compressor.
Indoor unit: Also known as the blower or air handler – this component contains the blower fan and the indoor coil.
The outdoor unit is typically located at the back or side of the home. With heat pumps, the outdoor unit looks exactly like an air conditioner’s condenser unit and contains nearly identical components. A copper or plastic line set runs from the outdoor unit, carrying refrigerant (and heat) to and from the main components of the heat pump system.
With central systems, the indoor unit usually resides in a crawlspace, basement, attic, or utility closet. Air handlers are large, so you wouldn’t typically see one inside of a home’s living space. They’re large mechanical boxes with metal surrounds, just like the furnace blower unit you may have currently. This part of the system connects to your home’s ductwork, distributing air to and from different rooms via the ducts.
In Canada, your air handler will probably also contain your home’s furnace. In sub-zero environments, a heat pump is not powerful enough to replace your furnace as a primary heat source; instead, the heat pump is a supplementary heat source that reduces your energy consumption during colder times of the year.
Mini-split Ductless Heat Pump Systems
Mini-split ductless systems operate very similarly to central systems. However, mini-split ductless heat pumps are different for three reasons.
- They usually do not use ducts to distribute air
- The indoor head(s) are inside the home’s living space
- Mini-split systems are designed to heat and/or cool one small space or zone
With mini-split systems, the indoor unit is installed inside the part of the home that’s being heated or cooled, often mounted on a wall, floor or ceiling. Since the blower fan resides inside the home’s living space, installing ducts to move air around is unnecessary. The indoor head self-circulates the air needed for conditioning.
For this reason, mini-split systems are often called ductless mini-split or ductless heat pump systems. While most mini-split systems are truly ductless, ducted mini-split systems do exist. The air handlers for ducted mini-splits are similar to the air handlers found in central heat pump units, but they’re smaller and can only supply air to a few rooms rather than the whole house. Ducted mini-splits are far less common than ductless mini-split systems, but they are a good option for some situations.
Here are common situations when a mini-split system is a better fit than a central system.
- Adding air conditioning to a home with no duct system, such as homes with radiators, boiler or electric baseboard heating systems
- Installing heating and AC in an older home with no existing duct system
- Adding HVAC capacity after a home addition
- Heating and cooling a garage or workshop that is separate from the home
- Conditioning the air in a newly finished attic or basement
- Supplemental heating or cooling for a struggling central system (although it’s a good idea to find out why the central system is struggling before adding a mini-split.)
- Heating or cooling problem areas in the home that never seem to get warm or cool enough
Ductless mini-split systems are single-zone systems. This means that one indoor unit will only heat and cool a portion of your home. You must use multiple indoor units to heat and cool your entire home with mini-split systems.
The mini-split system’s outdoor unit is similar to the central system’s outdoor unit, only smaller in size. Typically, a single outdoor unit can pair with multiple indoor units; although, if you’re retrofitting an entire house with mini-split systems, you will probably need multiple outdoor units as well to ensure enough capacity.
Differences Among Heat Pump Types
In a central system, heat is always lost or gained from the air traveling through the ducts. While well-sealed, well-insulated ducts can minimize unwanted heat loss and gain, there’s no way to eliminate the problem completely. Since ductless systems don’t require ducts, you won’t experience any duct-related heat loss or heat gain.
When you need HVAC capacity for an area that’s smaller than your entire home, ductless mini-split heat pump systems are an effective, energy-efficient option as they can run longer at lower capacity providing effective comfort in a smaller area.
Central Heat Pump Pros and Cons
Central System Pros
- In most cases, only one system is needed for the entire home
- The ability to reuse existing ductwork
- Integration with existing natural gas furnaces
- Connects to a home’s thermostat from a single location
- Air is filtered through the existing furnace filter
Central System Cons
- Like a standard gas furnace, the central system has a single thermostat, so all rooms have to be heated and cooled to the same temperature
- Not ideal for homes that do not have ducted HVAC systems, such as electric or boiler radiators, since installing ducts are required and can be very costly
- When something goes wrong, you lose heating and cooling for the entire house
Ductless Mini-split Pros and Cons
Ductless Mini-split Pros
- Multi-zone heating and cooling: when you want to heat/cool another room, you need to install another indoor unit in that room
- Less expensive to install than a central system, assuming you only install one mini-split system
- They take up less space than central systems, since no ductwork is needed
- No ductwork needed – install a mini-split in any home that doesn’t already have ducts
Ductless Mini-split Cons
- A single heat pump only covers part of your home; it can be expensive to outfit your entire home with mini-split systems
- Indoor units take up space on the wall and some homeowners don’t like how they look
- If you already have a central heating system, the mini-split will not interface with your existing furnace
- Condensate drain needed for indoor heads
Limitations of heat pump systems in Ontario
Heat pumps are a fantastic investment for homeowners who want a single energy-efficient system that can heat and cool their home. That being said, heat pumps do come with limitations.
You Still Need a Primary Heat Source
Heat pump systems are very efficient throughout the summer, but when winter falls into town, the cold can be extreme enough that a heat pump can’t be as efficient or effective as a furnace or boiler at heating your home. That’s because heat pumps draw heat from the ambient outdoor environment. For example, in Ontario, our winters have some days that are too cold for heat pumps to efficiently remove enough heat from the outdoors and move it into our homes. While heat pumps are constantly becoming better at heating homes in very frigid environments, the technology has not reached the point where we’re confident in saying that a heat pump alone can provide enough heat to keep you warm through the winter in a sub-zero environment.
Any time outdoor temperature dips below -5 degrees Celsius, most heat pumps will struggle to provide sufficient heat comfort to your home. For this reason, we strongly recommend that you use a heat pump in conjunction with a traditional heating source, such as a furnace or boiler. This is called a dual fuel system, and it’s really a best-of-both-worlds option in terms of efficiency.
The heat pump will heat your home during the spring, fall, and milder parts of winter, providing energy savings over other heat sources. Then, any time outdoor temperatures drop to -5 degrees Celsius or below, most heat pumps will struggle to keep heat comfort levels, based on the home’s construction and climate zone. At this point, the heat pump will turn off, and the furnace or boiler will kick on.
Expensive Emergency Heat Options
Most central heat pump systems do have a solution for sub-zero temperature scenarios. They’re equipped with large heating elements, known as heat strips, that can provide heat to your home when outdoor temperatures are too low for the heat pump to carry heat via its refrigerant system. This is a form of electric resistance heat – a functional but inefficient way to heat your home.
While heat strips can be an acceptable emergency heat solution, we do not recommend them as standard equipment for heating your home in Ontario. Heat strips draw large amounts of electricity, unlike a heat pump under normal operation. They’re a very costly method of heating, even compared to natural gas furnaces and boilers.
Why Buy a Heat Pump?
Now that you better understand how heat pumps work, their benefits, and their limitations, let’s consider why you might want a heat pump for your home.
Compared to only heating your home with a boiler or furnace, modern heat pumps can provide better efficiency. While the cost of natural gas and electricity is variable and depends on various conditions locally and internationally, homeowners who prioritize efficiency tend to select heat pumps because they:
- Calculate that they can consume less energy while generating the same amount of heat
- Anticipate rising or stable gas prices and lower electricity prices over the long term
Reduced Carbon Footprint
Since heat pumps run on electricity, you never have to burn gas to operate one. As the world moves away from fossil fuels and green electricity options become more plentiful, you’ll have a system that’s built for the new energy paradigm.
Even if the electricity you use today comes from burning coal or natural gas, it might not be long until you’re in a position to switch to something greener, such as solar. Having a heat pump puts you on the right track.
Use Your Existing Air Ducts
If you already have a central heating system, you have a lot of the infrastructure you need to install a heat pump system in your home. A central heat pump system has a similar physical footprint to a furnace and moves air through the same ductwork.
If allowing living spaces (known as zones) to be individually heated or cooled is a priority for you, heat pumps are a great fit. Ductless mini-split systems, in particular, excel at providing room-specific temperatures.
As we discussed earlier, mini-splits are single-zone heat pump systems that use wall, ceiling, or floor-mounted air handler units. Let’s say you want to set up two heating and cooling zones on your first story: one for the bedroom and another for the living and dining rooms. You can easily create these two zones with a mini-split heat pump system.
Just have your HVAC experts install one indoor unit in the bedroom and another in a convenient part of the living or dining room. That way, you can always set different temperatures for each location.
Similar arrangements are possible for upstairs and downstairs zones. Other homeowners might create separate zones for offices and other living spaces used in the daytime.
How to Determine What Heat Pump Size You Need
When you’re ready to invest in a heat pump system for your home, getting the size right is extremely important. A system that is too-large or too-small will underperform, break down more often, fail sooner, and struggle to keep you comfortable.
Heat pump is too small
When the system is too small, it might not cool your home enough in the summer or heat it enough in the winter. It will run too frequently, and you’ll rarely feel as comfortable as you expect to feel in a home with a properly sized HVAC system. But undersized systems aren’t actually all that common. What we see more often are homeowners who want systems that are too large.
Heat pump is too large
Many people might assume that an air conditioning or heating system can’t be too large. After all, what’s the harm in having more cooling than you need or more heat than you need? Doesn’t that mean your heat pump will always be able to keep up?
In the summer, an oversized heat pump will quickly cool your home, but the run cycles will be very short, preventing the system from removing enough humidity to make you feel comfortable. Although the heat pump will achieve the target temperature you’ve set on your thermostat, you may still feel hot because it’s not getting enough moisture out of the air.
In addition, you will pay more to cool your home than you would have with a properly sized heat pump. An oversized system constantly turning on or off is known as short cycling, which draws a lot of electricity and increases your power bill.
Oversized systems cause problems in winter, too. A heat pump that’s too big will quickly heat your living space but won’t heat consistently. You will probably experience hot spots and cold spots throughout your home, never feeling fully satisfied that your heating system is doing its job.
For these reasons, contractors and HVAC experts must ensure they select the right size system for their customers’ homes.
Your HVAC contractor will determine the right size for the new equipment. A series of measurements and considerations can help a professional figure out the right heat pump size for any indoor environment.
The following measurements and factors are important in determining size
- Square footage of the area to be heated and cooled
- Ceiling height in different rooms
- Number, size, and location of windows
- Window type, whether single or double-pane, standard or low-E
- Insulation type, R-value, and installation quality
- Location of insulation, whether in walls, ceilings, and crawl spaces
- Quality of the home’s air barrier (whether it’s air-sealed or not)
- Home location and sun orientation
- Presence of shade trees
- Climate zone where the home is located
When determining the right size HVAC system for your home, expect your contractor to perform the measurements and inspections required to gather this data.
Common Heat Pump Problems and Repairs
Heat pumps are complex mechanical equipment. Today’s units are very well built and can last for more than a decade when properly sized, installed and maintained. However, parts can and do wear out.
Let’s review some of the most common repairs we perform on heat pump systems.
The refrigerant is a critical component of any heat pump system. It’s the chemical that carries heat to and from the areas being heated or cooled. When refrigerant leaks out of the heat pump system, it cannot heat or cool properly.
While some refrigerant leaks can be repaired, many cannot. The most common place to find a refrigerant leak is in the system’s indoor or outdoor coil’s – these components are found inside and outside of the home. If the system was purchased within the last ten years, it’s probably still under warranty.
Blower Motor Failure
Sometimes, the motor controlling the blower fan stops working. Fixing it is rarely an option; the best solution is replacing the blower with a new one.
The blower fan is an essential part of the HVAC system because it distributes air through the home’s duct system. Without the blower fan, you won’t feel any heat (or cool air) the system generates.
Circuit Board Failure
Over time, the small resistors and other components in the system’s circuit board might wear out. Other things, such as power surges and exposure to lightning, can also cause circuit boards to fail. When this happens, the system usually won’t run at all.
The good news is that boards can be replaced. Your HVAC team can diagnose any problems with your system and order the correct components from the manufacturer; and make all the appropriate connections to get your system running again.
Ice on the Outdoor Coil
This isn’t always a problem. It’s common for a thin layer of frost to form on the heat pump’s outdoor coil in winter, depending on the current dew point outdoors. When this happens, the system’s defrost cycle will turn on and quickly melt the ice/frost. There’s no issue when you see this. It’s the way the heat pump is supposed to work.
However, when a thick layer of ice starts forming on any of the heat pump components, you could have a bigger problem on your hands. This usually means that the refrigerant charge is off (this could be indicative of a refrigerant leak or other refrigerant component failures) or, more likely, that your air filter hasn’t been changed or cleaned in a very long time.
Either way, you should turn the system off and check your air filter. If the filter is completely blocked with dust and debris, clean or replace it right away. That might solve the problem. Otherwise, you will need to call an HVAC technician to assess the problem and apply the best fix.
While technically not a heat pump problem, a thermostat could make your heat pump do strange and unexpected things if there are issues with it. The most common problem found with such thermostat issues is dead batteries. The best thing to do is to replace the batteries in the thermostat and see if this resolves the problem. If it persists, call an HVAC expert who can help diagnose the issue.
Heat Pump Maintenance
At Enercare, we know you have better things to do with your time than deal with a problem HVAC system that breaks down at an inconvenient moment, which is why our Enercare AdvantageTM rental program includes an annual heat pump inspection.
Regular maintenance is the best way to avoid expensive and inconvenient heat pump repairs. Enercare offers preventative maintenance plans for heat pump owners, so you don’t have to worry whether your heat pump will make it through the season.
Benefits of seasonal heat pump maintenance include:
- Minimizing the risk of equipment breakdowns
- Optimizing system performance
- Better energy efficiency
- Emergency repair prevention
- Maximizing system lifespan
- Improved indoor comfort
- Peace of mind that you won’t have to worry about HVAC issues during the extremes of summer or winter
When our licensed technicians visit your home to perform a maintenance inspection, we can identify potential problems before they become problems. As a result, you can avoid emergency service calls. It also helps ensure that you stay comfortable all through the season.
You need to maintain your heat pump system the same way you maintain your car. Just as you wouldn’t go a full year without servicing your new vehicle, you shouldn’t go a full year without having a professional service your heat pump.
Why Choose Enercare for Your Heat Pump Installation?
At Enercare, we help homeowners choose the right heat pump for their home based on their heating and cooling needs and their budget. Our consultants will listen to your concerns, answer all of your questions, and determine the best size and type of heat pump for your home.
Here are a few reasons to choose Enercare for your heat pump installation:
- We help you select the best type of heat pump for your home
- Our consultants determine the right size for your HVAC equipment
- Availability of high-efficiency heat pumps from industry-leading manufacturers
- Only trained, experienced, and fully licensed technicians install, maintain, and service the HVAC equipment in your home
- No surprises – the price we quote is what you will pay for the equipment and the installation
- Wide range of payment and financing options
- Offers that are only available to Enercare customers
- Snow stands, additional control wires, and relays (as required) included with all heat pump purchases
With Enercare, you also have the ability to rent a heat pump for your home. With the Enercare AdvantageTM Rental Program, you can get a heat pump for $0 upfront and just pay an affordable monthly rate for the system.* As a rental customer, you also get free repairs and maintenance for the lifetime of your equipment,* plus same-day service if you call by 5pm.***
To schedule a consultation with an Enercare Energy Management Consultant, complete the following form or call 1-855-642-8607 to get in touch with us today.
Get a Free No-Obligation Price Quote on a New Heat Pump
To book a free in-home assessment and price quote, get advice on a heat pump or have a technician look at your existing equipment, call our team at 1-855-642-8607 or fill out the form below.