In the industry, we’ve been trained to believe that the best home comfort system consists of a fossil fuel furnace combined with an energy sucking air conditioner. I have been around long enough to remember the government incentivizing homeowners and builders from coal to oil to electric baseboard heating and then to natural gas furnaces.
I cannot count the number of upgrade grants the government has supported to upgrade efficiencies from 60 per cent, 80 per cent, 90 per cent, and now 99 per cent AFUE gas furnaces. To complete the home comfort system, we would couple the furnace with an energy sucking air conditioning system that could cause brownouts on entire electrical grids on the hottest day of the year.
During this era, very little attention was placed on our planet and the generational environmental damage we were causing for our grandchildren. Today’s comfort was the catalyst for engineering new products.
The only industry that creates more carbon than home comfort systems is the transportation industry, albeit manufacturing trumps all. The personal transportation industry has been on the move for more than a decade to significantly reduce its carbon footprint on the planet.
There are a lot of lessons that can come from their challenges. The introduction of an all-electric vehicle came with a high price tag and limited usage. It also created traffic jams at the charging stations. With limited travel distances, the introduction of these vehicles also had a limited market. Therefore the lesson here from the automotive industry is to understand your customer.
The first consumer group that was attracted by electrification tended to identify as environmentalists. Environmentalists can be broken down into two main categories — innovators or early adopters. These groups will have researched the product more than the people selling them, they are well versed on the limitations of the product, may be willing to make significant compromises on operating cost and comfort, and spend more upfront to help reduce their carbon footprint. The biggest hurdle for this group is figuring out how to fund the purchase.
The Government Cheese Chasers
A big mistake the electric auto manufacturers made was confusing the cheese chaser for the environmentalist or the pragmatist. Cheese chasers are not going to be willing to accept anything less than perfection at a discount.
The purchase is prompted by the cheese, the rebate grants, and the low finance rates. They want the best of the best on someone else’s dollar. Electric auto sales failed to have cheese chasers articulate what is important to them up front and what they are prioritizing — upfront cost, fuel savings, or comfort. The consumers who weren’t happy that they jumped during round one supplied the next consumer group with the proof to justify sticking to their old ways. The heat pump market was no different.
These consumers are the “let Mikey try it” consumers. They are steadfast in their conviction and see little need to mess with the status quo. Their paradigm is very hard to shift. The ones that still have a fax machine at home that is likely still plugged in. The way to change their mind is to take away the past as an option. These consumers are the customers of the future, not today, but someday! What they have learned is that the best introduction to electrification is the hybrid system.
Automotive manufacturers have embraced the electric era. It is now time for this industry to take some responsibility and identify as the early adopters, the innovators, and the environmentalists. It is our turn to educate what is truly possible, affordable, and will sustain permanent reduction of our carbon footprint. It’s time to switch to hybrid home comfort systems, or more commonly known as high-efficiency fossil fueled furnaces with a cold climate heat pump.
Recently, I overheard an equipment manufacturer say that there was no heat pump market in Canada. Talk about a complete lack of respect for Canadians! Natural Resources Canada recently conducted a presentation to industry associations on Canada’s manufacturing and supply strategy for the Canadian heat pump market. The presentation, which was summarized by the Canadian Institute of Plumbing and Heating (CIPH), highlighted the overall heat pump markets — “specifically what technologies will be needed for the Canadian market in its transition to heat homes as well as what the current heat pumps supply looks like and how this translates into how manufacturers intend to meet the expected growth.”
For the Canadian market, this means cold climate heat pumps as this is pertinent for the Canadian market as temperatures easily get down to -15 C. These cold climate heat pumps are defined by operating with a coefficient of performance of at least 1.1. “This they considered to be generous performance definition in comparison to the others, some other entities have defined these heat pumps to have COPs at least 1.75, 1.8, and some even over two,” reports NRCan. According to the presentation, this means that around 76 per cent of the heat pumps manufactured by those interviewed for the report can meet this definition, and 66 per cent of the total market today is cold climate heat pumps produced by foreign manufacturers, with an additional nine per cent imported from domestic entities.
There has been quite a bit of misinformation about heat pumps in Canada and we have been taught that unless it can carry the user the same distance as fossil fuels, then it is useless. We have been taught to size the add-on heat pump to carry the full heat load on the coldest days, and we have been taught that a properly sizes heat pump is grossly oversized for proper cooling. Well, they got that part right.
What we were not taught was that a heat pump properly sized for the cooling load can reduce your carbon footprint significantly; that a properly sized heat pump will dehumidify and cool just as well as a properly sized air conditioner. They didn’t teach us that, like a hybrid car, the hybrid comfort system will make almost everyone happy.
A fun little tidbit, did you know a qualifying furnace/heat pump combination that is centrally ducted will receive up to $6,500 in government grants, or that a furnace/heat pump combination is less expensive than installing a furnace air conditioner after rebates. It also should be noted that most rebate programs focus more on air-to-air mini splits.
Almost everyone can benefit from a heat pump hybrid system, so tell me why are we still quoting 13 SEER air conditioners? It might be time to look at all the options.