As the artist Nelly said in arguably one of the most famous club songs, “it’s getting hot in here.” For some readers, this might take them back to a family member’s wedding or maybe a backyard pool party. This phrase might have even been heard coming from a less than pleased customer.
So, how does one rectify this scenario without having to resort to everyone taking their clothes off? The first and foremost solution is to ensure that the customer is comfortable in their own home; next is to ensure that the system installed will be able to perform to the customer’s needs.
In the Canadian market, there is a slew of heating options for contractors to suggest to their customer base. Although not exactly new, heat pumps have grown in popularity in recent years due to its energy savings.
“A heat pump is an electrically driven device that extracts heat from a low-temperature place (a source) and delivers it to a high-temperature place (a sink),” explains National Resources Canada (NRCan) on its website. “To understand this process, think about a bicycle over a hill: no effort is required to go from the top of the hill to the bottom, as the bike and rider will move naturally from a high place to a lower one. However, going up the hill requires a lot more work, as the bike is moving against the direction of motion.”
According to Statistics Canada, buildings produce the third most amount of greenhouse gases, led only by the oil and gas, and transportation industries. “Two major sources of greenhouse gases are transportation and housing (heating and cooling),” reports Michael Psihoules, national energy solutions manager for Fujitsu General America. “Just like car companies going towards 100 per cent electric vehicles, the housing sector will be the same.”
On July 29, 2021, the government received royal assent for Bill C-12, or commonly referred to as the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act. This act sets national targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions with the end goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.
The Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI) recently conducted a report, in partnership with Dunsky, titled “Heating Electrification: Policies to Drive Ground-Source Heat Pump Adoption,” which looks at policy in Canada related to heat pump technology. “Although ground-source heat pumps (GSHP) can provide a net benefit, there is an important misalignment between the parties paying for these technologies (individual and building owners) and those receiving the benefits (utilities and society),” according to the summary of the report.
Natural gas is cheaper, this isn’t a secret nor is there any way around it. This makes things difficult when it comes to promoting electrification. “The problem is that initial costs put people off,” said Candace Steinberg, marketing manager HVAC products sales division for Mitsubishi Electric Sales Canada. For example, a traditional heat pump will cost between $2,500 and $10,000 when compared to a conventional furnace. GSHP’s, on the other hand, are a different story. The installation and equipment is higher with prices between $15,000 and $40,000. “The initial cost of heat pumps don’t need to be as high as they are right now, but that’s because of the unfamiliarity contractors have and also the risk of go-backs,” said Psihoules. If contractors become more comfortable and confident installing heat pumps, the price will likely come down.
Since the cost of electricity varies from province to province, this makes things even more complicated for electrification. “Quebec has cheaper electricity, so it makes sense for them,” explains Geoff Sharman, Mitsubishi Electric’s residential product manager HVAC division. “But in Alberta, where gas is cheaper, customers are more likely to stick with what they have.” Heat pumps will likely increase electricity bills but will also lower heating costs. For example, if the heat pump is used along with a primary heating system such as oil, propane, or electric, customers can find savings by using the heat pump to offset the usage of the fuels previously mentioned.
To make things easier on contractors, there are a variety of incentives and rebates available. “Federal and provincial tax credits, upfront incentives, financing, and rebates can help customers,” explains Dev Mylrajan, business development manager—InnTech for Emco Corp. For example, the Green Home Program. “The program offers a $5,000 incentive and also provides customers with an energy audit on the home,” said Mylrajan. For more information on this program, please visit www.plumbingandhvac.ca/cmhc-boosts-green-home-fund/.
Statistics Canada reported back in 2017 that forced air furnaces make up 55 per cent of the heating industry in Canada. This is trailed by electric baseboard heaters at 26 per cent, heating stoves at three per cent, boilers with hot water or steam radiators at eight per cent, electric radiant heating at one per cent, and heat pumps at only four per cent.
Heat pumps still make up a small percentage of the heating industry. “Heat pumps might be the more logical option as they are more efficient because rather than generating heat they move heat into your home,” explains Mylrajan. With a heat pump, the electricity consumed is used to power the two fans (condenser and indoor unit), the compressor, and the pump (which transfers the heat). The electric baseboard heater must generate its own heat.
The heat pump market can be broken down into two categories: ground-source and air-source. For air-source heat pumps, heat is transferred from outdoor to indoor, which is done with either an air-to-water heat pump or an air-to-air heat pump. The condenser unit, which sits outside the home, produces hot or cold air, whereas the indoor unit passes hot or cool air via a wall cassette mounted in the home. Since a refrigeration line separates the two units, heat pumps are often referred to as mini-split systems.
While heat pumps offer customers both air conditioning and heating in one compact system, over the years there have been issues associated with them in colder climates. “Heat pumps do lose capacity at lower temperatures, and this is something we’re trying to fix,” says Sharman. Some heat pumps can still perform at 100 per cent heating capacity down to -20C.
While this was a major concern with heat pumps for many years, newer products to market no longer have this major sticking point. “Heat pumps have been around forever, but the newness of them relates to the improved performance in colder climates,” said Psihoules. “For a long time, contractors were iffy about heat pumps, but the technology has changed so much it’s time for them to give heat pumps a second chance.”
A new addition to the heat pump market is the design of a hybrid system. “Hybrid is the future,” said Sharman. “The technology is headed in that direction.” The hybrid product would feature a retrofitted coil on top of any gas furnace. It could be the best of both worlds as customers can potentially save money and get supplement heating and cooling while utilizing their current setup, said Sharman. “With a hybrid heat pump, you could potentially save between 30 and 50 per cent on your energy bill, when compared to baseboard and oil/propane heaters,” said Steinberg.
Whether it be heat pumps, gas furnaces or any other heating/cooling source, the main thing for contractors to keep in mind for their customers is comfort. “Heat pumps aren’t a final solution. It’s the start to hopefully a better and cleaner future,” said Mylrajan.