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jrw1621
jrw1621 SuperDork
5/5/11 10:42 a.m.

After nearly two years on the market, my condo has sold. I even got a check at closing (rather than write one) but it was a small check. The wife and I have been renting a small place in the new town (they are about an hour away from each other) for those two years.

We are now shopping existing homes. I have come across one that I mostly like but I still have some concerns. One concern that can be answered here is that this place has a Heat Pump as a heat source. I know nothing about Heat Pumps, what can you tell me?

This ranch home is build on a crawl space that has both cement floor and a cement walls. The walls are covered with styrofoam sheeting . In addition to that there is lighting throughout the whole space. It really looks like a 4 ft basement. Down there are two big units that look to me like typical gas furnaces with typical duct work.
Why are there two?
Is this like having two furnaces?
The home is a 2400 sq ft ranch. The units are spaced to each side of the house.
There is a hot water heater next to each of these furncace like units.

Is a Heat Pump reliable, efficient, low maint?
I do not know the brand name but could get it later.

Thanks, John

triumph5
triumph5 Dork
5/5/11 10:47 a.m.

From my little exposure to those with heat pumps, they LOVE them. Cost of heating and cooling went down, and it opened up room in the basement. I'm sure, as with everything, there are nightmares about them, but, everyone I know who has one, who didn't have one before, is much happier with one. My 2 cents.

Fletch1
Fletch1 Reader
5/5/11 11:01 a.m.

My wife and I are getting ready to build a house with a heat pump here in Ohio. My brother had a house built 5 years ago with a heat pump, but his house is only 1110 sq.ft. The highest his electric bill got in the extreme cold was about $180-190. I'm moving from an old farm house with fuel oil and that just about killed us at $3.10 a gallon. I've heard they are suppose to be the most effecient way to heat. They are also used for cool air in the summer. It's also nice not having to schedule propane or fuel oil fill ups. Well, that's about the most help I can give.

1988RedT2
1988RedT2 Dork
5/5/11 11:19 a.m.

I have a home built in 2001. It is served by two heat pumps. They do a fine job of heating and cooling the house.

Unless you live in the frozen north, I wouldn't consider any other type of heating/cooling. If your winters are severe, I'd still have a heat pump for heating and cooling most of the year, but would rely on something like natural gas for backup heat in the coldest months.

spitfirebill
spitfirebill SuperDork
5/5/11 11:44 a.m.

A straight electric heat pump may be pushing it in Ohio.

People not used to them don't like them, because it feels like they are always blowing cold air. I believe you can get them that have a natural gas fired backup. I would have most anything before I would have oil or propane heat.

We have two heat pumps, one for upstairs and one for downstairs. Our max electric bill (in NW SC) is around $150. We have a nat gas water heater

z31maniac
z31maniac SuperDork
5/5/11 12:46 p.m.

Slight OT question, I see you guys farther north than me mention fuel oil/heating oil/all electric a lot.

Is the Natural Gas infrastructure not as developed up there? Not popular for a different reason?

Just curious, sorry for the OT.

carguy123
carguy123 SuperDork
5/5/11 12:49 p.m.

You said the house has gas in it? Gas is cheaper than a heat pump. A heat pump is for when you don't have access to gas.

1988RedT2
1988RedT2 Dork
5/5/11 1:31 p.m.
carguy123 wrote: You said the house has gas in it? Gas is cheaper than a heat pump. A heat pump is for when you don't have access to gas.

Yeah, how's gas work for A/C again?

foxtrapper
foxtrapper SuperDork
5/5/11 1:50 p.m.

A heat pump is just an air conditioner running backwards. Remember going outside behind someones window a/c and experiencing all that hot air blowing off them? That's the heat pump air that will be blowing into your house.

The system works by heat difference. So the colder it is outside, the less well it sucks the heat from the outside air and transfers it inside.

How well does it work? Much depends on where you are. They all work just fine down in Georgia. Far less fine up North Dakota. The more northerly you go, the more you want an alternative heat backup.

Are they reliable? Is an air conditioner reliable? Generally, yes. But cheap is cheap. If it's the original unit, it was probably a cheap one. If the owner replaced it when it died and they thought they were going to stay there, and they had money, it might be a very good one.

Are they cheap to run? Generally yes. Sized wrong, poorly installed, poorly maintain, and they suck power like an old window unit ac would.

Will the air feel cold? Not so much these days. Early on the units were stupidly low temperature, so they darn well felt cold. Instead of blow 110 degree air out of the vent like a furnace, they would blow 75 degree air, which feels cold as it blows across you.

Would I personally want one? Not an outside air heat unit. But, I wouldn't automatically reject a house because it had one. I'd prefer a ground transfer unit, but those cost a lot more.

carguy123
carguy123 SuperDork
5/5/11 2:53 p.m.
1988RedT2 wrote:
carguy123 wrote: You said the house has gas in it? Gas is cheaper than a heat pump. A heat pump is for when you don't have access to gas.
Yeah, how's gas work for A/C again?

They actually have gas ACs. I haven't seen one in years, but they exist. A heat pump isn't for cooling, it's for cooling. Just an AC running backwards. They have their limitations and below a certain temp the dreaded resistance heating coils come on and start draining your bank account. But in any case gas heat is cheaper than the heat pump when the compressor is running. At least it is if you use natural gas.

Duke
Duke SuperDork
5/5/11 3:12 p.m.
triumph5 wrote: From my little exposure to those with heat pumps, they LOVE them. Cost of heating and cooling went down, and it opened up room in the basement. I'm sure, as with everything, there are nightmares about them, but, everyone I know who has one, who didn't have one before, is much happier with one. My 2 cents.

There are heat pumps and there are heat pumps.

Ground water heat pumps are the good kind. They are usually very energy efficient and not heavy on maintenance. However, they don't give you the "blast of heat" and "blast of cold" operation that a traditional furnace/AC will. It's more of a "I'm not actually cold" feeling in winter.

Electric heat pumps are the bad kind. They basically are air conditioning units with electric coils added for heat. If it is this kind and the area is in a winter climate, I'd budget to replace them. They have a fairly finite lifespan, too.

triumph5
triumph5 Dork
5/5/11 3:25 p.m.

I'm pretty sure most of the type I've experienced were the ground water type: the did not give off blasts of heat or cold. They did, however, heat or cool without help of an auxiliary heater or cooler--until temps (or up here, humidity) got extreme, then there was an additional switch to add in additional A/C or heat.

In the past I have lived on boats year round with heat pumps. They heated and cooled from using the water around the boat, and it wasn't until the water got below 48ish in the fall that I had to run an electrical heater. And when the water was reaching mid 60s, did I add an A/C unit for a couple of weeks. My point being, I found that in a house or boat, they could be used as a heater/cooler until a certain point, then, fire up the appropriate heater or cooler.

The one newish (5 years) house I've been in with one, is remarkably cheaper to heat or cool than the same size house without a heat pump. It was not a cheap unit, but it will pay for itself over time. (Wait until you pay for heating oil next winter...) If I were to build a house, or rehab one today, I'd invest in a good unit. IMO, they are well worth the money.

Were I the OP, I'd go back and write down all the info on the units. Maybe digital pics, too. And then talk to a home inspector. But, it does sound like it's a two zone seperate (really seperate) system, with auxiliary hot water heaters. Get all the infomation on them and do some homewowrk, and take it from there.

Bobzilla
Bobzilla Dork
5/5/11 3:29 p.m.

There's no way we could have a heat pump at our current home and expect warmth in the winter. flat open ground, pounding winter winds and a 2200sqft ranch is not a good combo. It was all our old house in a subdivision could do to keep the house at 65 in the dead of winter running 24/7.

triumph5
triumph5 Dork
5/5/11 3:33 p.m.

I'm pretty sure most of the type I've experienced were the ground water type: the did not give off blasts of heat or cold. They did, however, heat or cool without help of an auxiliary heater or cooler--until temps (or up here, humidity) got extreme, then there was an additional switch to add in additional A/C or heat.

In the past I have lived on boats year round with heat pumps. They heated and cooled from using the water around the boat, and it wasn't until the water got below 48ish in the fall that I had to run an electrical heater. And when the water was reaching mid 60s, did I add an A/C unit for a couple of weeks. My point being, I found that in a house or boat, they could be used as a heater/cooler until a certain point, then, fire up the appropriate heater or cooler.

The one newish (5 years) house I've been in with one, is remarkably cheaper to heat or cool than the same size house without a heat pump. It was not a cheap unit, but it will pay for itself over time. (Wait until you pay for heating oil next winter...) If I were to build a house, or rehab one today, I'd invest in a good unit. IMO, they are well worth the money.

Were I the OP, I'd go back and write down all the info on the units. Maybe digital pics, too. And then talk to a home inspector. But, it does sound like it's a two zone seperate (really seperate) system, with auxiliary hot water heaters. Get all the infomation on them and do some homewowrk, and take it from there.

P.S. Noone has or remembers propane-powered refrigerators?

SVreX
SVreX SuperDork
5/5/11 3:54 p.m.
triumph5 wrote: P.S. Noone has or remembers propane-powered refrigerators?

I have one.

jrw1621
jrw1621 SuperDork
5/5/11 9:47 p.m.

Thanks for the insights. I will continue to investigate.
Looking at the MLS listing again I see that it says the following:
Heat Source: Electric
Heat System: Forced Air, Heat Pump.
Air Conditioning: Central

I am concerned that maybe this one is the bad type of heat pump.

carguy123
carguy123 SuperDork
5/5/11 10:01 p.m.

Geothermal (ground water) is way different than a traditional heatpump and likely is not the type of unit he is looking at. Geothermal is still rather rare in the overall scheme of things due to costs and complexities.

If it has an outside condenser unit it's a traditional Heat pump.

Claff
Claff Reader
5/5/11 10:01 p.m.

I have the 'bad' type of heat pump and it seems to be adequate for heating the house (1200 sf Washington DC area). Seems to take forEVER to heat the house starting cold (I turn the heat way down if we're spending the weekend away and come back to an icebox). I can live with it, the wife is less tolerant but she defers to my cheapskatedness.

jrw1621
jrw1621 SuperDork
5/5/11 10:06 p.m.

Outside on the side of the house, hidden in the shrubs, there is what I thought was a exterior AC unit. Does that make this the bad kind?

RossD
RossD SuperDork
5/5/11 10:15 p.m.

I wouldn't call it good or bad. If the equipment can move the correct amount of heat for the house and it's climate, then the system will work.

See if you can talk to the home owners about the house and their thermal comfort level? They may or may not be truthful. If you can't ask them directly, see if your agent can ask some questions for you?

jrw1621
jrw1621 SuperDork
5/5/11 10:20 p.m.
RossD wrote: I wouldn't call it good or bad. If the equipment can move the correct amount of heat for the house and it's climate, then the system will work. See if you can talk to the home owners about the house and their thermal comfort level? They may or may not be truthful. If you can't ask them directly, see if your agent can ask some questions for you?

Oh, yeah...in my experience the real truth comes from the Realtor. (note the strong sarcasm in my sentance)

SVreX
SVreX SuperDork
5/6/11 9:05 p.m.

What's with the "good type, bad type" crap? No such thing.

The vast majority of heat pumps in US homes (like 99%) are the "bad" type, and they work just fine.

There are more efficient units and less efficient units, but no "good kind" or "bad kind".

The "groundwater" type units are better known as geothermal. They are not generally called heat pumps. It is HIGHLY unlikely that very many people on this board have lived in a house with geothermal, especially without knowing it. They are very rare, and expensive.

Because heat pumps work on the temperature differential, they don't heat efficiently in colder regions. Additionally, the temperature at the outlet register is less than 85F. Because body temperature is 98.6F, it will always feel cold at the register, even when working perfectly. It ain't your toasty radiator where you stick your wet mittens.

But they are inexpensive, and offer A/C as part of what they do, so there is a lot of bang for the buck.

jrw1621
jrw1621 SuperDork
5/6/11 9:29 p.m.

I wrote the Realtor who showed me the place and email with a few questions (none about the heat pump.) I got answers but along with the answers I was informed that an offer has been written on the house. We will see how that shakes out.

carguy123
carguy123 SuperDork
5/6/11 10:39 p.m.

If there's one thing I've learned in my 30+ years in the real estate business it's that there's a million of them out there you'll like.

It doesn't matter if it's a buyers market or a sellers market there are a very limited number of real variances in a home style, construction and feature sets. This makes it easy to find another one.

If you've found one with just the perfect location or other feature that is separate from the house and think there will never be another, you couldn't be more wrong.

With all my experience I found 3 perfect homes this last time, and lost them. But the one I ended up with was much better than any of the others. Now I see I would have been settling if I'd have gotten the others.

But also keep in mind none are perfect so be prepared to accept some imperfections. Changing things up is actually putting your stamp on the property and really when it becomes "yours" in your mind.

EastCoastMojo
EastCoastMojo SuperDork
5/6/11 10:48 p.m.

I have learned so much about heat pumps today

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