Cold and Cranky in Oysterville

Mar 10, 2012 | 0 comments

The Heat Pump from Hell

     For a week now, we’ve been dealing with heating contractors who we have called to advise us on our current difficulties – the failure of our five-ton Trane heat pump.  We have talked with six representatives of four companies.  They include repairmen, engineers, salesmen, and even the owner of the original installation outfit.  And, of course, they each tell us different things.
     They all agree (even the owner of the original company!) that our heat pump system was poorly engineered in the first place and that the five-ton unit is too big for the duct work and cold-air-return part of the operation.  They all agree that we haven’t had “a good heating experience.”  Each has a different solution to the problem.
     So far, those suggested solutions range in price, according to the bids, from $3200 to $9400.  The cheapest solution would replace the five-ton unit which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to us since everyone agreed that it was oversized in the first place and that was the major cause of the continuing difficulties we’ve had over the last ten years.
     The most expensive solution replaces both the outside (heat pump) unit as well as the inside (furnace) unit which everyone agrees is fine.  Some contractors, though, say it would not be compatible with a smaller heat pump.  But they could sure change out a coil to make it compatible.  But it wouldn’t be a ‘match’ which another contractor said was important.
     And then there’s the matter of the refrigerant.  EPA standards have changed.  All of them mentioned it, but only some of the bids deal with it.  Some, also, deal with cleaning and checking the existing ductwork; one even addresses adding another run of ducting if we find it necessary although, of course, that cost is not actually covered in the bid.
     We’ve also looked at the propane option.  Installation expense falls somewhere in between the high and low bids for heat pumps, but every contractor (including the propane specialist) says that our monthly heating bills will be far higher.  But the actual heat coming out of the register would be hotter and we would feel warmer – which, after all, is the point of this entire exploration.  Or is it?
     Our friends have rallied ’round and talked with us about their experiences.  “Go with the gas,” said one – until he found out the cost of propane vs. natural gas which he has in the big city.  “Go with another heat pump,” said another – until we compared the differences in construction/insulation/window treatments of our 1869 house in a National Historic District (as in we can’t make a lot of ‘energy-saving’ changes) and her 1994 half-as-big house.  “Wall heaters,” said someone.  “Baseboard heat,” said someone else.  “Ductless heat pump,” wrote another.  All carefully considered and all rejected for a variety of reasons.
     It’s the old comparison of apples and oranges, or of chalk and cheese as my British friends say.  We are cranky and cold.  Plus, we were planning to shingle the other half of our roof this summer.  Solve the heating problems or keep dry?  Life is never simple… especially here in Oysterville!


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