Other Frequently Asked Questions

Can heat pumps increase the value of your home?

Potentially. Energy efficient features of your home can be taken into account by an appraiser when your home is being sold or refinanced. Appraisers may not take these into account however, so you should ask your lender (or the buyer of your home’s lender) to use the Green Addendum worksheet when valuing your home’s energy efficient features.

How noisy are heat pumps?

The current technology generation of heat pumps are engineered to operate very quietly.  At low fan settings the indoor units are nearly imperceptible.  Even at high output they’re pretty quiet.  We don’t often hear negative reports about noise.  The exterior units, while louder than the indoor units, are generally not objectionable and can’t usually be heard from inside the house.  The manufacturers provide decibel (dB) ratings for each model – a typical wall-mounted indoor unit will operate at under 45 dB (sound of light rain), and the outdoor unit at under 55 dB (normal conversation).  Usually they are running at a lower fan speeds, meaning they’re even quieter.  You can find the dB ratings on the manufacturers’ websites.

 In general, we recommend that you give some consideration to where you locate the outdoor unit – directly below a bedroom window for instance might not be the best placement.  Also, sometimes units are mounted to the side of the house on brackets – in some cases this can result in vibration noise being transmitted through the wall.  Again, mounting on the exterior wall of a bedroom may prove unsatisfactory.  Mounting the unit on a solid base on the ground will avoid this issue.

How far apart do the inside units need to be?

This is highly dependent on the configuration and size of your house.  In modestly-sized houses with an open floorplan, a single indoor heating head can often meet a large percentage of the house’s annual heating demand.  In houses that are more partitioned, it becomes more challenging to distribute that heat to isolated spaces.  Achieving that may require additional heating heads, or units with ducting serving multiple rooms.  Another option is to heat remote areas with a different heating system, especially if they don’t need to be maintained at a very warm temperature most of the time (back bedrooms or storage rooms for examples).  Alaska Heat Smart can help you assess your options and estimate the financial benefits of each option.    

How cold can it get for heat pumps to still work well?

Heat pump manufacturers typically market a range of heat pumps optimized for different climates.  In hot climates they focus on cooling, while in cold climates they’re optimized for heating.  In Alaska we definitely want to choose the units best suited for heating, so make sure you’re installing the appropriate system for our climate (your installer will know which ones they are).  Suitable cold-climate heat pumps are rated to operate to below zero degrees F, but as outside temperatures approach that point their heat output also declines. There are homes heated entirely with heat pumps in Juneau that have no problems, though AHS does recommend having a backup heating method as a matter of policy.

How do you know what size heat pump to buy?

Ask your contractor. They have years of experience. If need-be (for complex scenarios with critical dependencies), you and your contractor can consult a mechanical engineer. AHS does not provide sizing recommendations, deferring instead to contractors.

In addition, CBJ building code spells out the requirements for heating system sizing and distribution.  If a house is going to be heated entirely with a heat pump, it’s important that you consult with a heating professional to ensure that your system is in compliance with code.  If a heat pump is going to be added in addition to an existing heating system, then the existing system can be used to supplement the heat pump when temperatures drop.  Typical single-head units are in the 12,000 to 18,000 Btu range.

Does Juneau have enough electricity for this?

Yes. AEL&P is an active AHS partner. The are required by law to provide electricity to their customers, and have detailed, multi-decade plans and projections for system capacity, including expansions. There are other lakes that can be tapped when the time comes, and in the case of houses that heat with electric baseboards, when they upgrade to a heat pump, that actually frees up electricity for other homes.

Who is our favorite installer?

“The installer that is right for you.” AHS doesn’t recommend one installer over another, as it is important to be unbiased. We maintain a list of all known Juneau installers. Chat with your friends about their installation experiences, and chat with the installers themselves to see who sounds like the best fit for you and your project.

Can you install it yourself?

Alaska Heat Smart does not recommend it for a number of reasons: 

  • Installing refrigeration equipment (that includes heat pumps) and handling refrigerants require (by law) specific licenses and certifications.  You want to use a contractor who has those certifications – they’re required for a reason!
  • Installing heat pumps requires special equipment and skills – it’s more than just a simple residential plumbing project.  Failure to properly install the system will result in damage to your system.
  • It will likely be difficult to receive manufacturer’s warranty service on a system that hasn’t been installed by a professional.
  • A CBJ building permit is required for the installation of a heat pump (including the electrical work associated with it).  Failure to meet applicable building code could result in costly re-work of your installation.  It could also resulting in a system that poses a fire or other life-safety risk in your home.
  • The electrical work can be fairly complex depending on the house’s current electrical infrastructure.  This is work best left to a licensed electrician.  Some homes, especially older homes, may lack the capacity to support the added electrical load from a heat pump.
  • There may be aspects of the job that can be performed by a capable handyman that could reduce installation costs, and that’s worth discussing with your installer and electrician ahead of time.

What kind of exterior and interior maintenance should you expect?

Relatively little! Interior heating heads will need to have dust filters cleaned every few months (more often if in a dusty area like a shop), so place them in places that are accessible. Beyond that, any maintenance would need to be performed by a processional, so you just want to keep an eye on any ice or dirt build up on your exterior unit.

What’s a basic cost breakdowns to install a system?

It varies considerably based on many factors unique to every home.  We tend to estimate $5,200 for simple installation (parts and labor) plus $600-$1500 for the electrical work.  Complex installations of multi-head installations cost more, of course.  There is not a huge price difference between the different unit output ratings.

What is the average cost for a one-to-one mini split?

$5,000-$6,500, depending on many variables. Alaska Heat Smart can assist you in estimating the savings you could expect to see from installing a heat pump and how long it would take for those savings to pay for the installation.

Why are heat pumps so expensive up here?

All the usual reasons.  Shipping, smaller market, talented labor is expensive.  Despite this, heat pumps still make economic sense for most homes. In addition, the heat pump models designed for cold weather operation are generally more expensive than those that can’t operate in this climate.  Presumable that’s due in part to more expensive construction and technology.  There are far fewer cold-climate models available on the market.

Will this be supplemental heat or can it replace my existing heating system?

In most retrofit installations the most cost-effective solution is to retain your existing heating system and install a heat pump to supplement it.  Often most of your heating over the year can be provided by your heat pump, with your existing system providing heat only to the remote areas of your house, and during cold spells when your heat pump needs a little assistance keeping up.

If your current heating system is reaching the end of its service life, Alaska Heat Smart can make some suggestions for solutions you can consider, but at that point you should be consulting with a qualified heating professional.

Will it purify your air?

Not enough to count. A heat pump’s air filter exists to clean the heat pump’s air intake, not your own. And there is no air exchange between the inside and outside, so it’s all the same air mass.

Will it dehumidify your air?

Most models can, though it might not be the ideal use for your heat pump.  If you are experiencing high humidity levels in your house you should first determine the source of the humidity and try to address it at the source.  High humidity can be a sign of poor air quality, and you should consult with an HVAC professional about installing an energy-efficient ventilation system.  At a minimum, a simple modification, such as a humidity sensor switch on a bathroom fan, could go a long way towards addressing the problem. 

Can you buy this on Amazon and have it work?

The do-it-yourself systems on Amazon are less than desirable in a number of ways {{Bob, tell us the ways}}, among them that the umbilical (line set) between the indoor unit and the outdoor unit comes pre-filled with refrigerant. Even if it gets installed correctly and doesn’t leak, there’s no way to shorten the line set, so you could end up with many feet of extra tube ruining your system’s efficiency.

Which indoor unit should you use (ceiling mounted, floor mounted, etc)?

We mostly see wall-mounted interior heating heads, but that’s because most heat pumps are designed as air conditioners (for cooling) first.  Since heat rises, it makes more sense to mount then down low in our climate – but only if there’s a clear path for the air to blow.  There often isn’t in which case a heating head mounted up on a wall is just fine.  If you do have room down low, a floor-mounted heat pump is a good way to go (especially if you are switching from a Toyo or Monitor, since there is presumably already a logical place to put the floor-mounted heat pump.

What can you do to lower installation costs?

Some of the work can be done by homeowners, but the best thing is to know what you want, and the best way to sort that out is to talk to Alaska Heat Smart so we can help you through that process so that you’re all set when it comes time to talk to contractors.

Can I use one to run my hydronic in floor heating system?

There are heat pumps that can serve hydronic (hot water) distribution systems, but they’re usually not a simple drop-in replacement to an existing oil-fired boiler. Alaska Heat Smart focuses on standard ductless heat pumps because they’re often the simplest and least expensive systems to install as a retrofit, and provide the best payback. Hydronic systems are usually more expensive than ductless systems.

Hydronic-based heat pumps offer many advantages over ductless systems, and if you want to install one by all means consult with a heating professional. If you’re building a new house or addition, a hydronic system can be more readily incorporated into the design. 

What kind of electrical work is required for an installation?

Electrical work is required for any heat pump installation, and most installers do not do it themselves (it’s not their speciality).  Instead, they can point you to an electrician they like working with, or you could do it yourself if that’s feasible option.  At a minimum, a 240 Volt service for the external compressor will need to be added.  Power to the indoor units is provided by the outdoor unit through cabling in the lineset, and there will need to be room in your breaker box for all the additions, as well as the capacity for the new equipment in the service your house receives from AEL&P.  Be sure to discuss your electrical situation with an installer to get an idea of the overall upgrade costs.

Do the refrigerants used in heat pumps increase climate change?

They can.  Most heat pump refrigerants are potent greenhouse gases, thousands of times more potent than CO2.  That’s why it’s imperative that any refrigerants in a heat pump be recaptured when servicing or decommissioning your system (and it’s required by federal law!).  But over its lifespan, a heat pump can displace hundreds of thousands of pounds of CO2 if it replaces an oil heating system.  As long as appropriate care is given to the proper handling of the refrigerant, a heat pump is usually a climate winner!

Heat pump manufacturers are also now experimenting with using CO2 or propane itself as a refrigerant in heat pumps. AHS is staying up to date on these developments, and once these are on the market for cold climate residential applications, we will be sure to let Juneau know!

What about a heat pump water heater?

A heat pump water heater can significantly reduce the electricity required to heat your domestic hot water, usually the second biggest energy consumer in your home.  But consideration needs to be given to its installation.  The energy it harvests to heat the water comes from inside the heated shell of your house, meaning that you will then need to increase your space heating energy.  If the water heater is drawing heat from a cool space like a garage, it may not function as efficiently as desired, and it could cool the surrounding space, increasing the risk of frozen pipes or other damage.

Alaska Heat Smart is continuing to evaluate heat pump water heaters and will provide further guidance in the future.

Will my heat pump also cool in the summer?

Yes. They operate in both modes.      

Are heat pumps visually unappealing?

It depends on the homeowner’s aesthetics. They’re appliances, visually, but sleeker and smaller than most. There’s considerable flexibility (within limits) for where the exterior units can be installed, so behind the house or a screen is usually possible.  The indoor units have a bit less flexibility regarding their locations, but they come in a variety of form factors, with some being less visible than others.