Last year was another great year for heat pump sales (up 19.6 percent from 2013), and this year’s sales are looking strong, as well. According to the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI), as of February 2015, year-to-date total shipments of central air-source heat pumps increased 19.5 percent over 2014, which is good news for contractors as well as manufacturers.

Manufacturers are obviously happy they’re selling more equipment, while contractors are thrilled customers are finally choosing to replace their existing heating and cooling systems rather than repair them. And, more often than not, homeowners are finding the new crop of heat pumps — boasting greater comfort levels and higher efficiencies — to be an attractive option.

Better Technology

Inverter-driven compressors, which help new-age heat pumps achieve significantly high heating efficiencies, are one of many technological advancements responsible for modern heat pumps’ soaring popularity.

“Right now, we’re in the golden age of heat pumps,” said Dale Jackson, owner and vice president of sales, Jackson Heating and Air, LaGrange, Georgia. “The technology has grown by leaps and bounds over the last 10 years with the most recent innovation being the emergence of the inverter-driven compressor, which just puts out an amazing amount of warm air year-round, regardless of the temperature outside.”

Jackson is also a fan of variable-speed air handlers, which provide better comfort for homeowners. “With variable speed on the indoor blower, we’re able to slow down the blower until the coil heats up so that the customer doesn’t feel cool air coming out of the vents. That, plus the improved overall reliability of heat pumps, has helped tremendously.”

Jackson said inverter-driven technology has pushed heat pumps to the top of the sales list, past geothermal heat pumps. “We love geothermal technology, but that type of system can cost $50,000-$60,000 for the houses we work on. An inverter-driven heat pump costs less than half that amount, but it can still produce the heat needed in the wintertime. In fact, last winter we had temperatures around 12°F, and, on a 4,500-square-foot home, we found the inverter-driven heat pump from Trane was only operating at 37 percent capacity with no strip heat.”

Thomas White, president, Accurate Heating and Cooling, Chillicothe, Ohio, acknowledged the inverter-driven heat pumps’ higher efficiencies make them easier to sell. “The new heat pumps are so much more reliable. We’re able to go out there and confidently sell these heat pumps as a great option.”

Better Education

White has benefited by staffing comfort advisors who understand how the new heat pump systems work and can effectively sell them to homeowners. “We live in a rural market that has not fully recovered economically, so if our salespeople can show a return on investment using lower operating costs and the higher cost of utilities, homeowners are more inclined to buy better systems.”

Showing a positive return on investment is also important for homeowners in the Springfield, Oregon, area, said Chad Dannen, president, Marshall’s Inc., which serves rural and metro populations. “Our economy is getting better all the time, and one of the products that’s going to be a good solution for homeowners is the new Carrier five-stage heat pump, which has all the benefits of inverter-driven, variable-speed technology at a lower price point. The rural areas have no natural gas, so they are almost 100 percent heat pumps.”

Educating consumers about all available options is also important, said Harold Kelly, sales manager, Marshall’s Inc. “I sit down with homeowners and talk with them about their concerns. This allows me to discover what they like and don’t like about their heat pump systems. We talk about energy costs and system efficiencies, and then I give them some solutions and help them pick the best choice for them.”

One issue that is causing more customers to choose a new heat pump system, particularly if they are facing a large repair bill, is the phaseout of R-22, said Kelly. “If somebody has a compressor failure now, most older systems are not worth the expense of replacing the compressor — especially with the higher cost of R-22 and the better efficiencies and longer warranties of new systems.”

Fossil-fuel Alternative

Many customers are choosing to replace their existing combination fossil fuel-fired furnace/air conditioner systems, and heat pumps are being chosen in overwhelming fashion. Jackson sees this scenario quite frequently near his second office in Opelika, Alabama, where customers often have gas furnaces.

“Homeowners understand the problems associated with oversized equipment, and gas furnaces are often oversized for their homes,” said Jackson. “The key is to run a load calculation to determine the correct size of the equipment and then educate the customer about their choices. For example, on a 4,500-square-foot house, I may need to install a 5-ton air conditioner, and, because of the matchup, I would need to also install a 100,000- or 120,000-Btu gas furnace when only 40,000 Btu is necessary. Customers understand they don’t need a furnace that size, and they would rather have a correctly sized heat pump that can produce 53,000 Btu of heat.”

There are lots of reasons to love the new crop of heat pumps, which is why they will remain popular with customers. “With the new inverter-driven heat pumps, customers can save huge amounts on their energy bills, can heat their homes at much lower outdoor temperatures without backup heat, can have a much better comfort level in their homes, and the equipment is more reliable,” said Kelly.

With all these benefits, it’s no wonder heat pump sales are expected to continue growing.

Publication date: 5/25/2015

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