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Heating and Cooling Systems

What is a heat pump and what are its benefits?

A heat pump takes heat energy from one place and moves it to another – just like a refrigerator. In summer, it moves heat out of the house, and in the winter it moves heat into the house – even if it’s cold outside. Heat pumps are able to transfer heat using a process of evaporation and condensation of a substance called refrigerant that cycles between the indoor and outdoor units.

With a heat pump, you can enjoy the following benefits:

  • Year-round comfort: A heat pump takes the place of both an air conditioner and a heating system, keeping you warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
  • Maximum efficiency: When properly installed, a heat pump uses half to a third as much energy as electric baseboards or a gas furnace.
  • Climate Friendly: For an average home heated by natural gas, switching to a heat pump reduces your carbon footprint by about the same amount as not driving your car for 9 months of the year*.
  • Better indoor air quality: Most heat pumps provide air flow and dehumidification with options to add an enhanced filtration system to clean the air circulating through your home of indoor pollutants, dust, pollen, and other allergens.

*If you are using BC grid electricity, which is close to zero-emission.

Did you see a building science or energy efficiency term you did not understand? Check out our glossary.

Which heating system is best for me and my home?

There are a variety of factors that go into deciding which heating system is best suited for you and your home. The chart below summarizes some of the general differences between some of the most common heating systems. Please note that factors related to installation costs can be highly variable based on the size of your home, the type, make and model of heating system selected, as well as design and installation considerations. The operating costs of different heating systems can also depend on the size of your home, the overall efficiency of your home, your preferred home temperature, where you live, the number of heating and/or cooling days and other factors.

Ask an energy advisor, contractor or Energy Coach for help finding the right system for your home.

Did you see a building science or energy efficiency term you did not understand? Check out our glossary.

How do I know if my heating and/or cooling system is properly sized for my home?

To ensure optimal energy performance and comfort for your home, it’s important to install appropriately sized equipment that will heat and/or cool your home sufficiently. Keep in mind that newly retrofitted homes may have smaller heating and cooling needs than they did prior to upgrades and renovations, particularly if you are making changes to your building envelope such as draftproofing and upgrading insulation.

If you are in the market for a new heating system be sure to ask your heating system contractor to explain how the system they are selling is appropriately sized for your home.

Here are some signs to indicate that your heating and/or cooling system may not properly sized for your home:

  • Interior Temperatures Not Maintained: If you find that some spaces in your home are not comfortably heated or cooled, your existing system might be too small to support your home’s heating or cooling demands. If you find that comfortable temperatures are difficult to maintain, you should also check your home’s air ducting or hydronic piping system to ensure that that the distribution system is balanced and that your ducts or pipes are insulated, sealed and properly connected.
  • Heating or Cooling System Short Cycles: If your heating or cooling system turns on and off frequently, it may be too large for your home. Although some people may think that bigger is better, an oversized heating or cooling system will be less energy efficient and may reduce the overall comfort of your home. The frequent on/off short cycles can also put more stress on the system’s components and shorten its lifespan.

For more information, visit the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

Did you see a building science or energy efficiency term you did not understand? Check out our glossary.

Heat Pumps

What type of heat pump should I choose?

Air-source heat pumps transfer heat that is in the outside air into the home. The most common ones transfer this heat into the indoor air, and are called air-to-air heat pumps. There are three main types of air-to-air heat pumps: central, mini-split, and multi-split.

A central heat pump distributes heat and cooling through ductwork connected to vents in each room.

A mini-split heat pump does not rely on ductwork to heat and cool the home. Instead, mini-split heat pumps use a series of one or more indoor heads located throughout the home. An outdoor unit connects to wall-mounted indoor heads by a small bundle of cables, including the refrigerant line. A remote control is used to adjust settings for maximum efficiency, comfort and control.

While the term mini-split can be used to refer to any ductless type of heat pump it typically refers to a system that only has one indoor head. The term multi-split is often used to describe a heat pump system that has multiple indoor heads.

Not all mini-splits are completely ductless! A ducted mini-split heat pump uses short ductwork to connect a single indoor unit to multiple rooms. In these systems an indoor unit is mounted in the attic, where short ducts distribute air to multiple rooms.

The type of heat pump you choose will depend on a number of factors:

  • Size and layout of your home: Mini-split/ductless heat pumps can be used in homes of various sizes, but they are ideal for smaller homes or homes with an open plan layout.
  • State of your ducts: It’s important to check the ducts of your old heating system. Depending on their size and airtightness, they may or may not be suitable for a central heat pump.
  • Interest in removing ducts: If you are interested in removing the ducting in your home to provide you with more headspace or a more efficient utilization of space, installing a mini-split/ductless heat pump will allow you to do so.
  • Zonal heat: If you want to set different temperatures in different parts of your home, a ductless heat pump is recommended for zonal heating. Each indoor unit installed in your home can be set to different temperatures.
  • Outdoor temperature: The heat pump you choose should be compatible with your region’s climate. Some models perform better than others in colder winter temperatures.
  • Secondary suites: Mini ductless heat pumps can effectively be used as secondary heating systems for separately heated suites.

Other types of heat pumps

  • Air-to-water heat pumps also take heat from the outdoor air, but they transfer it into a liquid distribution (hydronic) system. Air-to water heat pumps can be used for both space heating and domestic hot water.
  • Ground-source heat pumps are another type of heat pump. The steady, moderate temperature of the ground allows these heat pumps to have high year-round efficiency. Ground-source heat pumps often do not require a backup heating system but typically have higher upfront costs than air source heat pumps. Installed cost will vary depending on your site geology and available space.

Did you see a building science or energy efficiency term you did not understand? Check out our glossary.

What are central heat pumps?

Space heating is the largest use of energy in homes and a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. A central heat pump is a highly efficient, climate friendly, and modern alternative to gas or electric furnaces.

A heat pump takes heat energy from one place and moves it to another by compressing and expanding refrigerant. A heat pump extracts heat from the air and transfers this heat to either the inside or outside of your home, depending on the season. A central heat pump distributes heat and cool air through ductwork connected to vents in each room.

Did you see a building science or energy efficiency term you did not understand? Check out our glossary.

What are ductless/mini-split heat pumps?

A mini-split heat pump (also known in some cases as a ductless or mini-ducted heat pump) is the most energy-efficient and most climate friendly form of home heating and cooling currently available.

A heat pump takes heat energy from one place and moves it to another by compressing and expanding refrigerant. A heat pump extracts heat from the air and transfers this heat to either the inside or outside of your home, depending on the season. An outdoor unit connects to a wall-mounted indoor unit by a small bundle of cables, including the refrigerant line. A remote control is used to adjust settings for maximum efficiency, comfort and control.

Did you see a building science or energy efficiency term you did not understand? Check out our glossary.

Do I need a backup heat source for my heat pump?

Whether or not you need a backup heat source for your heat pump will depend on the type of heat pump you purchase, your climate zone and the design of your home. Some heat pumps are designed to operate independently, while others are designed to use backup heat. A backup heating system may be an electric resistance element incorporated into the heat pump, the existing electric baseboards in your home, or a gas furnace. When required, backup heat is used during defrost cycles and low ambient temperatures.

To minimize the need for backup heat, look for a cold climate rated heat pump. Ductless cold climate heat pumps are widely available and do not require backup heat. Many cold climate heat pumps maintain 100% of their capacity down to -15oC and can operate down to -25oC. Check the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships website for a list of ductless and ducted heat pumps that meet its cold climate performance specification.

  • Homes that are primarily heated by electricity may choose to keep their electric heaters for backup or supplemental heating.
  • Homes that are converting from a gas or oil furnace may purchase a heat pump that doesn’t require backup heat or one that incorporates an electric resistance element or install a combination gas or oil furnace electric heat pump.

Speak to a heat pump installer to find a system will work well in your home and meet rebate program criteria.

Did you see a building science or energy efficiency term you did not understand? Check out our glossary.

What are the costs of a heat pump?

Costs for purchasing and installing a ductless or central heat pump system can vary significantly based on the size and floor plan of your home, the type, make and model of system, number of heads installed (for ductless/mini-splits), as well as design and installation considerations. Check out the rebate search tool to learn about available rebates. Be sure to get multiple quotes to compare costs, installation approach and warranties.

Did you see a building science or energy efficiency term you did not understand? Check out our glossary.

What are the maintenance requirements for heat pumps?

To ensure that your heat pump has a long service life and operates efficiently, regular maintenance is required. Homeowners can do monthly maintenance themselves for both central and mini-split heat pumps. During regular maintenance you should follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

A yearly heat pump inspection is also recommended and should be done by a competent service contractor. During the yearly inspection, the service contractor should check the refrigerant levels and make any mechanical or electrical adjustments.

For more information about maintaining your heat pump, visit Natural Resources Canada.

Did you see a building science or energy efficiency term you did not understand? Check out our glossary.

Are heat pumps loud?

The outdoor units of heat pumps do make some noise. The sound rating of a heat pump is an indicator of the sound level of the outdoor heat pump unit, and is measured in bels. The lower the sound rating is, the quieter the unit will be.

It is generally recommended to select a heat pump with an outdoor sound rating of around 7.6 bels. The amount of noise will depend on the make and model of the heat pump and how it is installed. Ask your installer to take noise-dampening measures such as using noise-dampening mounts or pads. It’s also important to consider where the heat pump is installed on the outside of your home. Some local governments have restrictions on the placement of heat pumps.

Did you see a building science or energy efficiency term you did not understand? Check out our glossary.

What accreditations do I look for when hiring a heat pump installer?

When hiring an accredited heat pump installer, the most important accreditation they should possess is a TQ ticket (refrigeration mechanic). Also, look for the following credentials:

For air-to-air heat pump systems:

  • TECA Quality First Forced Air Guidelines Course
  • HRAI SkillTech Residential Heat Loss/Gain and Air System Design Courses
  • ASTT Registered Applied Science Technologist, Mechanical

For air-to-water heat pump systems:

  • TECA Quality First Hydronics and Combo Course
  • HRAI SkillTech Residential Heat Loss/Gain and Radiant Hydronics Design Courses
  • ASTT Registered applied Science Technologist, Mechanical

Did you see a building science or energy efficiency term you did not understand? Check out our glossary.

Gas Furnaces

What are ENERGY STAR gas furnaces?

A high-efficiency furnace provides heat by burning natural gas to generate warm air that is distributed throughout your home through ductwork and vents connected to each room. Modern gas furnaces protect indoor air quality by using sealed combustion to isolate the burner and flue from the indoor air and by circulating the air in your home through an air filter.

It is not uncommon to find new homes with improperly sized and poorly installed heating equipment that can cause uneven temperatures, noisy operation and increased maintenance cost for the owner. An ENERGY STAR® certified forced-air furnace is a popular choice in areas with gas service, heating your home quickly while delivering enhanced comfort and cost savings.

Did you see a building science or energy efficiency term you did not understand? Check out our glossary.

What are the benefits of ENERGY STAR gas furnaces?

  • Cost effective home comfort: Natural gas heating provides cost savings while delivering whole home warmth and comfort.
  • Fast, efficient heating: Bring your home to the desired temperature quickly and efficiently.
  • Better indoor air quality: Add an enhanced filtration system to clean the air circulating through your home of air pollutants, dust, pollen, and other allergens.
  • Adaptability for cooling: Option to enhance your system with air conditioning for year-round comfort.

Did you see a building science or energy efficiency term you did not understand? Check out our glossary.

What are the costs of a high-efficiency gas furnace?

Costs for purchasing and installing a high-efficiency gas furnace can vary significantly based on the size of your home, the type, make, and model of furnace selected, as well as design and installation considerations. Be sure to get multiple quotes from contractors to compare costs, installation approach and warranties.

Did you see a building science or energy efficiency term you did not understand? Check out our glossary.

How do I ensure that I get the right gas furnace for my home?

Getting optimal performance depends on more than just choosing the right equipment.

  • Consult with experts: Ask an energy advisor or contractor how an ENERGY STAR® certified natural gas furnace could transform your home.
  • Get a heat load calculation: Ask the builder to confirm that the heating contractor calculates the heat requirements to ensure your gas furnace is sized properly.
  • Ask about duct design: Have your builder show you a layout of where the equipment and ductwork will be installed. Confirm that the duct connections including vents and registers are going to be well-sealed.
  • Don’t forget about commissioning: Commissioning is a critical quality assurance step that should not be overlooked to verify and document that the engineered performance has been achieved.
  • Maintain your equipment: Similar to servicing a vehicle, preventive maintenance is a good investment to minimize future problems. Arrange for annual servicing. Clean and replace air filters regularly. Consult the owner’s manual for details.

The FortisBC publication ‘High-Efficiency Furnace Installation Guide for Existing Homes’ is a helpful guide on the best practice approaches to installing high-efficiency furnaces in your home. The guide provides homeowners and contractors with general information and the steps, common challenges, and solutions, to completing high-efficiency furnace retrofits.

Did you see a building science or energy efficiency term you did not understand? Check out our glossary.

What maintenance does my gas furnace require?

To ensure that your gas furnace operates safely and reliably, it’s important to maintain your furnace by cleaning it regularly and scheduling inspections. Maintenance should be scheduled for the early fall to ensure that the furnace is ready to go once the cold weather sets in. It’s important to read over the owner’s manual for your gas furnace to know how to maintain your model properly. When scheduling a full service on your furnace, hire a licensed gas contractor who is experienced at inspecting and servicing gas appliances.

For more information on maintaining your gas furnace, visit FortisBC.

Did you see a building science or energy efficiency term you did not understand? Check out our glossary.

What accreditations do I look for when hiring a natural gas installer?

When hiring a natural gas installer, look for a contractor that’s licensed with the BC Safety Authority, professionally trained, and in good standing with the Better Business Bureau.

The FortisBC Trade Ally Network is a database of gas contractors that adhere to the following criteria:

  • possess a minimum of $2 million liability and third-party insurance
  • have a business licence for each community they serve
  • have been in business for a minimum of three years
  • are informed about FortisBC energy efficiency rebates and innovative technologies

For more information, visit the Hiring a Contractor FAQs.

Did you see a building science or energy efficiency term you did not understand? Check out our glossary.

Gas Boilers

What are ENERGY STAR gas boilers?

A boiler heats your home by burning natural gas to heat water that circulates to wall mounted radiators or radiant floor systems. This type of heating technology distributes radiant heat for your home through a series of insulated pipes to individual rooms, rather than through a forced air duct and vent system. Radiant heat warms objects in the room and your body rather than just the air in the room, providing a comfort you can feel.

Many homes have improperly sized and poorly installed heating equipment. This can cause uncomfortable rooms and increased energy costs, while shortening the life of the equipment. An ENERGY STAR® certified boiler is a common solution chosen by many homeowners in areas with gas service to bring the benefits of luxurious radiant warmth and cost savings to their home.

 

Did you see a building science or energy efficiency term you did not understand? Check out our glossary.

What are the benefits of ENERGY STAR gas boilers?

  • Radiant warmth: Delivers cost effective radiant warmth evenly and consistently throughout your home, warming your body rather than just the air in the room.
  • Zonal heating & choice: Separate areas or individual rooms can have their own temperature setting, adjusted to your preference. Choose between radiators or radiant floor heating.
  • Smaller space requirements: Compact size and ductless design allows for valuable space savings in your home. Ideal for open concept designs or homes of any shape or size.
  • Versatility: Options for space and water heating in one system provides versatility and less mechanical equipment in your home.

Did you see a building science or energy efficiency term you did not understand? Check out our glossary.

What are the costs of a high-efficiency boiler?

Costs for purchasing and installing a high-efficiency boiler system can vary significantly based on the size of your home, the type, make and model of boiler selected, as well as design and installation considerations. Installing an in-floor heating system is typically more expensive than installing radiators. Be sure to get multiple quotes from contractors to compare costs, installation approach and warranties.

Did you see a building science or energy efficiency term you did not understand? Check out our glossary.

How do I ensure that I get the right gas boiler for my home?

Getting optimal performance from a new ENERGY STAR® certified boiler depends on more than just choosing the right equipment.

  • Consult with experts: Ask an energy advisor or contractor how an ENERGY STAR certified boiler could transform your home.
  • Get a heat load calculation: Ask the builder to confirm that the heating contractor calculates the heat requirements to ensure your gas boiler is sized properly.
  • Ask about hydronic design: To ensure optimum performance and efficiency, make sure your contractor talks to you about all of the components, design and installation details for your system.
  • Don’t forget about commissioning: Commissioning is a critical quality assurance step that should not be overlooked to verify and document that the engineered performance has been achieved.
  • Maintain your equipment: Similar to servicing a vehicle, preventive maintenance is a good investment to minimize future problems. Arrange for annual servicing. Make regular adjustments to the controls of your system to ensure optimal functioning. Consult the owner’s manual for details.

Did you see a building science or energy efficiency term you did not understand? Check out our glossary.

What maintenance does my gas boiler require?

To ensure that your gas boiler operates safely and reliably, it’s important to maintain your boiler by having it cleaned regularly and scheduling inspections. Read through your boiler’s owner’s manual for maintenance recommendations specific to your make and model. Maintenance should be performed by a licensed gas contractor who is trained and licensed in gas boiler maintenance.

For more information on maintaining your gas boiler, visit FortisBC.

Did you see a building science or energy efficiency term you did not understand? Check out our glossary.

Can I use my boiler to also provide domestic hot water?

There are combination space-water heating systems that use hydronic boilers instead of water heaters. The hydronic boiler transfers heat through an exchanger to heat water for your home. Please note that combination systems must be professionally designed and properly sized. When hiring a contractor to install your combination system, they must be certified by the Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI) for designing combination heating systems.

For more information about combination systems, visit Natural Resources Canada and the Water Heater Guide.

Did you see a building science or energy efficiency term you did not understand? Check out our glossary.

What accreditations do I look for when hiring a natural gas installer?

When hiring a natural gas installer, look for a contractor that’s licensed with the BC Safety Authority, professionally trained, and in good standing with the Better Business Bureau.

The FortisBC Trade Ally Network is a database of gas contractors that adhere to the following criteria:

  • possess a minimum of $2 million liability and third-party insurance
  • have a business licence for each community they serve
  • have been in business for a minimum of three years
  • are informed about FortisBC energy efficiency rebates and innovative technologies

For more information, visit the Hiring a Contractor FAQs.

Did you see a building science or energy efficiency term you did not understand? Check out our glossary.

Gas Heating Appliances

What is a direct-vent wall furnace?

A direct-vent wall furnace is a self-contained sealed combustion heating appliance that warms inside air by recirculating it around a sealed chamber, and discharges combustion byproducts outside the home via direct-vent. They are permanently attached to the structure of a building, and are not connected to ductwork. This means they do not need to be connected to a chimney, and can be installed on most exterior walls. Direct-vent wall furnaces circulate heated air with gravity, but some models also have a circulating fan. They are a great solution if a central furnace is not an option, and are generally less expensive than a central furnace.

  • Zonal heating: each heater has its own controls, so you can heat individual areas of your home to varying temperatures.
  • Versatile: there are wall-mounted or freestanding models that come in a range of different colours and styles, including models designed to blend into your décor. They also come in a variety of heating capacities.
  • Compact: direct-vent wall furnaces can be added to an existing heating system, or be used as a scaled-down system if ducting is not an option. Because they are compact, they can deliver warm air to hard-to-heat areas in your home.

Talk to a licensed gas contractor to find out if a direct vent wall furnace is right for your home. Learn more about direct vent wall furnaces with FortisBC.

Did you see a building science or energy efficiency term you did not understand? Check out our glossary.

What are high-efficiency gas fireplaces?

High-efficiency gas fireplaces offer a safe, energy-efficient and environmentally friendly alternative to conventional wood fireplaces. Well-designed and energy-efficient gas fireplaces can be installed as a completely new fireplace or as a conversion of an existing wood fireplace.

A high-efficiency gas fireplace burns natural gas or propane to generate heat by means of radiation and convection that is distributed by a circulating fan(s). Modern gas fireplaces protect indoor air quality by using sealed combustion to isolate the burner and flue from the indoor air and by circulating the air in your home through an air filter.

 

GAS FIREPLACE DIAGRAM LEGEND

  1. Outside Wall
  2. Side Vent
  3. Exhaust Gas
  4. Outdoor Air For Combustion
  5. Optional Fan
  6. Convection Air Intake
  7. Radiant Heat
  8. Convective Heat
  9. Optional Top Vent Chimney

Did you see a building science or energy efficiency term you did not understand? Check out our glossary.

What are the benefits of high-efficiency gas fireplaces?

  • Cost effective home comfort: Natural gas heating provides cost savings while delivering warmth and comfort.
  • Convenience: On/off switch and continuous fuel supply.
  • Cleanliness: No chimney cleaning and no mess in terms of wood storage, ashes, etc.
  • Safety: Sealed combustion units offer little chance for toxic combustion gases to escape.
  • Climate friendly: A cleaner energy alternative to wood fireplaces, gas fireplaces produce much less carbon monoxide and particulate emissions.
  • Zonal Heating: Stay cozy and warm in a room with a fireplace and turn town the heating in the rest of your home to reduce energy consumption.

Did you see a building science or energy efficiency term you did not understand? Check out our glossary.

What are the costs of a high-efficiency gas fireplace?

Costs for purchasing and installing a high-efficiency gas fireplace can vary significantly based on the size of your home, the type, make and model of fireplace selected, and other design and installation considerations. Be sure to get multiple quotes from contractors to compare costs, installation approach and warranties.

Did you see a building science or energy efficiency term you did not understand? Check out our glossary.

How do I ensure that I get the right gas fireplace for my home?

Getting optimal performance depends on more than just choosing the right equipment.

  • Consult with experts: Ask an energy advisor or licensed contractor how a high-efficiency gas fireplace could transform your home.
  • Ask about design and operation: Ask your energy advisor or contractor about types of gas fireplaces, types of venting, and ignition versus pilot lights.
  • Ask about efficiency: Ask for its Fireplace Efficiency rating based on the CSA-P.4 test method. Tests using this Canadian standard for measuring annual fireplace efficiency have shown that some units operated in the 30 percent range, while the better units ranged from 50 percent to 70 percent. In many gas fireplaces, a pilot light (a small gas flame) ignites the main burner as the unit is turned on. A pilot light can consume from 600 to 1500 BTUs of gas per hour if left on, significantly increasing annual energy costs. Consider instead a gas fireplace with an automatic starter, such as an electronic ignition eliminates the need for a continuous pilot.
  • Use an accredited installer: Contact an approved TECA (Thermal Environmental Comfort Association of BC) or HRAI (Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada) installer.

Did you see a building science or energy efficiency term you did not understand? Check out our glossary.

What maintenance does my gas fireplace require?

To ensure that your gas fireplace operates safely and reliably, it’s important to maintain your fireplace by cleaning it regularly and scheduling inspections. It’s important to read over the owner’s manual for your gas fireplace to know how to maintain your model properly. When scheduling a full service on your fireplace, hire a licensed gas contractor who is experienced at inspecting and servicing gas appliances.

For more information on maintaining your gas fireplace, visit FortisBC.

Did you see a building science or energy efficiency term you did not understand? Check out our glossary.

What accreditations do I look for when hiring a natural gas installer?

When hiring a natural gas installer, look for a contractor that’s licensed with the BC Safety Authority, professionally trained, and in good standing with the Better Business Bureau.

The FortisBC Trade Ally Network is a database of gas contractors that adhere to the following criteria:

  • possess a minimum of $2 million liability and third-party insurance
  • have a business licence for each community they serve
  • have been in business for a minimum of three years
  • are informed about FortisBC energy efficiency rebates and innovative technologies

For more information, visit the Hiring a Contractor FAQs.

Did you see a building science or energy efficiency term you did not understand? Check out our glossary.