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How to Use a Heat Pump Correctly

  • Transcript

    LESLIE: Now we’ve got Darlene in Oregon on the line who’s dealing with a heat pump and looking to get more energy-efficient. Tell us what’s going on.

    DARLENE: In the wintertime, my bill gets quite high trying to keep warm. And I have one of those small, little heaters. I think they run on oil; it’s enclosed. And I put that in my bathroom to heat up the bathroom before my shower in the morning. And I was wondering if maybe – a couple of those only cost about $50. Maybe put one in the living room and one in the bedroom, if that would be more economical than running a heat pump.

    TOM: Well, the thing about the heat pump is that you have to understand how to run it. And in Oregon, it’s firmly – just say that it’s really not an appropriate …

    LESLIE: It’s really cold.

    DARLENE: Yes, it does get very cold.

    TOM: Yeah, it’s not an appropriate technology. But you can reduce your expense on it if you kind of set it and forget it, like the old commercials used to say for Ronco, you know?

    LESLIE: For making chicken.

    TOM: Yeah. Set it and forget it. In other words, set the thermostat, walk away. With a heat pump, if you bounce the thermostat up and down, then what happens is you force the electric-resistance heater to come on and that costs about twice as much or more to run than the heat-pump system. Because every heat pump has electric resistance built into the back of it.

    And as long as the temperature – the difference between the temperature that it’s set at and the temperature that the room is is 2 degrees, the heat pump is going to run. When it becomes 3 or 4 degrees, the resistance heater comes on and that’s what really drives the cost up.

    In terms of these electric radiators, that is another form – I mean these oil radiators. It is another form of electric heat. Will that be cheaper? You know, maybe because you’re only heating on a room-by-room basis. But it may not be because it’s running on electricity. You just basically have electric coils inside that oil heater.

    DARLENE: Oh, I see.

    TOM: One thing that you might want to think about is a type of heater called SUNHEAT, which has a blower built into it. We have one cold room in our house. We use the SUNHEAT there; it does a pretty good job of keeping that one room warm. It’s also electric but because it’s got a blower, it really helps it along.

    LESLIE: It sort of helps to spread that heat around.

    TOM: And it’s very quiet and it’s got a beautiful wood cabinet. But it’s more expensive; I think it’s about $350.

    DARLENE: Yeah, because that might be the cheaper way to go then.

    LESLIE: But I would use that sort of in partnership with your heat pump set correctly, not one over the other.

    TOM: But just – right, set correctly. Yeah.

    DARLENE: Oh, OK. Oh, I see. Alright. Now I understand.

    TOM: OK?

    DARLENE: But you seem to think if I would just let that – just set my heat pump and just leave it there …

    TOM: Right. Whatever temperature makes you comfortable, set it and leave it there. That’s right. Don’t move it up, don’t move it down like, “Oh, I’m cold. Let me move it up.”

    DARLENE: Yeah.

    TOM: Because when you do that, your resistance heat comes on and the reason it feels warm right away is because you have electric-resistance heat now that’s coming on and heating up the air very quickly.

    DARLENE: I see. I see.

    TOM: So I would set it and forget it and then if you need supplemental heat, use the space heaters.

    DARLENE: Yeah. OK, fine. I really do appreciate your time and effort. You guys got a good show; I like it.

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