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The truth about heat pumps

Ok, so by now you have seen the ads, heard it from your friends and neighbours and have been inundated by Nova Scotia Power trying to finance a new heat pump system for you.  You are doing your homework and getting quotes from the top heat pump contractors in Halifax and everyone seems to have a different opinion, sells a different brand and each one claims to know it all.  We hear it from prospective buyers everyday and this is why we have taken the time to answer the most common questions and expose the most common tricks and gimmicks used to get you to buy a new heat pump system in Halifax.

What is a Heat Pump?

A heat pump is an air conditioning system that has an additional valve and other components that reverse the cycle of cooling. Instead of just taking heat from your home and rejecting it outside for cooling your home, a heat pump system reverses itself taking heat from the outside and rejecting it inside your home during the heating season.  A heat pump can be retrofitted to work with your existing forced air-ducting from your oil, electric or gas furnace.  Ductless ceiling or wall mount systems are also available for homes that are not heated by forced air ducting as a distribution source.  Geothermal heat pump systems remove and reject heat to the earth or a water source and can be used with either in-floor hydronic heating or forced air ducted systems.


The Problem With The Heat Pump Market in Halifax

Although heat pump systems have been around for over 40 years, they have only become a viable residential heating/cooling option in the past 15 years.  Since 2010 the demand for heat pump technology has skyrocketed around the world and Atlantic Canada has one of the best climates for heat pump use.  Due to climate change our summers are much hotter and longer and our winters are milder.  This makes Halifax an especially perfect climate for owning a heat pump system.  

Because of the heightened demand, every area of industry is trying to cash in on the heat pump craze. The power company’s are making their fair share by financing heat pump systems on your power bill and there has been an influx of overnight “heating specialists” popping up all over the province.  Many only last for a year or two and quickly go out of business and many others that have lasted longer were founded by individuals with no formal experience with designing, installing or servicing heating/cooling systems at all.  The market has become saturated with bad business’s that are not being properly regulated by local or provincial laws, checking for proper certification and ensuring that licensed technicians are used for installation and service work.  This task should not fall on you, the homeowner, but in many cases it does and you must do your due diligence before hiring someone for you heat pump installation. See our heat pump buyers checklist before you make any final decisions about what system is best for you and your home.

Heat Pump Ratings Explained


Similar to shopping for a new car or refrigerator there are certain numbers and ratings that ensure you’re buying an efficient product.  Heat Pumps have their own set of ratings and we have comprised a list of the main ones that you should familiarize yourself with when looking at the purchase of a new heat pump system.

The EnerGuide Ratings for Heat Pumps

HSPF – Heating Seasonal Performance Factor

The Heating Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF) is the EnerGuide rating given to heat pump systems that indicates the level of HEATING efficiency the system is rated for.  In Atlantic Canada we live in a heating predominant climate and therefor the HSPF of the heat pump system is the most crucial number you should be considering when reviewing and comparing heat pump systems.  A heat pump with a higher HSPF means lower operating costs and improved performance at much lower outdoor operating temperatures. Using more efficient compressors, larger heat exchanger surfaces, improved refrigerant flow and other controls are largely responsible for what makes up a higher HSPF rating. 


The HSPF rating for heat pumps changes depending on the area in which you live. Most of the United States is located in REGION 4. Most websites and brochures indicate the HSPF rating for REGION 4.  The misleading part of this is that in Atlantic Canada we are located in REGION 5 and this makes the HSPF numbers LOWER than what is advertised or conveyed to the consumer. 

Manufacturers websites and consumer brochures only advertise their highest HSPF ratings on a particular model and this is why you will always see the term “UP TO”  when they list the HSPF/SEER ratings for that particular model. 

To further explain this as an example; when they advertise a new truck and show the MPG rating they always use the most fuel efficient model when making the claim.  If you end up purchasing the same model with a larger engine than the MPG rating is going to be worse than  that of the model advertised. Many companies have been advertising like this for a long time and it is just standard practice that they push the most efficient product in their marketing.

The HSPF rating decreases as the size of heat pump increases.  For instance a 9000BTU heat pump will generally have a higher HSPF and SEER rating because it will draw less electricity and do less work than a 12,000BTU and so on.

** If a Heat Pump system does not come from the factory with a Basepan Heater installed then the HSPF rating of that system will be reduced if the addition of a basepan heater is added as an “accessory” or “add on” equipment to your heat pump.  Many equipment manufacturers do not supply a basepan heater as a standard feature so that they get higher EnerGuide ratings and lower manufacturing costs on their systems. 

SEER – Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio

The Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) is the EnerGuide rating given to heat pump systems that indicates the level of COOLING efficiency the system is rated for.

SEER ratings are ratios derived by calculating the annual cooling output during the cooling season divided by the total electric energy input. The total cooling output is the heat pumps British Thermal Unit per hour (BTU/h) multiplied by the number of cooling hours per day and the number of cooling days per year. 

For example a typical cooling season in Halifax would look like the following:

12,000 BTU/h x 10 cooling hours per day x  70 days per year = 8,400,000 BTUs per year.

Using the example above, if a heat pump has a SEER rating of 42 BTU per watt-hour (Wh), you could calculate the estimated annual energy use as follows:

8,400,000 BTUs per year ÷ 42 BTU/Wh = 200,000 Wh per year or 200kWh

To calculate the annual average power use, divide the heat pumps BTU/h by the SEER rating. 

For example:

12,000 BTU/h ÷ 42 SEER = 285 watts (or 0.285 kilowatts)

To calculate the cost of electricity when using the heat pump, multiply the average kilowatts from the formula above by your current electricity rate in kilowatts per hour (kWh). For instance, 0.285 kW x $0.16 kWh = $0.05 per hour. The EnergyGuide label on the HVAC unit will also indicate the amount of energy the equipment consumes.

EER – Energy Efficiency Ratio

The energy efficiency ratio (EER) measures the steady-state cooling efficiency of a heat pump. It is determined by dividing the cooling capacity of the heat pump in Btu/h by the electrical energy input in watts at a specific temperature. The higher the EER, the more efficient the unit.

COP – Coefficient of Performance 

The coefficient of performance or COP (sometimes CP or CoP) of a heat pump is a ratio of useful heating or cooling provided to work required.  Higher COPs equate to lower operating costs. The COP usually exceeds 1, especially in heat pumps, because, instead of just converting work to heat (which, if 100% efficient, would be a COP of 1), it pumps additional heat from a heat source to where the heat is required. 

Single stage, two stage, variable speed, inverter... what does it all mean?

Single Stage:

A single stage heat pump has a compressor that turns ON/OFF with no ability to modulate its capacity or electrical consumption.  Single stage heat pumps are typically used for add on, hybrid heat systems that use an oil or gas furnace as the supplemental heating or are matched with single speed air handlers with electric back up heating.  Single stage systems have lower HSPF/SEER ratings and are more economically priced but beware that many DO NOT meet the efficiency requirements for grants or rebates.


Two Stage:

A two stage heat pump has a compressor that comes on in two stages.  Generally most two stage systems use 60% total capacity for first stage and then 100% for second.  In milder climates like Halifax this gives a significant reduction in operating cost because the full capacity of the heat pump is only used when needed.  This also delays the auxiliary system from being activated.  Two stage heat pump systems are usually matched with variable speed air handlers, making your operating costs even lower.

Variable Speed/Inverter:

A variable speed/inverter system is the elite in heat pump technology.  The compressor and fan motors operate at a variable speed that increases/decreases with the heating/cooling demand.  Most high efficiency ducted and ductless heat pumps use inverter compressors and fan motors yielding the highest HSPF/SEER ratings.

What you didn’t know:

Not all inverter drive systems are equal and in many cases the term “INVERTER” is used as more of a sales tactic to skip over the details of the actual system ratings and capability.  As an example the new Daikin Fit heat pump (DZ17VSA) system uses inverter technology;  however if the total length of your piping run is any longer than 30FEET then the system will not operate below -9.4C, which means you will be using your auxiliary system after this temp has been reached.  Compare this to the Carrier Greenspeed system that still provides 65% of its total heating capacity at -20C and can operate with pipe lengths in excess of 180FT.  An important factor that is generally overlooked is the actual heating output at lower temperatures.  Just because a heat pump system says “inverter” does not mean that it can offer a high heating capacity at lower temperatures.  

Consider this:

At an outdoor temperature of -8.3C the leading 3TON heat pump inverter systems range in total heating output capability.

Carrier – 33,620BTU/HR

York -32,400BTU/HR

Trane – 25,500BTU/HR

Lennox – 21,000BTU/HR

Daikin – 18,900BTU/HR

These are all inverter systems however you can see the wide variance in actual heating capability quite clearly.  

Do your research and look into the actual performance and capability of the heat pump system you are considering.  SEER and HSPF ratings are important but as the example above shows the actual heating capacity of that system may not be what is needed for your home and the sizing of your system may be drastically off if your HVAC contractor isn’t aware of the heating output ability of their systems.

The Carrier 3TON GREENSPEED system like the one mentioned above would have an output of 33,620BTU/HR at -8.3C.

A Daikin 4TON DZ20 system at -8.3C offers 28,600BTU/HR and a 5TON offers 32,600BTU/HR.

As you can see, one INVERTER heat pump system is NOT comparable to the other and in this example even the 5TON Daikin INVERTER system cannot even match the heating output of the Carrier Greenspeed 3TON.  

When you consider the purchase of a new ducted heat pump for your home you should ask each one of the contractors to provide you with some heating information about the system(s) so that you can do a direct comparison of the brands you are considering and NOT just relying on the SEER and HSPF numbers.

If you have quotes from contractors and they are using different brands but all suggest the same heat pump tonnage for your home, we would strongly suggest you question them on the actual heating BTU/HR output rating at an average low temp of -10C so that you can understand how much heating you will benefit from the heat pump VS the auxiliary heating at this and lower temperatures.  In many cases you will come to find that the HVAC contractor is either undersizing or oversizing your heat pump system because they do not take the time to understand these numbers and offer the homeowner a truly honest and thorough sales experience.

Heat pump systems are not cheap to purchase, therefore many questions need to be asked and information needs to be transparent and forthcoming.  If questions cannot be answered clearly and professionally and/or information and data provided then it is best to find a contractor who has this knowledge and experience instead of risking $10-$15,000 on something that may just increase your heating costs while giving you a new loan to pay off.

A comparison of Halifax’s Most Popular INVERTER Ducted (Forced Air) Heat Pump Brands

Carrier – Willis Carrier is credited with inventing modern air conditioning in 1902. In 1915, Carrier and six other engineers pooled $32,600 to form the Carrier Engineering Corporation.  They purchased their first factory in 1920, in Newark, New Jersey.

The Carrier corporation began marketing its air conditioner to the residential market in the 1950s, which led to formerly sparsely populated areas such as the American Southwest becoming home to sprawling suburbs.

In 1955, Carrier merged with Affiliated Gas Equipment, Inc., which owned the Bryant Heater Co., Day & Night Water Heater Co., and Payne Furnace & Supply Co

Daikin – In 1951 Daikin became the first company in Japan to manufacture packaged air conditioning systems.  For several decades Daikin was a primary manufacturer of ductless heat pump and air conditioning systems.  In 2013 Daikin purchased Goodman Manufacturing Company (GOODMAN) in the United States.  In 2014 Daikin launched its first centrally ducted heat pump system and has been manufacturing and distributing centrally ducted heat pump systems since 2013.

Trane – Since 1913 Trane has been manufacturer of heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems and building management systems and controls. The company is a subsidiary of Trane Technologies and is the successor company to the American Standard Companies. It makes products under the Trane and American Standard brand names.

York – York International is the final name of a company started in York, Pennsylvania, USA, in 1874, which developed the York brand of refrigeration and HVAC equipment. Since August 2005 The York brand has been owned by Johnson Controls. 

Lennox – Dave Lennox founded Lennox Industries in 1895 and introduced the world’s first riveted-steel furnace. Today, Lennox International is focused on three core businesses: Residential Heating and Cooling, Commercial Heating and Cooling, and Refrigeration.

How do they stack up?

The most common size ducted heat pump for the average Halifax home is a 3TON system or 36,000BTU.  A comparison of the leading ducted heat pump brands and their top rated 3TON INVERTER heat pump systems are outlined below in order of efficiency. 


  • HSPF 13
  • EER 14.5
  • SEER 20.5
  • Qualifies for EFF NS Rebates – YES
  • Warranty – 10year unit replacement (registration required)
  • Warranty Transferable – YES (limited)
  • Heating output at -8.3C – 33,620BTU/HR

Full Warranty Certificate Click Here

Product Efficiency Ratings Click Here


  • HSPF 10.9
  • EER 13.3
  • SEER 20
  • Qualifies for EFF NS Rebates – YES
  • Warranty – 10year parts/lifetime compressor (registration required)
  • Warranty Transferable – NO
  • Heating output at -8.3C – 32,400BTU/HR

Full Warranty Certificate Click Here

Product Efficiency Ratings Click Here


  • HSPF 10.0
  • EER 13.5
  • SEER 21.5
  • Qualifies for EFF NS Rebates – YES
  • Warranty – 10year parts/compressor (registration required)
  • Warranty Transferable – NO
  • Heating output at -8.3C – 21,000BTU/HR

Full Warranty Certificate Click Here

Product Efficiency Ratings Click Here


  • HSPF 10.0
  • EER 13.5
  • SEER 19.75
  • Qualifies for EFF NS Rebates – YES
  • Warranty – 10year parts/lifetime compressor (registration required)
  • Warranty Transferable – YES (Limited)
  • Heating output at -8.3C – 25,500BTU/HR

Full Warranty Certificate Click Here

Product Efficiency Ratings Click Here


  • HSPF 10.0
  • EER 13.0
  • SEER 19.5
  • Qualifies for EFF NS Rebates – YES
  • Warranty – 12year parts compressor (registration required)
  • Warranty Transferable – NO
  • Heating output at -8.3C – 18,900BTU/HR

Full Warranty Certificate Click Here

Product Efficiency Ratings Click Here

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