Operation and Maintenance of Heat Pump Systems (Podcast)

In this podcast, the owner of Cape Cod Heat Pumps, Jared Grier talks about the operation and maintenance of heat pumps.

John Maher: Hi. I am John Maher and I’m here today with Jared Grier, owner of Cape Cod Heat Pumps, an HVAC contractor in Marstons Mills, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod. Specializing in ductless heating and cooling technology and focused on detail quality and professionalism. Today our topic is operation and maintenance of heat pump systems. Welcome, Jared.

Jared: Thanks for having me, John.

Day-to-Day Operation of Heat Pumps

John: Sure. So Jared, what’s involved in the day-to-day operation of a ductless heating and cooling system from the customer’s perspective?

Jared: Yeah, I’m glad you asked that. That’s a great question. Most people are pretty used to the more conventional type of heating and cooling systems they might have in their home. And while operating those systems is similar to ductless or heat pump systems, there are some small differences that people are going to want to take into account.

Per Mass Save and also what we tell our customers, really with these systems what you want to do is set it and forget it. What that really ultimately means is you just want to set these at whatever comfort level that you find and leave it alone. We have a lot of customers that are more used to constantly adjusting their temperatures up and down as they either go to work or go to bed at night. And then while you can still do that with these systems, we don’t encourage large swings back and forth.

And the reason really for that is how these systems operate. These systems have an inverter compressor and that inverter compressor will actually change its speed based on demand. So where these systems are very efficient is when they’re maintaining temperature. Where they can become less efficient and cost more to operate is when there’s a high demand because that outdoor unit is going to recognize that it needs to provide you either a lot of heat or a lot of cooling. It’s going to send that demand to that outdoor compressor and instead of spinning slowly is now going to start spinning very quickly, which will just directly relate to higher utility bills. And the EPA has even done studies on this that in all reality you just want no more than five degrees setbacks.

What we usually tell people is if you’re just gone for a couple hours, don’t even bother doing any sort of setback. If you’re going to be gone for a day, feel free to do a small step setback. Same thing at night. Now because this is Cape Cod, we do have a lot of homes that are second homes. So if you’re going to be away, if you’re gone for two weeks, absolutely at that point, feel free to set it back a larger setback. But do know that you’re going to want to turn that system up prior to getting down here. And we do have some Wi-Fi solutions that we can provide for customers that will allow them to do that.

Why You Should “Set It and Forget It”

John: Because it might take a little extra time for it to get back up to the temperature?

Jared: Exactly. The big thing that we try to relay to our customers here is we’re not burning fossil fuel, right? When you’ve got a furnace, you’ve got a 40 or 60 or more BTU furnace, so we’ve got a lot of heat that we can throw at your house. With these systems, the biggest I have in the LG RED is a 48,000 BTU outdoor unit. So when my largest heat pump that I can provide you is 48,000 versus the smallest furnace I can buy is 40,000.

You can see we don’t have as much a margin when it comes to heating and cooling your house. So that’s going to cause it to maybe take more time to get back up to those temperatures. And if it happens to be really hot or really cold, that could exacerbate that issue as well.

Thermostats and Remote Controls

John: Okay. Talk a little bit about remote controls and thermostats and things like that, and that will relate to what you just said in terms of being able to maybe program the units to go down in temperature at night, come back up again in the morning. And you’re saying maybe don’t do that too much, maybe five degrees down or something like that. But how do the thermostats and remote control options work?

Jared: Yeah. So each indoor unit is essentially its own zone. That’s a really nice part about these mini split and ductless type systems. So if we happen to put four or five wall units in your house, you’ve got four or five zones throughout the house. So they all work independently of each other. Each unit does come with a remote if it’s a wall, floor, ceiling cassette style unit. For the ducted versions, we do have a thermostat on the wall.

And while each of these do have the option… Well the remotes really only have a timer, you can set the thermostats do have a schedule you could set. But oftentimes our customers are, as we just previously mentioned, just setting a temperature and maybe adjusting it as they go about their day a couple degrees. But you’re really, again, just going to want to set it at your comfort level and leave it alone.

But if you’ve got some spare bedrooms or part of your home that maybe you’re not using, if you’re single floor living but you’ve got a second floor for guests, you can leave your second floor cooler, warmer, whichever it might be, just so you’re only comfortable in the space that you’re occupying at any given time.

Remote Control Options

John: And then what are the options for remote controls? As you mentioned, ducted style units like air handlers that go in the attic or the basement, those would have sort of a standard thermostat that goes on the wall. And the other wall units and floor units and ceiling cassettes or whatever, they might have a remote control. Do I have the option of whatever remote control or thermostat that I want on a unit, or does each unit come with a specific type of control?

Jared: Yeah. So all of our non-ducted options come with the remote control out of the box. We can add a wall thermostat if you would prefer that. As I mentioned, we also have the Wi-Fi capabilities through the LG ThinQ app as well. So with those style units, we do have a lot of various different options, but most people are just going with what comes in the box. When it comes to the ducted versions, we’ve got a nice touchscreen thermostat that we use. It’s color. It’s a nice touchscreen, it’s easy to navigate, and it’s very small on the wall as well and a very clean-looking thermostat as well. So those are generally what people are doing.

If you’re maybe somebody like me and you’ve got your Wi-Fi hooked up, you probably actually never even go to your thermostat. You’re just going to pull out your phone and adjust it right from there. So we do have a lot of various different options.

Maintenance for Ductless Systems

John: Okay. What’s involved in ductless system maintenance and how often should that be done?

Jared: Yeah, so I’m glad you asked that. We actually just rolled out a whole new brand new program. This is something that has been a development we wanted to do for years, but finally getting around to kicking it off. We’ve created the Cape Care Maintenance Plan. Cape Care Maintenance Plan is the same maintenance plan we’ve always been offering our customers. It’s an annual maintenance, annual cleaning, but instead of you having to pay upfront or at the time of service for the entire service, what we’re doing is we’re breaking into 12 monthly payments and those payments will just be automatically deducted each month.

For each new customer and with every new install, we’re offering this service to them. There’s a lot of benefits other than just the maintenance that you’re going to want to perform each year that come with these programs. The first big thing is you’re going to take your labor warranty, which is standard one year with us, and you’re going to extend that to two years.

So now by performing the maintenance that should be done each year, you’re extending your warranty for an additional year. That means for that additional year, anything happens, we’re going to come fix it, no charge to you. Additionally, if you have an after-hours, night, or weekend call, those customers that are a Cape Care Maintenance Plan member are the only ones that service is going to be available to, as well. Our thought process behind that is you’re taking care of your system. If you’re taking care of your system, you’re going to have less breakdowns.

We’ve only got so much bandwidth that we can really perform on the weekends. So we’re really trying to incentivize people to perform this maintenance annually, and quite frankly, just extend the life of their equipment.

Another big thing is this keeps compliance with the manufacturers. All manufacturers require that you have maintenance performed at minimum each year. So that’s going to help keep that warranty with the manufacturer should it come down to it. Additionally, you’ll also get a 10% discount on all of our service work. All right? So God forbid something does happen, we’ve got to come out, we’ve got to do some sort of repair to you, you’re going to get 10% off that.

Depending on what the repair is, that could pay for the entire maintenance as well. So all in all, it’s a really robust program that we’re offering our customers that when we’re actually out there, what are we doing, right? Well, we’re cleaning your indoor coils, we’re cleaning your outdoor coils. The indoor coil can get mold and mildew on them. So we’re going to keep that clean for you so you’re not breathing the air coming out of that unit.

We’re going to put tablets in the drain pans. This is going to keep that drain pan draining throughout the year. So not going to back up and cause any sort of water damage or issues there. Any filters that you might have. So one-inch filters are standard. The five-inch filters for our ducted systems, those are an added option, but those are also good for one full year.

So for the hundred dollars that it’s going to cost, you’ve got a filter for the entire year. So we’ll change that for you as well. We’re going to check condensate pumps. We’re going to check drains, make sure all those are working and functioning as they should. If it’s a furnace, we’re going to check your gas pressure, check the combustion of the system. So all in all, it’s a very robust program and quite frankly, you can go right to our website to find all these details as well.

What to Do Between Annual Maintenance Appointments

John: Is there anything that the homeowner should be doing on their own in between those yearly visits in order to maintain their system and change out the filters or clean the filters or something like that?

Jared: Absolutely. Yeah. And we go over this with every new install with the customers. But just as a reminder, you’ve got the wall, floor, those style units that have the filters built in the indoor equipment. You’re just going to want to check those every so often. And as they start to gather up dust and debris, you’re just going to want to wash it off in the sink, give it a quick dry, and then pop it back in the unit. If you’ve got a five inch filter, as I just mentioned, that’s good for one full year, so you don’t even have to worry about that. We’re going to take care of that on your maintenance.

But if you do have the more standard one inch pleated filters, which we have for some of our low static ducted systems, those we’re going to leave you with four filters on your initial install anyway so you’ve got a year’s worth of filters. But you’re going to want to check those every couple months as well. Basically what I tell people is first they’re going to be pure white, then they’re going to start turning a light gray. Once we get to that dark gray, that’s at the point where you’re going to want to swap it out.

Call Cape Cod Heat Pumps Today

John: All right, well that’s really great advice, Jared. Thanks again for speaking with me today.

Jared: Thanks for having me, John.

John: And for more information, you can visit the Cape Cod Heat Pumps website at ccheatpumps.com or call 508-833-HVAC. That’s 508-833-4822.