Heat pump buyers beware of bad installation deals

Heat pumps are growing in popularity in New Brunswick, but so are the problems facing some owners hoping for big savings. A number of heating companies in the Fredericton area say they receive several calls a week to service heat pumps installed by uncertified workers.

Saving money on installation can mean paying the price when problems arise

Heat pumps can save money, but not if the installation and servicing contract is no good. (CBC)

Heat pumps are growing in popularity in New Brunswick, but so are the problems facing some owners hoping for big savings.

A number of heating companies in the Fredericton area say they are receiving several calls a week to service heat pumps, installed by uncertified workers.

Heat pumps have to be installed by certified heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVAC) technicians, who also must have an Ozone Depleting Substances Permit to handle the refrigerants.

A licensed electrician must do the hook-up as well, and if any of these qualifications isn't met, the installation is illegal, according to NB Power.

But people are trying to cut costs on the pricey units by going with cheaper quotes from questionable companies, and when problems crop up, they have to scramble to find someone credible to fix it.

Fly-by-night companies a problem

"We usually average a couple to three calls a week from people that have units installed by companies that are no longer in business," said Mike Hodgin of ET Mechanical. "We're going out and trying to help them with service issues, and maintenance issues with their units."

Mike Hodgin of ET Mechanical says the company gets two or three calls a week from people who had units installed by fly-by-night business; the pumps break down and the installer is nowhere to be found. (CBC)
Other companies contacted by CBC News also reported a similar number of calls from people with installation issues.

Heat pumps have received a push thanks to a new rebate program offered to contractors by NB Power The program offers $500 on ductless, mini-split heat pumps, which are a more efficient type of pump, and work better in New Brunswick's cold temperatures.

Since it was announced September 30, they have passed on the rebates to 1261 customers, translating into $630,500 in savings.

"The heat pump program has been very popular with our customers," said NB Power President and Chief Executive Officer, Gaetan Thomas. "We've had about 150 contractors who have subscribed to the program."

The higher-effenciency pumps are more expensive, and that's where the temptation to save money on the installation enters for some buyers.

But Hodgin said reliability counts more than the price tag. "So it's important to make sure that you get it done with a reputable company, that you can check their references, that you can make sure they're going to be there to support the unit down the road," he advised.

Can lead to big savings

Homeowner Tim Blanchette stayed away from cheap deals for installation, but knows he'll get a reliable service contract for his heat pump. (CBC)
The ductless heat pumps aren't for every home; they work best in houses with electric baseboard heating, rather than forced-air furnaces, and also in more open-concept homes.

But the right kind of pump, with the right home can mean savings on heat bills from 20 - 50%.

That's why homeowner Tim Blanchette is playing it safe, and paying the higher price for the guarantees that came with a respected company.

He has a wood stove for the downstairs, but wanted a cheaper, more controlled way of heating his upper floor.

"Everybody claims that they're so much more economical than the baseboard heater," said Blanchette. "We'll give it a try. You know, what can you lose? A savings is a savings."

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