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  1. #1

    Gas Furnace vs. Heat Pump in Portland, OR

    I'm replacing a 20+ yr old gas furnace in a 100 yr old "leaky" house in Portland, Oregon where the avg winter low temps are in the mid 30's, a week or two in the 20's. We also have 2-3 weeks of 90+ degree heat in the summer where cool air would be nice (we currently have no central AC). I'm having trouble getting a firm rationale for going with a nice high efficiency gas furnace with central AC unit vs high eff heat pump with gas furnace back up.
    I've had a couple of estimates from Carrier dealers, one Trane and one Lennox. The Trane dealer is the only one who thought the heat pump would be a good idea in our area (he loves his heat pump). I haven't heard too many arguments from the other guys about why the heat pump wouldn't be good here other than the gas furnace as your work horse will last 20+ years, whereas heat pumps last about 12 yrs on average (from the lennox guy). I have heard also heat pumps are more complicated to install so things can go wrong if not done well, the air feels cooler (which may generate more service calls or complaints), utility bill will go up a lot (but utilities are cheap here and have been stable over my 4 yrs here, gas has gone up twice).
    Any strong opinions about life span of new high eff gas furnace vs heat pumps?
    Any clear concensus on which brand (Carrier, Trane, Lennox) makes the most reliable gas furnace or heat pump?
    Lets assume each dealer is equally reputable with installation and service. I'm also not that concerned with the economic pay-off as I am with reliability and performance.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Nov 2001
    Location
    Seattle, WA
    Posts
    7,711
    The PNW is a great place for heat pumps. I'd spend some money first unleaking the old house and adding new window and/or insulation first. Rheem is my favorite. Quality made, anyone can work on them. They don't cost a fortune and you don't necessarily have to get involved with a "dealer" network, which typically means highers costs.
    "The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers it can bribe the public with the public's own money.
    - Alexis de Toqueville, 1835

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2004
    Location
    PDX
    Posts
    42

    Is cooling REALLY needed?

    In our area, (PDX) I'm of the opinion if you are buying for economics and don't feel you need to spend extra $$ for cooling I don't recommend HP's.

    There are added tune up costs associated with HP's and we usually don't see exceptional savings with electrical heating systems given the extra costs with maintenance.

    If cooling is required a hi-eff gas furnace, (like the Infinity) paired with a 13 SEER A/C can be a better value if you feel you won't be in the home over 6-7years.

    We also have homeowners that are not happy with the quality of heat produced by Hp's as their temps are often lower at the register than gas heat... HP's can feel a bit drafty when compared to the hotter heat produced by furnaces.

    Bottom line, you should choose the company based on quality and professionalism and focus less on the brand name. Have you visited any of the HVAC businesses you are concidering? Are they well established with fully staffed depts. and showrooms? Do they offer 100% satisfaction gaurantees?

    Hope that helps.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Posts
    45
    Hey, it's been two years, what did you wind up going with?

    I got a heatpump and I love it. I made a spreadsheet to compare the cost between Portland General and NW Natural Gas and I save money 6 months out of the year using my 14Seer heat pump for heating. I found that the bottom line utility costs were:

    Heat pump costs: $0.023 to $0.029 per kWH heating (depending on outdoor temp)
    Gas furnace costs: constant $0.042 per kWH heating (converted from therms)

    So between 1.9x and 1.5x less utility costs to run the HP.

    This was based on NW Natural and Portland General Electric rates of $1.43 per therm (gas) and $0.102 per KWh (electric) AND I have a 92% efficient Trane Gas furnace for backup heat.

    I'm curious about the costs to keep a heat pump serviced being higher than costs to keep a AC unit serviced? I don't understand why it would cost any more to maintain a HP vs an AC unit? Can some one explain this to me? Is it because reversing valves fail constantly? Is it because TXVs die left and right? I thought the only real difference was the upfront costs..

    I'm not going to be complaining about the 95-110 degree heat coming from my heatpump air and making a service call. I think that is bogus. It's plenty warm when I stand near a register.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jul 2004
    Location
    Massachusetts
    Posts
    6,826
    Quote Originally Posted by nwgasman View Post
    There are added tune up costs associated with HP's and we usually don't see exceptional savings with electrical heating systems given the extra costs with maintenance.
    Any added tune-up costs should be minimal. If you've got a gas furnace w/AC on it, where's the additiona cost? He said he's like to have a new furnace w/AC so he can either add the AC as an expense and gain some comfort or he can add a HP, get the AC included and turn the expense into an investment. With temps like he's quoting, unless the electric rates are exhorbitent and the gas very, very cheap, he'll save with a HP. And if he doesn't save, he can always turn it off! But at least he's got the option. With a straight AC, the only option is on or off.

    If cooling is required a hi-eff gas furnace, (like the Infinity) paired with a 13 SEER A/C can be a better value if you feel you won't be in the home over 6-7years.
    With temps mostly 30 or above, the gas furnace certainly doesn't work much. Depending on the elctric and gas rates, I think he'd be more efficient with a high efficiency HP and a basic 80% gas furnace, given the little use the furnace will get. The HP will be used almost all the time. I'm in Massachusetts and use my HP down to 35F quite economically. And our electric rate is $0.18/kwh.

    We also have homeowners that are not happy with the quality of heat produced by Hp's as their temps are often lower at the register than gas heat... HP's can feel a bit drafty when compared to the hotter heat produced by furnaces.
    This is due to the duct design. A duct system installed for a HP should be larger than one installed for a gas furnace. That's to allow the airflow to slow somewhat so the air is in contact with the indoor coil longer, warming to a higher temp. Also, since he's going to be using the HP at fairly warm OATs, in the HP mode the evaporator will be warmer, in turn raising the condensing temperature, which equals a warmer airflow. We do dual fuel systems regularly and I've never fielded a call for unsatisfactory temperatures.

    Bottom line, you should choose the company based on quality and professionalism and focus less on the brand name.
    I couldn't agree more with that statement!!

    Have you visited any of the HVAC businesses you are concidering? Are they well established with fully staffed depts. and showrooms? Do they offer 100% satisfaction gaurantees?
    Unfortunately, I couldn't disagree more with that statement!! Since when does a showroom make for a good system design? I know of companies around our area who are so big, they can't train anybody to do decent work. They have a showroom but their work is truly hack. You're right that the company that installs the system makes it a wonderful experience or purely agonizing but whether that's a highly experienced single person with helper or a flotilla of trucks and showrooms makes no difference. Read my attached and then decide.
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    If YOU want change, YOU have to first change.

    If you are waiting for the 'other guy' to change first, just remember, you're the 'other guy's' other guy. To continue to expect real change when you keep acting the same way as always, is folly. Won't happen. Real change will only happen when a majority of the people change the way they vote!

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Feb 2009
    Location
    Portland OR
    Posts
    1,834
    I just ran across this post also. I would say heat pump all the way but then again I wonder if I am the Trane Dealer the OP spoke up since I sell Trane and do LOVE my heat pump in my house. My most expensive gas bill was $43 for a 1600 sq foot house and my electric was only slightly higher than the year before.

    Tune up costs are only $20 more for a heat pump through my company which is more than saved in only a single month with the heat pump. If you havn't selected a system yet or if you still have questions feel free to give us a call in portland at 503-235-9083 and we can answer any questions even if you dont' want another bid.

    -Travis

  7. #7

    Need Advice in Portland, OR

    I'm replacing an antique, gas, gravity octopus furnace. I've had several HVAC companies come in to give me bids. Now I'm totally confused on what type of system to go with (HP vs. gas furnace) and winter's coming! I have a 1924 950 sq ft two-bedroom bungalow. One company suggested placing a Mitsubishi SUZ-KA18NA indoor air handler in the attic with the Mitsubishi Model SEZ-KD18NA outdoor unit. This would require ceiling registers be installed (I currently have floor registers). Another HVAC company said HP's are noisy and wouldn't suggest cutting into my ceiling to put in registers. I like the idea of A/C, so in either case would want that option. I currently pay $91 per month year round on my gas bill with the old gravity furnace. Would appreciate any words of wisdom. Have to make a decision within the next week. Thanks everyone!

  8. #8
    Join Date
    May 2008
    Location
    Portland, OR
    Posts
    236
    If you have an existing duct system, why would you put in a mini-split? Adding an AC or HP would be much easier to add to your existing furnace. Heat pumps are just as quiet as an AC system. Actually it uses the same components.

    Has anyone performed a Manual-J heat load calculation on the house yet?

    We service the Portland metro area, my email is in my profile if you'd like me to come out and take a look.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Oct 2003
    Location
    Washington
    Posts
    7,405
    Quote Originally Posted by TxTurbo View Post
    If you have an existing duct system, why would you put in a mini-split? Adding an AC or HP would be much easier to add to your existing furnace. Heat pumps are just as quiet as an AC system. Actually it uses the same components.

    Has anyone performed a Manual-J heat load calculation on the house yet?

    We service the Portland metro area, my email is in my profile if you'd like me to come out and take a look.
    Hopefully you received an email TX.


    I think the Mitsubishi that is spoke of is the ducted system.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Feb 2009
    Location
    Portland OR
    Posts
    1,834
    My company works in the Portland area, we have been in business over 30 years, have NATE certified technicians and can take a look at the full picture of heating and cooling your house. I can see why someone would say maybe the mitsubishi would be a better option for the price it will take care of heating and cooling as a heat pump can probably not be added to your existing gravity furnace and replacing your furnace with a new furnace and AC would be more expensive than a mitsubishi unit. Also with many gravity furnaces in the portland area there really isn't much for "ductwork" in the house, usually just one large return air sized opening so the mitsubishi unit could take care of all that is needed. Our website is my username and my e-mail is there. We can communicate that way and setup an appointment if you like. I am the owner of the company and will make sure we properly take care of your situation.

    Travis Smith
    Sky Heating - Owner

    Quote Originally Posted by scouser57 View Post
    I'm replacing an antique, gas, gravity octopus furnace. I've had several HVAC companies come in to give me bids. Now I'm totally confused on what type of system to go with (HP vs. gas furnace) and winter's coming! I have a 1924 950 sq ft two-bedroom bungalow. One company suggested placing a Mitsubishi SUZ-KA18NA indoor air handler in the attic with the Mitsubishi Model SEZ-KD18NA outdoor unit. This would require ceiling registers be installed (I currently have floor registers). Another HVAC company said HP's are noisy and wouldn't suggest cutting into my ceiling to put in registers. I like the idea of A/C, so in either case would want that option. I currently pay $91 per month year round on my gas bill with the old gravity furnace. Would appreciate any words of wisdom. Have to make a decision within the next week. Thanks everyone!

  11. #11
    I should add that the current ducts are asbestos-wrapped and I'm having them removed. The old octopus gravity furnace is also asbestos-wrapped and takes up 2/3 of my small basement. Are you thinking that my current furnace could be a "back up" to a HP? It's not energy-efficient at all.
    I haven't heard the term "Manual-J heat load calculation" used by anyone, but did have an energy audit done by the Energy Trust of OR.
    And, yes, I believe the Mitsubishi HP is a ducted system. I don't know if there is an advantage to having an outdoor HP vs. an "inside" (attic) HP.
    Also looking to utilize current rebates and tax incentives ~ Thanks all!

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Jan 2004
    Location
    Lancaster PA
    Posts
    66,755
    This is due to the duct design. A duct system installed for a HP should be larger than one installed for a gas furnace. That's to allow the airflow to slow somewhat so the air is in contact with the indoor coil longer, warming to a higher temp.
    A larger duct size would actually decrease the amount of time the air was in contact with the coil. Since it allows for more air flow.
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  13. #13
    Join Date
    Jul 2010
    Location
    nebraska
    Posts
    1,620
    Quote Originally Posted by scouser57 View Post
    I should add that the current ducts are asbestos-wrapped and I'm having them removed. The old octopus gravity furnace is also asbestos-wrapped and takes up 2/3 of my small basement. Are you thinking that my current furnace could be a "back up" to a HP? It's not energy-efficient at all.
    I haven't heard the term "Manual-J heat load calculation" used by anyone, but did have an energy audit done by the Energy Trust of OR.
    And, yes, I believe the Mitsubishi HP is a ducted system. I don't know if there is an advantage to having an outdoor HP vs. an "inside" (attic) HP.
    Also looking to utilize current rebates and tax incentives ~ Thanks all!
    No, don't use that old furnace as a back up. Replace it and the octo duct work. Probably no manual J done because you wont need anything but the smallest BTU system with 950 square foot. Two stage equiptment costs a bit more but will give you the greatest comfort making it a great value.
    IMO you're better off with the new duct work, furnace and coil in the basement rather then the attic. Always best to keep the duct in the conditioned space when possible.

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