Q. Knowing your feelings about heat pumps and not having a choice as to putting in a furnace, I have a 20 year old heat pump in a condo at the beach which is about 1100 sq ft. The condo is about 1/2 mile from the surf line. It is showing signs of age rusting and this year we had to add refrigerant to it for the winter. I have no idea how energy efficient it is or if it is worth fixing. I have a maintenance contract on it so it is checked twice a year. The contractor suggested replacing it this year and gave me three options. The least expensive choice is a 13 SEER heat pump with a 5 year warranty at $4,890. The most expensive is $6,390. and that is a 14 SEER with a 10 year warranty. The mid-priced one looks to me the same as the first one but with a little longer warranty.They will remove and dispose of the old unit, furnish and install transition fittings to adapt to existing ductwork, use existing refrigeration, condensation and power lines. Warranty to include parts and labor for one year after date of installation. Like I said, I don't know what a SEER is. What is the difference between the three options?
A. SEER is to heat pumps what miles per gallon is to automobiles. It a number that refers to a ratio of the amount of electricity that goes into the unit against the amount of heating or cooling coming out of it in British Thermal Units-- BTUs. The Federal Government now requires that heat pumps manufactured and sold in the U.S. be better than 12 SEER and thatís why the first two choices given you were in the 13 SEER range. Higher the SEER number the more efficiently the unit will operate but with higher SEER comes a higher price.The 20 year old heat pump you have now is probably operating a SEER of maybe 8 or less so installing a new one would save you in the neighborhood of 30 to 40 percent in operating costs. And by the way, heat pumps in my experience last on average between 7 to 12 years. You might think that your old soldier chugging along is good news for you but itís not-- itís really eating you up. So my vote is to replace it. As for which choice is best for you is a pen and pencil issue. You could take estimates of the annual savings realized by the more efficient unit and compare that to the initial costs and try to compute the payback period and the best payback period is one that takes place while the unit is still under some degree of warranty. The next factor to put into the arithmetic is the length of time you expect to keep this condo. Will you still own this place when the new unit might be expected to wear out? If so, go for the best you can afford. Keep in mind that a place near the salt water beach is a harsh environment so you want durability. Since this condo may be used for intermittent occupancy, youíll want something you can feel confident about working when youíre not there. Additionally, Iíd get some more estimates just to compare. These things arenít cheap and you only want to spend money you have to and do it wisely.