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Have you heard your friends and neighbors talk about heat pumps? Why are they so popular and what would getting one involve? There are two main ways to get off methane gas and onto efficient, electric heat pumps. One is to get financial support and use certified contractors, and the other is to install the heat pump oneself. Living Here interviewed two British Columbians with heat pumps, Georgina and Don, who each took a different route.

Financial Support and Contractor Help Route

Georgina Havelka with her family in Coquitlam, BC (Photo courtesy of Kim Hikita-Larsen)

Georgina Havelka lives in Coquitlam, British Columbia, with her husband and two kids.

“Coquitlam is a fairly small community. You run into people you know at the grocery store and on the street. We love this city, this area, to raise a family,” says Georgina.

Enjoying the outdoors is important to her family.

“There are hiking trails, the Coquitlam River, lakes and the ocean nearby. And we can bike from our house to parks and trails,” says Georgina. “It’s good for our well-being, mental health, and fitness.”

The family owns a detached house, built in 1974, which came with a gas furnace.

“I tracked our bills, and they were higher than the neighbouring houses. In the winter, you could feel the cold coming in through the single-pane windows, and I knew (the house) wasn’t efficient,” says Georgina.

So the couple decided to make their house more efficient.

“Given the heat dome and the past few summers, we were like, ‘wow, we need a better solution for cooling in the summer,’ which we haven’t needed in the Lower Mainland before,” says Georgina.

So, the family installed a heat pump. 

“You have that high cost initially, but we expect it to pay off over time, and it’s an investment in comfort and efficiency,” says Georgina. “We are paying less for our energy overall and it’s significant, $1000 or $2000 less a year. In the summer our house is way more comfortable. It makes a huge difference on the days that it’s nearing 30 outside.”

Georgina in front of her family’s heat pump condenser, the outdoor unit that exchanges cold and warm air with the inside units. (Photo courtesy of Kim Hikita-Larsen)

Georgina wonders if enough is being done.

“Why are we still using fossil fuels to heat and cool with in Southern BC when our winters are not that cold and we have clean hydro electric power? It doesn’t make sense. Heat pumps are a very comfortable and efficient technology. If we bought a new house today, the cost of those technologies would be built in. That’s where governments can have a big impact. New technologies will always cost a lot, and I think our governments need to do more. I definitely think every new house should be efficient and future-proofed.”

She thinks her children’s future depends on it.

“For my children, it’s scary. We as individuals can only do so much. For the future of my children, we need governments to think in these broader strokes where they can have a huge impact. Coquitlam is growing quickly and has a ton of new development, so I think improving efficiencies and using technologies that already exist today in the way we build our homes is an area that can make a big difference.”

Georgina says our governments need to do more and fast.

“We need our governments to engage quickly. Heat pumps are a small piece of that. But we need to attack this on so many fronts.”

Since using rebates to update their 1974 home and switch out gas for electricity, Georgina and her family feel more comfortable at home and are saving thousands in energy bills. (Photo courtesy of Kim Hikita-Larsen)

 The DIY Way

Don Barthel and his wife have owned a house on Mayne Island, BC, for the last twenty years. In 2020, they moved there full-time. 

“It’s a quiet, relaxed lifestyle. We are outdoors people. This is a great place for paddling,” says Don.

Their house, circa 1992, is a bungalow rancher with a furnace. Don decided to install a heat pump six years ago.

“It’s the smallest (heat pump) we could get. I didn’t know if installing it myself was going to work. It wasn’t expensive. It worked so well that I got a second one put in the opposite corner of the house five years later,” says Don. 

Don, like Georgina, was motivated by more extreme temperatures.

“The summer after we moved here full time, we had that heat dome, and we got to really use (the heat pump) for the first time in air conditioning mode. That was a good experience. It got up to 37 outside, and the whole house stayed at 27, which is still warm but bearable.”

Other changes have come about as a result, Don says.

“I haven’t run my furnace since I got my second heat pump. My heat pumps are about 30% cheaper to run. Overall, our costs went way down. This new situation is the best of both worlds. We still use the woodstove, but my wood usage is down from prior winters.”

For Don, getting a heat pump was about more than saving on bills. 

“I grew up in Vancouver with my mom taking me hiking, and we never had smokey periods. There were forest fires, and we heard about them, but they weren’t huge. The last few years, we’ve started to get smoke. Right now, we’re in a smoky time. And that’s all new. I’m convinced that’s a direct result of forest fires due to climate change.” 

Don, like Georgina, worries about his kids’ future.

“Things are going to be bad for them if we don’t get away from fossil fuels. And heat pumps are just part of that.”

Don was ineligible for government rebates as he didn’t have his installed professionally. He says it doesn’t matter which route you go: governmental or solo: heat pumps make good sense.

“I decided I didn’t want to go through all that. I saved more money doing it myself than the rebate would have given me. But the rebate is great for people who can’t do it themselves. And I support the rebate to encourage people to do this.”

Don has even been getting a reputation for his heat pump skills.

“I’ve helped some neighbours on the island install heat pumps. There is less firewood burned in the neighbourhood because of more heat pumps. Everybody wins.”

Both Don and Georgina are happy with their heat pumps. No matter which route you go, heat pumps can make life more comfortable and affordable.