Tag Archives: heat pumps

Same As Cash SAC Financing For Air Conditioning Systems

If you are considering buying a new air conditioning and heating system or heat pump, and are not able to pay for it with cash, check or credit card, then you will likely run across a financing offer called “same as cash financing”.  It is usually preceded by a number of days or months (example: “90 days Same As Cash”) and is also abbreviated SAC.

Having had an eye-opening experience myself with a computer purchase and this topic, research for this blog reinforced my beliefs in this area.  I’ll also include a list of questions to ask about SAC offers, along with a financing alternative you may not have thought of or been told about.

Read the “same as cash” SAC documents and ask questions

The first thing to know about SAC: there are usually strict requirements to avoid changes in the “no interest”. For some offers, if you are late on any payments or fail to pay the entire balance on or before the due date,  the whole loan can be recalculated back to the first day it began, and at some unbelievably high interest rates or with fees. If that happens, what started out seeming like “interest free money” for your AC purchase can turn on you to become something you would regret.  Now…on to the checklist….

As a checklist while you are reading SAC financing details, look for the following:

  1. How many payments must you miss or be late on before the SAC offer turns to a loan with interest?
  2. If interest were to get added, what would the interest rate be in APR?
  3. If the rate escalates, is it recalculated back to the first or the day your loan became late?
  4. What date or system determines when your payment was received? (In other words, how many days could pass between the date your payment is delivered at one part of their payment center and the date your payment is actually credited to your account?)
  5. Is there any credit insurance /debt cancellation insurance required or automatically included?
  6. If present in the contract, can you opt out of it? (This type of insurance usually costs a lot, relative to the size of the loan).

While reading in some HVAC industry publications, I found references to credit unions, and this is a topic we have written about before. If you project into the future and believe you may not be able to pay off the entire SAC loan, you should consider a fixed rate home improvement loan from your local credit union.  You can search online or look up credit unions in your area at NCUA – Credit Union Directory

In the past few years, there are more credit unions that have membership criteria other than employment for a specific company or entity.  One way to describe these is “community chartered credit unions”.   Practically speaking, it is probably easier to just ask what the membership requirements for your credit unions are.

If you have related experiences, please send them so other readers can benefit.

Dual Fuel Heat Pumps: Comfort and Efficiency

Even though the worst part of winter is behind us in many parts of the country, we are still getting a lot of questions about dual fuel heat pumps. The main reason: our site focuses on how to buy a new AC and heating system, and all these components are often replaced at the same time. Now that the weather is warmer (and before the first wave of heat arrives) those who have waited to get their system replaced are now looking for ways to lower their utility bills or get tax a credit on higher efficiency HVAC equipment.

Let’s start with a definition: Dual Fuel Heat Pump

A dual fuel heat pump is a heating (A/C can also be combined…) system that relies on electricity and one other source of heat, such as natural gas or heating oil.

Before going further, we should include a bit of history

In the earlier days of heat pumps, they were often used in homes and buildings where a primary fuel such as natural gas, heating oil, or butane was not available. In that case, electricity was the only common option. Most heating was accomplished through the use of a compressor and working fluid (aka Freon or refrigerant). For easier understanding, heat pumps are often described as “an air conditioner or refrigerator in reverse”. That’s easy to understand if you have ever stood behind your refrigerator or outside AC unit. Anyway, in a heat pump the main work of creating heat is powered by electricity. Because they don’t “extract and move” heat very well when the outside temperature drops below a certain point, heat pumps require a secondary or “emergency” source of heat. Before dual -fuel models became available (and still today when electricity is the only energy source), the secondary heat source was resistance or “strip” heating. Nearly everyone has seen this type of heating in the orange glowing part of radiant heaters. The element in these gets hot quickly, but electrical resistance is generally not an efficient way to heat space –they use a lot of electricity for the amount of heat given off.

Because they require the use of a compressor and for other reasons, some might ask

In situations where gas or heating oil is available, why bother with the heat pump…why not just have a high efficiency furnace?

This is a good question, and it makes for lively debate. The quick answer is that, with a dual fuel heat pump, a sensor in the system chooses the mode (electricity powered heat pump OR gas/oil/etc. furnace) that is most efficient for the current temperature, outside conditions and thermostat setting. Here’s an example: in the daytime in cooler or cold season of the year, have you ever been inside your home or office feeling chilly, and walked outside to warmer feeling air? That’s a good example of when a heat pump would likely be more efficient choice than gas. Why burn fuel when you could “move” warmth from the outside with a lower energy equivalent of electricity.

While discussing ways a dual fuel heat pump can be installed, the following scenario was brought up:

Homeowner has a heating system in good condition and high enough efficiency, but their older or inefficient air conditioning unit goes out. If done properly, by a competent installer, a new combo air conditioner/heat pump can be installed and connected with the existing gas or oil furnace to create a dual-fuel option. In our experience, non-standard retrofits such as this require a higher level of skill than the normal installation of equipment that has been designed to work together.

If you want to read more about heat pumps, you can go to the about heat pumps page on this site.

Product Review: Lennox Solar Assisted Heat Pump Model XPG20

Since its inception, our website has been brand neutral, meaning we do not favor one manufacturer of equipment over another. We focus more on features and benefits that are most likely to affect performance and your overall satisfaction. Above all, we emphasize that central A/C, heating and indoor air quality equipment must be sized and installed by a trained and experienced HVAC technician. Correct load calculations, equipment efficiency, features, quality of the installation and scheduled maintenance will have a bigger impact on your satisfaction than the specific brand of equipment you purchase.

To keep current on the air conditioning and heating industry, we read news groups from technicians, HVAC contractors, trade journals, blogs, manufacturer’s websites and more. Now and then, we see a product or service that grabs our attention. Since I have a background in environmental studies, this solar-assisted heat pump from Lennox got mine. Because the compressor and fan unit sit outside and use electricity, it makes sense to give them a boost from a solar panel.

For full disclosure, located on our city pages or elsewhere on this website, you may see listings/ads for a few locations of Service Experts or independent Lennox equipment dealers. We do not own Lennox stock and received no compensation for writing this review, though.

On to the solar-assisted heat pump. On their website, Lennox described model XPG20 as “The first integrated solar-assisted residential heating and cooling system”. We will start by listing excerpts from the product description on their website and product brochure, plus a few comments from us.

Quiet

  • Quiet Operation Fan grille— uses patent-pending, vortex-suppression technology to reduce sound of airflow exiting the unit, providing a quieter environment outside
  • Fully insulated compressor compartment—uses innovative vibration-isolating mounts to muffle operating sound

Comfort

  • Two-stage scroll compressor— runs at low speed most of the time, which means it’s less expensive to operate and provides more consistent comfort
  • Designed to work with the Humiditrol® whole-home dehumidification system*

Energy Efficiency

  • Power from the single solar panel reduces electricity needs of the outside fan motor.
  • Efficiency ratings of up to 18.20** SEER and 9.70** HSPF—can save you hundreds of dollars a year, compared to a standard heat pump
  • Tested with simulated power from the 205 watt solar module, the system is 20 SEER and 10.7 HSPF
  • ENERGY STAR® qualified—meets or exceeds EPA guidelines for energy efficiency
  • This product qualifies for a tax credit under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.***

Environmentally Responsible

  • The industry’s first solar-assisted central heat pump— uses a combination of solar energy and electricity to reduce home electric usage
  • Chlorine-free R410A refrigerant
  • Each of these units will offset 376 pounds of CO2 annually, which is the equivalent of seven mature trees or carpooling to work one day per week.

Reliability

  • Constructed of heavy-gauge, pre-painted steel and tested in the most extreme environments to ensure maximum durability
  • Lennox® System Operations Monitor— first onboard cooling system diagnostics in the industry—continuously monitors system performance and assures reliable operation and fast troubleshooting
  • 10-Year Limited Warranty on compressor and all remaining covered components, excludes solar panel

Footnotes from Lennox website
*Must be accompanied by either a variable speed air handler or furnace and the ComfortSense® 7000 Series touchscreen thermostat.
**SEER and HSPF are for operation without solar power input.
***Eligible heat pumps and air conditioners must meet the Federal minimum efficiency standards of 16.00 SEER and 13.00 EER for air conditioners or 15.00 SEER, 12.50 EER, and 8.50 HSPF for heat pumps, as set forth by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Not all system combinations apply. Verify actual system efficiency at www.ahridirectory.org and consult your tax expert before claiming energy efficiency tax credits.

AirConditioning-and-Heating.com observations:

  • Power assist means that the system is never dependent on solar energy to cool. Limited sun will not affect the overall capacity to cool, just the amount of grid electricity saved.
  • On page 2 of their PDF brochure, it states that the solar features reduce electricity consumption by 8%.
  • However, using the chart on their PDF brochure, we calculate that the solar assist features adds almost 10% efficiency to the cooling efficiency rating (SEER) and the same on heating performance (HSPF).
  • Perhaps the difference in 8% and 10% is a nationwide vs. regional estimate. The numbers on the PDF chart are for region IV (which includes Texas).  Savings from the solar assist would vary with your location in latitude, shade, roof orientation, and other factors that affect how much full sun the panel is able to receive.
  • When A/C needs are at their peak, the solar assist will be also. This makes a lot of sense. It also aligns well with the goals of power companies, that strive to lower electricity usage at peak loads.  It’s the peak demand and loading that can contribute to brownouts, higher spot fuel prices and other undesirable burdens.
  • For a thorough product brochure PDF with photos and schematics, click here.

Pricing

In case you have never purchased a central A/C and heating system, there is generally not a list price for the equipment alone. Rather, the installation price will be based on requirements to install it at your location. The total price for equipment and installation is quoted by a local dealer.  For a cost comparison organizer, click here.

We welcome comments from homeowners or technicians who have experience owning or installing this heat pump.

Helpful Steps for Choosing a New Furnace or to Replace Your Central Heating System

What types of fuels or sources of heat are available to your home or building
Before spending too much time researching heating systems, you must determine which fuels or external heat sources are available to your home or building. This will provide the initial list of choices you have.  For example, if gas is not readily available, gas/electric dual fuel heat pumps are off the list.  Further, if surrounded by solid rock close to the earth’s surface, then you are much less likely to consider geothermal heating.

Your climate: number of days with high temperatures below freezing
If your location has many days of sub-freezing high temperatures, this will likely cause an all electric heat pump to be in auxiliary heat mode more than you would want. If the source of that auxiliary heat is strip heating (electricity) there may be better alternatives.

Type of construction of your home or building: basement, attic space and existing heating infrastructure
If your home or building has existing piping or ductwork already in a floor, basement or attic and it is in good condition, you will need to factor this in your decision.

We recently were told an account of a homeowner in Montana who had piping for radiant heating in their concrete slab.  The piping sprung a leak and, assuming it was all bad, the owner got bids to bypass the old piping and a new system.  A quick excavation revealed a nick in the old piping system that dated back to its installation, not degradation.  So, uncovering the cause saved an unnecessary expense.

If you are considering the re-use of existing ductwork, be sure that your price quotes or bids address the condition of the existing ducts.  Include interior condition as well as sealing against air leaks.

Forced air systems vs. radiant heat: personal comfort and preferences
Do you prefer warm or hot air blowing into your rooms from  a forced air system or gradual warming through radiant heat?  Within the blowing warm air category, if there is an all electric heat pump involved, the air that comes out of the vents into your rooms will not likely be as warm as the air from a gas furnace. If you are cold natured or have respiratory issues or allergies, these factors could also affect your decision.

Length of time you plan to own your home or building, if known
If you know you will be there many years, this could affect the type of system you select. Reason: a future owner might not place the same value on your type of new system as you do.  With fuel costs mostly going up,  a higher efficiency system is still recommended, though.

Training, experience and integrity of installation companies you are considering
As written elsewhere on our website, the quality of the installation of your furnace or heating system will likely prove to be a bigger variable to your indoor comfort and satisfaction than the brand of equipment  you select.  Go here to read a quick list of tips on how to select a heating and furnace contractor.

Four parts to the cost of ownership of the life of a system
Over the life of your new furnace or central heating system, there are four types of costs to consider. You can read our blog post in May 2008 to learn more details about these.

  • Initial cost of installed equipment
  • Energy efficiency: cost of fuel or energy to operate the system over the life of the system
  • Maintenance cost over the life of the system
  • Life span and replacement cost at end of life of system

We hope these tips will help you stay warm and enjoy lower energy usage and bills!  Please post your experiences.