Water Furnace Envision Heat Pump Project, Problems, Monitoring, Upgrades

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Photo of upgraded heat pump inlet piping moved to the wall after years of being on the floor.

Overview of Our Heat Pump History

We had two very low performance Keeprite Air Source Heat Pump in our previous home and adjacent rental property. We have now had 4 WaterFurnace water source heat pumps in our current home since July 1990.
1.  First Heat Pump – Less than 1 year – 4 ton – sized too small by contractor Don Cardill – had to be replaced with a 6 ton unit at unreasonably great expense to us.
2.  Second Heat Pump – 6 ton with a COP of 3. Lasted 13 years but many parts failures including 3 Compressors.
3.  Third Heat Pump – 5 years – 6 ton unit – Almost every single important part replaced in the short 5 years. Continuous Freon leak on Air coil never fixed.
4.  Fourth (Current) Heat Pump – April 2, 2010 until now – 6 Ton Envision with a COP of 5.

Serious Air Coil Refrigerant Leak on Dec. 20, 2012!

During this time we have had so many extended failures spread across 4 heat pumps that it is really easy to doubt the value of WaterFurnace products when it comes to saving money.  I really thought we had beat the run of really bad luck with this latest Envision model, installed on April 2, 2010, when it failed badly and very untimely on December 20, 2012. Near midnight, I discovered that our 2-1/2 year old, 6 ton, WaterFurnace Envision heat pump had failed VERY prematurely. It turned out that the refrigerant/air heating coil had a Freon leak at one of the U-tube factory welds. A very clear Water Furnace factory defect no matter how you look at it!!

Very HEAVY Price Gouging by RB Heating of Kemptville

This resulted in a heavily overpriced $375, 15 minute diagnostic-only visit ($1500 per hour equivalent!!!!) by David Raney of RB Heating in Kemptville, very late on December 21/2012. He could not get our 15 KW emergency heating coil to work either, because it was not a simple enough plug and play item for his liking. He was definitely NO MacGyver!! So David sold me a new and VERY heavily overpriced $1,375 ultra simple Water Furnace heating coil on December 24th/2012.  (Whole electric furnaces don’t cost 1/2 this much!!) After this heavy overcharging and not ordering the much more critical refrigerant heating coil until January 4/2013, I gave up on David Raney of RB Heating and found John Barton of BartonAir to do the work.

Good Job by John Barton of BartonAir GeoThermal

John Barton installed the warranty replacement heating coil promptly on January 7/2013 and did a really good job. So far this factory “warrantied” unit has cost me $4,733.00 on a single failure for something that is supposed to be covered by “the very weak WaterFurnace warranty”. The very harsh and untold reality is that WaterFurnace supply the coil and a much too small $420 air coil replacement labour allowance, which the dealers consider to be inadequate, so they all want to charge the homeowner a LOT of extra labour as they see fit, which means according to the size of your house and what they think you will pay. John Barton charged me an extra $950 over and above his $420 allowance by Water Furnace for a 6 hour day.  So he made about $228 per hour for his work!!!!  This is a very high hourly rate, but still not as bad as RB Heating’s charge for $1500 per hour to do nothing useful 2 weeks earlier. It will take several years of totally trouble free operation in order to recover just this one incident’s cost, never mind produce some actual energy savings for us over a gas furnace.

Many Years to Recover “Free” Warranty Costs

WaterFurnace’s web site calculator shows approximately $1,000 per year of energy savings for our size of house, so this means about 4.7 years of completely trouble free operation is now required to break even on just this one failure!! Another shocking perspective is that I spent all summer (2012) shaving every possible bit of power consumption on our property and managed to get about a 10% drop, or a modest $30 to $40 reduction per month on our Hydro One bill.  This one single “warrantied” heat pump failure has wiped out about 118 to 158 months (10 to 13 years)  of these very hard won energy savings in one fell swoop!!

November 30, 2013 Update on This Really Terrible Experience

– Water Furnace did eventually reimburse me for all of John Barton’s extra charge on the warrantied air coil replacement labour.  It took some lobbying with the Canadian distributor (Marc Belanger of the Masters Group) and some angry e-mails, but Water Furnace came through in the end.  Radiators on cars last much longer in much harsher environments than the heat pump’s air coil unit and it’s very PAMPERED environment.  Marc Belanger of Masters opposed me on reimbursement, but John Preston of WaterFurnace really came through for me in the end. Thanks John!!
– I also had to fight hard to get the promised 10 year warranty that was supposed to come with this 4th unit.  Again John Preston at WaterFurnace came through for me, while Marc Belanger of The Masters Group distributors in Montreal was quite prepared to screw me out of what he had promised via John MacPhee of GlenAire Mechanical back in March of 2010.
– This Heat Pump has been running reliably now for about 14 months both as a heating and cooling unit since this major air coil replacement. I am now quite convinced that this is the first heat pump I have had with the exact right Freon charge and without any leaks to allow good heat output on a consistent basis.
– It has become painfully apparent to me after 24 years of poor experience with Water Furnace dealers that they put very little effort into the quality of their dealers and their skills.

New Inlet and Outlet Water Piping Now Wall Mounted!

– When John Barton replaced the heating coil on Jan. 7, 2013, he pointed out to me that my water inlet piping sitting loosely on the floor was a mess and should be re-installed on the wall.  I took his comment to heart and decided to tackle it myself instead of paying him to do it. I do NOT regret fixing it!
– My cost for parts to rework the Inlet and Outlet piping in November 2013 to a very professional level was about $120.00 and $41 for a pressure gauge, plus lots of my time compared to John Barton’s quote for $1,250.00!  I know John Barton would have done a great job as referenced in his photo album, but I know I did an even better job as the photos below in this Facebook album clearly show.
– I have now replaced the original Taco valve and the Braukmann pressure reducing valve with modern equivalents. I have no leaks and good performance.

Many Good Things About Water Source Heat Pumps

– A COP (Coefficient of Performance) of about 5 to 1 means $1 of paid electricity gets you $5 of total heat output. $4 comes “free” from the well water via the compressor and heat exchangers. Compare this to a modern high efficiency gas furnace that will give you back about $0.95 of your $1 spent on gas energy.
– Reverses to provide very efficient summer time air conditioning.
– Water source heat extraction means there is no ugly and noisy outdoor air conditioning unit. Everything is hidden in your furnace room and well.
– Very quiet operation, especially with the new scroll compressor.
– Very clean operation with no combustion.
– No explosive natural gas in your house like a gas furnace.
– One fifth the cost to heat your hot water tank. I shut off the breakers for my tank’s 3800 watt electric elements and have had all the hot water needed this winter.
– Very precise temperature control in the house.
– Good pay back on the large investment IF maintenance costs don’t get out of control as they definitely have done many times over the past 24 years of our bad experiences with Water Furnace units.

Some important discoveries from this project and my formal monitoring activities to date:
• We are able to get all of our hot water tank heating needs from just the Heat Pump at 1/5th the cost of electric elements because I turned off the breaker to my hot water tank in December 2013. I will need to turn the tank’s electric elements back on when warm weather arrives.
• We are getting more than enough heating capacity from the newly repaired refrigerant heat coil (as of March 2/2014) to heat the whole house even on the coldest nights, often with lots of capacity to spare.
• The exact right charge of Freon in the refrigerant circuit was re-installed, leak-free, by John Barton on January 7/2013 and seems to have made everything work MUCH better than we have ever previously experienced with all 4 past units.
• I now have my two massive carbon filters working to provide crystal clear water to both the house and the heat pump.
• Old hot wax Taco valves have a modern Taco replacement motor operated ball valve that is far superior with faster opening, LED indication, manual backup operation.
• Wiring for a dual Taco valve by my previous contractor was “faked” and in fact only wired very unprofessionally for one valve.
• The temperature rise (heat output) on the air ducts is greater when the water tank heating has been turned off by reaching it’s shutoff temperature (130F).
• WiFi Temperature Data loggers are a very interesting modern trend that has great potential to provide warnings on deteriorating performance and proactively correct before a disastrous shutdown.

Links:
installation Manual for Water Furnace Envision
New Piping photos on Flickr

Facebook album on this project

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Water Furnace Heat Pumps Fail Constantly

Water Furnace Heat Pumps Just Keep on Failing!

January 2013

In the past 22+ years we have had 4 WaterFurnace heat pumps in our energy efficient ICF home. I am a firm believer in the concept because we can get as much as $5 worth of heat out for every $1 of heat or energy purchased. No other type of heating system has this very real advantage, albeit at a very high installation cost! However, my confidence has been severely shattered by our latest costly serious failure in a long line of repeated major failures in the past 22 years with 4 different heat pumps.  We have had at least 4 compressor failures, 2 heating coil failures, 2 main circuit board failures, 2 blower motor failures, many compressor contactor failures, many reversing valve failures and endless other items that usually left us either completely in the cold or on extended and expensive electric backup heat.  When I think of the many cars we have owned, this type of repeated failure is unheard of. My cars have never had a radiator failure, an air conditioning compressor failure, etc.  And unfortunately in Canada a heating system is extremely critical to protect our homes from very damaging freeze up of water pipes and other materials, never mind our basic comfort and right to live without constant extended and stressful failures when we pay a huge price premium for these systems.

However, whenever the heat pump has a major failure, which has been extremely common for our home, we end up with a repair bill due to the very limited warranty coverage and a huge electric bill because they rarely can fix the problem in less than a month.  The wasted time and stress havoc on our everyday lives has become such a common occurrence that we have really grown tired of it.

The problems seem to stem from poor quality components, poor stocking of spare parts and dealers who don’t make the urgency of the repair their highest priority. Our most recent and 4th heat pump in 22 years is typical with a leaking refrigerant/air coil.  Because this item is relatively passive it is hard to imagine what would cause it to suddenly leak all the Freon after only 2-1/2 years of service.

We are considering building a new home this year and I am starting to really re-think my loyalty to heat pumps and WaterFurnace.  I am leaning towards the idea of putting the heavy extra heat pump installation costs towards much lower heat losses.  One way to do this is with ICF construction methods combined with some additional closed cell spray foam insulation in places like attics, joist headers, etc.  Attention to window specs and installation details will also help to reduce heat loss.  Lowering the energy demands to a very low level is a much smarter approach because heavy insulation will not fail like WaterFurnace heat pump parts and will also pay back year after year without wrecking our winter time routine!! We may even be able to take a vacation without worrying about the house being left in the cold!!

For an up to date version of this story, please read this posting on my Facebook page.