The 2024 Guide to Air Conditioning Systems and Cooling Heat Pumps in Ottawa

A comprehensive guide to replacing, maintaining and repairing your home’s air conditioning system or heat pump. 

While Ottawa is renowned for its frigid winters, Ottawa homeowners also face the challenge of hot and humid summers. In order to combat the heat and maintain a comfortable indoor environment, a reliable air conditioning system is essential. In fact, this summer, Ottawa has been breaking heat wave records, making the necessity for reliable cooling solutions even more top of mind than usual. 

In this guide, we provide tips on how to get the most life out of your air conditioning system, how to keep your monthly utility bills in check, what to do when your system isn’t working and what to look for when purchasing a new system. Our goal is to help you and your family get back to enjoying the comfort of your home as soon as possible.

Buying Guide

Types of Cooling Systems

Certified AC Technician Ottawa

Air Conditioning System

How does an Air Conditioner work?

An air conditioning system works by removing heat and moisture from the air inside a room or building, and transferring it outside. As seen in the diagram below, the evaporator and blower are located inside the home and the compressor, condenser and fan are located outside, the two parts connected by refrigerant lines. If you have a furnace installed in your home the air conditioner and furnace will typically use the same blower to circulate air through the home. 

Air Conditioner System Diagram
Air Conditioning System Ottawa
Cooling Process Step by Step:
  • The compressor pumps hot refrigerant gas from the evaporator coil inside to the condenser coil outside.
  • As the hot refrigerant gas moves through the condenser coil, it loses heat to the outside air and becomes a liquid. 
  • The cold refrigerant flows into the home and through the evaporator coil. 
  • As warm air from the room is blown over the evaporator coil, the refrigerant absorbs the heat from the air and turns back into a gas. The moisture in the air also condenses on the cold evaporator coil and is collected in a drain pan.
  • The cooled and dehumidified air is then blown back into the room through the ducts, while the hot refrigerant gas is pumped back outside to the condenser coil to start the process all over again.
  • This cycle of compression, condensation, expansion, and evaporation continues until the desired temperature and humidity  level is reached in the room or building.
What Air Conditioning system do I need?

There are many factors you will want to consider when selecting an air conditioner for your home, including the size of your home, the space available for the unit, the amount of noise tolerated, the climate of your area, your current HVAC equipment and your budget. Below we introduce you to the basics however, a trained HVAC professional will be able to conduct a thorough assessment of your home using a cooling load calculation and provide you with options for equipment that fit your home. 

Tip: Bigger isn’t always better! 

If your air conditioning system is too large for the size of your home it will switch on and off quickly instead of running in long efficient cycles, shortening the equipment’s lifespan and driving up bills. 

On the other hand, an air conditioning system that is too small for the size of your home won’t be able to effectively cool your home. This is why it’s key to get equipment properly sized for your home.

Types of Air Conditioners:
  • Central Air Conditioners provide consistent and even cooling throughout an entire home using the ducts. They are the most effective type of air conditioner and should be installed in any home that has the ductwork to support it. 
  • Portable Air Conditioners are compact, self-contained cooling units that can be easily moved from one room to another. They typically consist of a single unit that is designed to sit on the floor and vent hot air out of a nearby window using a hose or duct. They are designed to provide temporary or supplemental cooling in spaces where traditional air conditioning systems may not be available or practical. They can be a convenient and cost-effective option for cooling a single room or small space and do not require professional installation.
  • Window Air Conditioners are designed to be installed in a window or a specially made opening in a wall. They are commonly used in residential settings, particularly in apartments or situations where central air conditioning is not available or practical. They are relatively affordable, easy to install, and can effectively cool small to medium-sized spaces. However, they are not suitable for cooling multiple rooms or large areas, and the installation process may require some modifications to the window or wall opening.

Heat Pump

Air source heat pump installation Ottawa
What is a heat pump?

heat pump is an energy-efficient, electric HVAC system that can both heat and cool your home. In Canada, heat pumps are rapidly gaining popularity due to recent technological advancements. The appearance of a central air source heat pump is similar to that of a standard central air conditioner however it is installed on a stand rather than on the ground to allow for the liquid discharge and to avoid ice issues in the winter. With the ability to provide both heating and cooling, a heat pump is an excellent investment for those looking for a cost-effective and environmentally friendly HVAC solution.

How does a heat pump work?

A heat pump is a system that can both heat and cool a space by transferring heat between indoor and outdoor environments. In heating mode, the heat pump absorbs heat from the outdoors and transfers it indoors, where it is released to warm the space. In cooling mode, the process is reversed, and the heat pump absorbs heat from the indoor air and releases it outdoors, effectively cooling the space. Both of these modes are achieved by circulating a refrigerant through a cycle of compression, condensation, expansion, and evaporation. 

Types of heat pumps:
The two main types of heat pumps are air-source heat pumps and ground-source heat pumps:
Air Source Heat Pump Outside in Ottawa
  • An air-source heat pump (ASHP) transfers heat to and from the air outside your home to the air inside your home. They are currently the most common type of heat pump used in Canada because they are easy and affordable to install in urban areas.
Geothermal Heat Pump Diagram
  • ground-source heat pump (GSHP) is also called a geothermal heat pump or a geothermal system. These systems transfer heat between the ground outside your home and the air inside your home. Ground-source heat pumps work by circulating liquid through an outdoor loop made up of pipes. This can either be a closed-loop system or an open-loop system that ties into the water table. Construction of the loop requires excavation and a good amount of ground space, making geothermal heat pump systems most well suited to rural areas. Despite their high initial cost, geothermal systems can’t be beat! They offer the highest efficiency of any heating or cooling system and last much longer than any other HVAC equipment. According to National Resources Canada, geothermal systems are 65% cheaper to run than electric furnaces and return 10-20% more savings than even air-source heat pumps
Ductless Heat Pump Ottawa
Ductless Heat Pumps:

ductless heat pump, also known as a mini-split heat pump or ductless air conditioner, is a heating and cooling system that does not require ductwork to distribute air. It consists of an outdoor unit that houses the compressor and condenser, and one or more indoor units that deliver the air directly into a room. Ductless heat pumps offer individual temperature control in each room, making them an efficient and flexible solution for heating and cooling specific areas of a building without the need for extensive ductwork installation. 

Hybrid Heat Pump Systems:

If you live in a cold climate, but are still interested in a heat pump, a hybrid system is a great solution. Hybrid systems will use your heat pump to cool and heat your home almost every day of the year, however during the coldest days of the winter your furnace will switch on as a backup. Speak to an HVAC professional to find out if this is a good option for your home.

Should I replace my AC with a heat pump?

If you’re in the market to replace your air conditioner you should consider a heat pump for one major reason: government rebates. Heat pumps are just as efficient as air conditioners in cooling mode and more efficient than most furnaces in heating mode. The installation cost to switch from an air conditioner to a heat pump is also often quite low. An HVAC professional will be able to assess the exact needs of your home and advise you on the best fit for your home, but generally speaking, there is no reason not to take advantage of these generous government rebates
 

Currently, the Canadian government is pushing to move more homes to electric in an effort to fight climate change. They have created the Canada Greener Homes Grant and the Oil to Heat Pump Affordability Program to help homeowners afford these energy-efficient retrofits. By replacing your air conditioner with a heat pump you could qualify for $7,100 in rebatesFrancis Plumbing & HVAC has already helped many homeowners leverage these grants to their full potential. Contact us to learn how we can do the same for you! – Learn more

Buying vs Renting

When you buy any piece of HVAC equipment one of the biggest decisions you will have to make is whether to rent or buy. Here at Francis Plumbing & HVAC we firmly believe that buying the system is always the best option for the homeowner. Many companies tote the benefits of rental without mentioning that financing and maintenance plans are still an option without rental. Let’s take a look in more detail at why you’ll want to consider purchasing your equipment when it’s time to replace.

Renting Vs Buying HVAC equipment Ottawa

Total Cost of Renting vs Buying

The primary advantage of renting an HVAC system is the low upfront costs. Instead of paying for your equipment in a lump sum all at once you pay a monthly fee. Unfortunately, these monthly fees start to really add up when you consider that you will be paying them for at least 12 years. The truth is, with most rental contracts you will have paid the entire cost of the unit in fees by year 8. If you rent for 12 or more years it will contribute to a significantly higher total cost over the lifespan of the equipment! 

Most analysis shows that buying can cost up to 45% less than renting, even including a maintenance plan! See the example in the table below. 

Ultimately, when presented with the option to buy, especially if financing is available, it is almost always more wise to purchase new equipment as opposed to renting.

Rental Tip:

If an HVAC company is presenting a rental plan to you, ask them to:

  • Outline the total cost of the system based on the projected rental period.
  • Confirm the minimum rental period.  
  • Provide a copy of their rental contract buyout table, in case you break your contract early.
Comparing AC Buying vs Renting

Government Rebates Available for Buyers

The Canadian Governement is currently offering many lucrative rebates incentivizing homeowners to upgrade their HVAC equipment to more energy-efficient systems. Such as the Canada Greener Homes Grant which incents homeowners to replace their air conditioner with a heat pump for up to $7,100 in rebates. Or the Oil to Heat Pump Affordability Program where qualifying homeowners can receive up to $10,000 when they replace their old oil furnaces with energy-efficient heat pumps. Unfortunately, renting your HVAC equipment severely limits your eligibility for these rebates.

Call Us Now to find out how much you can qualify for.

Flexible Financing Options

Many HVAC contractors offer options to finance equipment, leaving you the freedom to choose a financing plan that suits your budget and preferences. Preferences can include interest on loans, installment payments, or flexible payment terms, and ultimately allow you to tailor the financing to your specific needs.

It’s also important to note that most rental agreements include a buyout fee should you wish to opt out of your rental contract. A buyout fee is an amount you pay to release yourself from a contract in addition to the monthly payments you have already made. Financing, on the other hand, ensures homeowners reap the benefits of ownership without the large upfront cost of an outright purchase.

Hassle-Free Maintenance and Repairs

When a rental agreement is in place, all repairs and regular maintenance services are part of the package, but homeowners have no choice in the service provider. As seen in the chart above, maintenance and protection plans are affordable, and when factored into the cost of owning HVAC equipment they become almost a non-factor compared to renting costs. 

In cases where the homeowner purchases new HVAC equipment from Francis Plumbing & HVAC, you can get the same level of worry-free protection from our GOLD Maintenance and Protection Plans. If you live in Ottawa or surrounding areas and purchase an HVAC system from Francis Plumbing & HVAC, our local technicians can get to you the same day to address emergency issues. This not only saves homeowners the hassle of finding reliable technicians, but also ensures unexpected expenses are something they do not have to worry about!

Value of Home and Ease of Sale

Renting your HVAC equipment does not add value to your home, and the rental agreement must be transferred to new homeowners should the home be sold. Whereas when you buy your HVAC equipment, the value of your home increases and the home-selling process is simplified as there are no contracts to transfer!

Summary:

  •  Buying saves an average of 45% vs. renting
    • That’s $7,519 (Total Cost of Renting vs. Buying in the chart above)
  • Financing your purchase offers all the same benefits with one affordable monthly payment
    • That’s still 43% and $6,881 less than renting (Total Cost of Financing vs. Buying in the chart above)
  • Renting offers the highest overall costs and least flexibility, and we do not recommend it

How to find a reputable HVAC company

TSSA licensed technician Ottawa

Not all installation teams are created equal! The quality of the installation matters just as much, if not more, than the quality of the equipment being installed. It doesn’t matter if you purchased a top-of-the-line heating system, if it is not installed to fit your home correctly it will not operate as intended. Below we outline how to find a reputable HVAC team and red flags to pay attention to.

  • Referrals – Asking your friends and neighbours for their suggestions is a great place to start.
  • Experience – Check the number of years the company has been in business – trust is built over time.
  • Location – A local contractor is generally preferable because they’re always nearby. Dealing with call centres and companies located in other cities doesn’t often yield the fastest, most personal approach to service.
  • Expertise and Quality Recommendations – The best  HVAC professionals will be able to come to your home and assess your situation holistically. With this information, they will be able to provide you with the best advice possible based on your needs, preferences, and budget. This should always include a proper heat loss/gain analysis.
  • Licences – Different licenses will be required of HVAC professionals in different regions. In Ontario, you should ensure your technician has a TSSA G2 or G1 license (for working with gas appliances) and ideally a 313 Air Conditioning Mechanic or Refrigeration license if they’re working with an air conditioner or heat pump. Many companies will operate with only one certified technician and a team of uncertified technicians working for them. You want to ensure that the tech coming to your home is fully certified so you’re getting the most educated and capable staff looking after your system’s reliability and safety.
  • Emergency Service — Take a look at their emergency service hours, and practices. If you have an emergency, it’s not always going to happen or get noticed during a convenient time. Is your contractor available to help in the evening? On weekends? What about holidays? And if they are, will they charge you a premium for service during these times?

By following these guidelines, you can find a reputable HVAC company that will provide you with quality services and peace of mind.

How to Maintain your Cooling System

Proper maintenance of cooling and heating systems is often overlooked by homeowners, but it’s a crucial task that shouldn’t be neglected. Just as you take care of your car, it’s essential to prioritize the maintenance of your HVAC systems. Not only does routine maintenance improve reliability and prevent expensive repairs, but it also maximizes energy efficiency and extends the lifespan of your system. Moreover, manufacturers often require maintenance to keep the warranty valid.

maintenance plan from a reputable HVAC company is a great option for many homeowners. Such plans provide you with peace of mind, ensuring that your heating and cooling systems will function efficiently year-round, protecting your warranty, and safeguarding you from costly repairs. Maintenance plans often include attractive discounts for homeowners, as ethical contractors aim to incentivize clients to safeguard their investments and minimize the risk of emergency service for preventable issues. – Learn more about maintenance plans.

Repair vs Replace

Air conditioners and air source heat pumps typically come with parts warranties ranging from 5 to 10 years, and with proper maintenance they can last for 12 to 15 years. However, as the equipment ages, repairs become more frequent, and the efficiency of the system may decline compared to newer models, resulting in higher utility costs. Consulting with a knowledgeable HVAC professional is crucial to determine whether repairing or replacing is the best choice for your home and budget. Let’s explore the key factors to consider when making this decision.

Replace – Opting for a replacement incurs higher upfront costs compared to repairs. However, it offers a more reliable system that requires fewer repairs over time and provides increased efficiency, leading to lower utility expenses.

Repair – Repairing your air conditioner or heat pump is generally more affordable than replacing the entire system, and the process is usually quicker. If you’re facing a costly repair, it’s important to ask whether the repair will extend the lifespan of your equipment or if another repair will be necessary soon. In such cases, investing in a replacement might prove to be a better long-term investment.

Accessories

Thermostats

Smart Thermostat Ottawa

Should I get a Smart Thermostat?

The biggest question when it comes to thermostats is whether to get a standard thermostat or a smart thermostat. There are so many smart stat options available on the market now that there is something that fits every home, and there’s no real reason to miss out on the benefits that they offer.

What are the Benefits of a Smart Thermostat? 

  • Learning capabilities: Smart thermostats optimize heating and cooling usage based on your behavior and schedule, resulting in energy savings and reduced utility costs.
  • Remote control: With smartphone apps or internet connectivity, you can control your smart thermostat from anywhere.
  • Customization and scheduling: Smart thermostats offer flexible scheduling options, allowing personalized temperature settings for different times of the day or specific days of the week.
  • Phone Alerts: When connected to your smartphone you can get notification if your home rises above a certain temperature. This is especially important for those who leave their pets alone at home during the day in the summer
  • Integration with other smart devices: Smart thermostats can integrate with other smart home devices and platforms, enabling seamless control and coordination, creating a cohesive and efficient smart home ecosystem.

Dehumidifiers

Central Dehumidifier Ottawa

If you have trouble keeping your home cool in the summer no matter how low you set the thermostat it may be due to the relative humidity of your home. The humidity level not only affects your comfort but also the health of your family and of your home. If you notice any of the following problems your home is likely too humid. 

How to know if you need a dehumidifier:

  • Musty odours 
  • Mold and mildew growth
  • Condensation on windows, walls, or other surfaces
  • Warping or buckling of wood floors, doors & windows 
  • Congestion, allergies, respiratory issues or asthma flair-ups

Types of Dehumidifiers

  • Air Conditioners & Air Source Heat Pumps – A central air conditioner or air source heat pump naturally acts as a whole-home dehumidifier because they remove moisture from the air through the cooling process. If you already have an air conditioner or air source heat pump and are still experiencing high humidity in the summer it’s a sign that your cooling system might not be functioning properly. It’s a good idea to get your cooling system serviced before looking into other dehumidifier options. 
  • Central Dehumidifier –  A central dehumidifier uses your home’s duct system to remove excess moisture evenly across all rooms in the home. If you have the ducts to support it this is the best option for takling major humidity issues as listed above. 
  • Portable Dehumidifier – If your home doesn’t have ductwork, a portable dehumidifier can be used to remove excess moisture from the air. However, this is only effective at treating one room at a time and should really only be used for small apartments. 

Learn more about home humidity. 

Air Filters

Clean air filter vs dirty air filter

What is an air filter?

Did you know that the filter that is attached to your furnace is used during the cooling season as well? This is because your air conditioner relies on your furnace’s blower motor to circulate air throughout your home. If you don’t have a furnace the filter will be located inside your home in your air handler. Just as it’s important to change the filter during the winter it’s equally important to change in the summer. In fact, having a clogged filter is one of the number one reasons for AC failure. 

When do I replace my filter?

Over time the filter accumulates dust and other particles from the air stopping them from circulating around your home. If you hold your filter up to the light and can’t see light through it, it needs to be changed. When the filter is full your system has to work harder to blow air through it decreasing the efficiency of your system, decreasing the expected lifespan of your system and increasing your monthly bills. Changing your filter regularly will improve the air quality in your home and the efficiency of your HVAC system. Every home is different and factors like the presence of pets or renovations can mean you need to change your filter more often. The type of filter you use also has a big effect on its lifespan, more on this below.

DIY Tip: 

If you’re having issues with your HVAC system the first thing you should check is your filter. This one simple, low-cost task can fix a plethora of HVAC issues, but many homeowners aren’t even aware that they should be changing their filter regularly. 

What size air filter do I need?

The filter must fit snugly in the filter rack, if it is not airtight it will not function as intended. Common sizes range from 1’’ to 5’ in width, thicker filters tend to last longer as they have more surface area with which to catch particles and often filter the air more efficiently than thin filters.

What MERV rating do I need for my air filter?

MERV Rating Scale

The Minimum Efficiency Rating Value, or MERV,  is an index of the efficacy of your filter media. The higher the MERV rating, the smaller the particles it is able to capture. Your lungs have a MERV 8 rating so you want to ensure your HVAC system can filter more than your lungs or they’ll be absorbing everything your filter misses! A MERV rating between 10 and 13 is generally recommended however, if you struggle with environmental allergies you may want to put a stronger filter in.

We hope this guide provides valuable knowledge to help you confidently navigate air conditioner and heat pump repairs, maintenance and replacement options.

Francis Plumbing & HVAC has been serving Ottawa homeowners for over 90 years. Our expert team delivers unmatched satisfaction through professional installation, repair, and maintenance services, with emergency availability. We serve Ottawa and a wide range of surrounding areas, including Orléans, Vanier, Nepean, Kanata, Stittsville, and the rural outskirts!

If you have any additional questions call us at (613) 224-0041! Our experts are always happy to help. 

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