We purchased a Carrier Infinity Heat Pump in 2020 and it has kept our home comfortable, through heat waves and polar vortexes, ever since, while saving us on utility bills relative to our previous high efficiency air conditioner and fossil gas furnace. In this article I’ll describe how I chose a Carrier air source heat pump, why I selected an Infinity heat pump in particular (it’s the high end product in the Carrier heat pump line), how I found a dealer, the installation experience, and the comfort and cost sides of owning one.
Choosing the right heat pump
I had a high efficiency Bryant fossil gas furnace (Bryant and Carrier are manufactured by the same company), and a high efficiency Goodman air conditioner, both purchased from the same dealer. The furnace was 22 years old and over recommended replacement age. The air conditioner was only four years old; in retrospect, I should have just bought a heat pump in 2016 instead of an AC unit!
Lesson learned: if you’re thinking of buying a new furnace OR a new air conditioner – just buy a heat pump and kill two birds (and your carbon footprint) with one stone!
Why the Carrier Infinity Heat Pump
When I’m shopping for an energy efficient appliance, I start on energystar.gov, the US government website that provides efficiency ratings for thousands of products. You choose a product category, then sort by efficiency to get the most efficient products. ENERGY STAR rated products in a category are at least 10% more efficient than the minimum standard for that category, which is a great start, but it’s still worth reaching for the top. The most efficient heat pump on the ENERGY STAR list is 30% more efficient than the least efficient one.
Heat Pumps are rated on three metrics: Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) and Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER), both of which are used to rate air conditioners, and Heating Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF) which is used to rate heat pumps in heating mode. Both SEER and HSPF are meant to represent performance over a “typical” cooling or heating season. EER measures instantaneous cooling efficiency rather than seasonal.
If you live in a cool climate and your primary use of a heat pump is going to be for heating, then sort by HSPF (descending – click the down arrow). If you live in a warm climate and your primary use is cooling then sort by SEER (descending, again).
Since I had been impressed by my Bryant furnace, and in my previous research for other products on this website had come to conclude that Bryant/Carrier was one of the best quality HVAC brands on the market, I was pleased to find the Carrier Infinity product was near the top of the list in terms of energy efficiency. I don’t recall exactly where on the list the Carrier Infinity Heat Pump was, but as of now, December 2021, the Carrier Infinity 20 Heat Pump with GreenSpeed Technology is at the top for HSPF. That’s precisely the product I bought! It’s rated with an HSPF of 10.5 to 13.0, and a SEER of 12.5 to 16.0. (When sorting by SEER, the best Carrier Infinity heat pump – a slightly different version than the above – is 11 from the top with a SEER of 17.0 to 20.5 compared to the Lennox signature XP25 at 18.5 to 23.5.)
Finding a Carrier Infinity Heat Pump Dealer
My first call was to the company that sold me both the furnace in 1997 and the air conditioner in 2017. The company had won many Readers’ Choice awards in previous decades but this time around I was not impressed. The owner told me three things that convinced me to look elsewhere:
“Heat pumps really don’t work in cold climates”. This view hasn’t been correct for over 20 years, yet persists into the 2020’s among the public and HVAC installers. Heat pumps are one of the main sources of heating and cooling through most of Europe and Asia, where energy efficiency gets much more attention than in North America. In the 1980s and 1990s, low fossil gas prices, coupled with the lower efficiency of heat pumps back then, created the idea that heat pumps aren’t cost competitive with a fossil gas furnace. That’s no longer true: a heat pump can now save you money over a furnace. See my Heat pump operating costs article for full details on how my heating costs dropped.
It is true that heat pumps don’t provide much heat on cold days, and don’t provide any below a certain temperature. But every heat pump installation in a location that gets these cold days includes a backup heat source, whether an electric heating element inside the utility room assembly, or a separate fossil gas furnace. If the backup source is an electric heating element, heating on those days can be pretty pricy – since heat pumps are up to 4.5 times more efficient at producing indoor heat than an electric heating element. But the days when that backup element runs are few and far between, and the vast majority of your heat comes from the heat pump itself.
It may be that HVAC installers haven’t kept up with the technology. Or it could be that many installers don’t speak well of heat pumps in cold climates because they would rather sell you something they understand, or have lots of in stock, namely a furnace!
The Carrier brand is no good. I’ve found this with several dealers. If the dealer sells one brand, they talk down the other brands. In this case, my dealer had sold me a Bryant (i.e. Carrier) furnace 22 years earlier, while disparaging brands such as York and Goodman. Since then, Carrier had problems with a small number of their furnaces suffering from a cracked heat exchanger, many of which likely resulted from HVAC companies installing too large a furnace for the space being heated. It was this problem, the dealer claimed, that made him drop Carrier as a brand and move to Goodman instead, a brand he had disparaged two decades earlier. My guess was that he moved to Goodman because their furnaces and AC units are cheaper than Carrier units and he could translate his once great reputation into a bigger mark-up. My experience with my Bryant [Carrier] furnace up to then, and my experience with my Carrier Infinity Heat Pump since, have both been positive, and I know Carrier is a top brand in terms of quality control, dealer selection, and energy efficiency. (It’s also possible that the company disqualified the dealer.)
Don’t use plastic bags. After he disparaged both heat pumps as a heating/cooling choice, and Carrier as a brand, I mentioned that my motivation for going with an air source heat pump was partly to reduce my carbon footprint. He suggested there were other ways to do this, such as shopping with reusable bags instead of throw-away plastic bags. The notion that the rough 2.7 tonnes of CO2 I had already calculated as my annual CO2 emissions from my furnace could be rectified by using cloth bags when shopping, convinced me that this dealer had no understanding of energy efficiency (and probably not a great grasp of math). It was time to move on.
My next step was to visit the Carrier website where the Find a Dealer link was featured prominently under Residential Systems. About a dozen dealers came up in my city of Toronto. I called or emailed all of them. I discovered:
- Some didn’t sell Carrier products at all
- The rest sold furnaces and air conditioners, but not heat pumps
Next step was to Google “Carrier Toronto”. Some dealers in the top hits were ones I had already called. I called the others, and found mostly the same challenges – no Carrier, no heat pumps. I eventually found three dealers that sold Carrier Heat Pumps. I eliminated the first dealer based on professionalism alone. Calling a dealer and getting a response of “Hello” with no company name, followed by “Oh we’re busy right now, can you maybe call back in an hour and ask for Dean” does not inspire my confidence in the dealer’s attitude towards quality and professionalism.
My final choices were:
Richard Mueller from Home Comfort Canada was the first to call me back, and to visit my home. He had installed several Carrier Infinity Heat Pumps and he took a thorough look at my existing furnace, air exchanger, ductwork, electrical panel, and outdoor compressor. We discussed the installation at length, and he gave me a detailed explanation of what all the required components were, what ducting changes were needed, and what parts of my existing setup could be reused (the furnace humidifier, and the AprilAire furnace filter). His professionalism and courtesy were commendable. He produced an electronic quote which he showed me, and later emailed me.
Farhad Farahanchi from Infiniti Air was next. Our call went well. On our visit he brought a colleague (who may have been the owner – I wasn’t clear on this). The colleague said very little throughout the discussion. Farhad seemed less interested in fully examining my setup. He wrote up a quote by hand and after some back and forth with his colleague in Farsi, told me they’d agreed to give me a special discount by not charging me for one component, but the quoted came in at $2,000 more than Home Comfort Canada.
I followed up with Infiniti Air a few days later explaining the price gap; they offered to meet Home Comfort Canada’s price. I decided to go with Home Comfort Canada because their professionalism, and their willingness to provide a fair price from the outset, impressed me.
All this happened in January / February of 2020. Then came COVID-19, and I didn’t think I wanted anyone in my home. Finally I asked Home Comfort Canada to proceed in July. In the interim I’d also ordered a heat pump water heater from Home Depot, and Richard agreed to install that for free as part of the Carrier air heat pump installation.
The first complication was wiring. As part of my move to a low carbon lifestyle I wanted to replace our gas hot water heater, gas dryer, and gas furnace, with heat pump versions, as well as install an outdoor 220-volt wall charger for the electric car I planned to buy. That required six double (240 volt) breakers, for the water heater, dryer, compressor, indoor air handler, a 20,000-watt heating element, and car charger. My 100-amp panel was already pretty full, and Richard said 100 amps was too little for all the amperage I was adding. So I had to upgrade to a 200 amp panel both for the added breaker space and the added amperage capacity. Oh, and upgrade the utility power supply to 200 amps as well. $10,500 later – gulp! – that was done.
Lesson learned: If you’re thinking of getting a heat pump, get a couple of electricians to look at your panel and figure out what size service you really need. I’m no expert but I think we might have been able to get buy with the existing 100 amp service, given that (as it turned out) we already had several of these breakers set up when the house was rewired in 2002.
Finally came installation day. The indoor installation went smoothly. The outdoor installation yielded a surprise for us (though not for the installer): the compressor was enormous. I had the most efficient model on the market. Unfortunately, manufacturers achieve greater efficiency by increasing the area of the heat exchanger fins, so high efficiency equals massive compressor unit! The unit was twice as high, wide, and deep as a typical mid-efficiency air conditioner compressor. Even worse, it was mounted on an 18-inch stand to keep it clear of snow in winter (this isn’t a requirement for AC compressors since they don’t run in winter). In essence I replaced a compressor whose top was below the floor of my front porch, with one that came halfway to the railing. You can see my daughter standing beside it – she’s 5’8″!
I keep thinking I will lower the compressor next summer – if you’re diligent about removing snow from around it, 18 inches is probably overkill. But summer comes, and I find more pleasurable things to spend my time on.
The heat pump water heater installation was done by late that evening. The crew came back the next morning to finish up the basement installation, install the thermostat and configure it. The second surprise came when it was time to pay the bill.
The bill was $2,200 higher than the price we had agreed upon in February. Richard explained this was a combination of an increase in the cost of the heat pump, and the cost of installing the gas heater. The $1,500 extra for the heat pump seems credible, given the supply chain disruptions that occurred between March and August of 2020, but it still felt a bit like a bait and switch. It would have been more professional for him to have explained the price change before we agreed to proceed. My bad for not checking that first.
The $700 extra for installing the hot water heater was added because, he said, it had taken longer than they expected (even though two of them completed most of the installation of both heating/cooling and water heater in one workday). Since we had agreed beforehand that this work was part of the original price, I held my ground and he agreed to drop that from the bill.
Lesson learned: If you get a quote, and wait several months before proceeding, confirm the price, and get a signed contract with what’s included and at what price.
Living with a Carrier Infinity Heat Pump
We’ve been very happy with our Carrier Infinity Heat Pump. It keeps us cool even on the hottest days in summer, and warm even at -20C/-4F. We use air conditioning infrequently, but we do like to run it for long enough in the evening to draw indoor humidity down from 80% to around 60%, after which we can open the windows, run a fan, and sleep comfortably. For cold snaps, the unit includes a 20,000-watt heating element that kicks in when the heat pump can’t supply enough heat (heat pump efficiency drops as the temperature drops).
One early challenge was with the overly aggressive settings for the heating element. By default, the heating element comes on as soon as the temperature drops to 5C (41F). A high efficiency heat pump can have a Coefficient of Performance (COP) of 4.0 to 5.0 (one unit of electrical energy can extract up to 4 or 5 units of heat energy from outside and pump it inside). A resistance heating element on the other hand has a CoP of exactly 1.0 (one unit of electrical energy is converted into one unit of heat energy). This, coupled with the 5C/41F setting for turning on the heater element, meant the lower CoP heating element was adding a lot to our operating costs. With some help from Internet HVAC forums I managed to reprogram the thermostat to lower the heating element kick-in from 5C to -10C (from 41F to 14F). Even at -10C/14F the heat pump still has a higher CoP than resistance electric heat.
The two scenarios where the heating element really is needed are:
- At outdoor temperatures below -15C/5F. When it’s this cold the heat pump doesn’t provide much heat. Heat pump efficiency isn’t much better than a resistance heating element below about -17C/1F.
- When the unit frosts up. This happens: (1) during normal operation, as normal outdoor humidity condenses on the fins, freezes, and makes heat exchange less effective, and (2) when very humid outdoor temperatures naturally ice up the fins (for example, freezing rain or wet snow). In both cases, the unit switches from pumping outdoor heat indoors, to instead pumping indoor heat outdoors to the compressor unit to melt the frost buildup. When this happens, the heating element compensates so that the air coming from your HVAC vents isn’t freezing!
You can reduce the frequency of use of the heating element by adjusting the thermostat settings as noted above (contact me if you would like me to write up the process here) but also by sweeping snow away from the top of the unit during wet snowfalls, so that snow doesn’t build up inside.
Another challenge has been connecting the thermostat to our home Wi-Fi. Carrier Infinity heat pumps come with Internet connectivity which lets you view the local weather on your thermostat, or operate your thermostat remotely from a cell phone. A few months ago, the thermostat stopped being able to reach Carrier servers. After much web crawling and troubleshooting I realized the thermostat needed the router to be configured to 802.11b instead of 802.11g. That’s not ideal for the upload/download speed of other devices on the router, but the thermostat was connecting on the 2G channel while the other devices were on the 5G channel, so we switched the 2G but left the 5G at 802.11g and all is good.
Putting it all together
Our Carrier Infinity Heat Pump keeps us cool and removes mugginess in the summer. It provides plenty of heat in the winter. There have been a few bumps along the way – finding the right contractor, an unexpected price hike, a compressor that took up more of our back yard than I imagined possible, some fiddling with the software to lower the backup resistance heater kick in temperature, and the connectivity glitches, but otherwise we’ve been very happy with it, and the operating cost, as I mentioned previously, is lower than the gas furnace we had before, as well as having a much lower carbon footprint.
The Infinity model we purchased has the following heat pump energy efficiency ratings. I’ve also included the maximum ratings available now – a year and a half later – from energystar.gov. These maximuvm ratings are for a similar-sized (~2 ton) heat pump:
|Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER)
|23.5 (Lennox XP25)
|Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER)
|16.0 (Lennox XP25, and higher tonnage versions of the Carrier Infinity Heat Pump)
|Heating Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF)
|13.0 (Higher tonnage versions of Carrier Infinity Heat Pump)
|Coefficient of Performance (CoP)
|4.7 @ 47F/8C
2.54 @ 17F/-8C
|See below *
* There are no sources I could find that list CoP for all available air source heat pumps – instead, you must look up the figures for each unit, and finding them for most units is a very time-consuming process (it took me over 30 minutes to find them for my own Carrier Infinity heat pump alone!). However, there are limits on CoP, both theoretical (where the outdoor temperature is 32F / 0C and the desired indoor temperature is 95F / 35C) and what’s considered a practical measure (where the outdoor temperature is 47F/8C and the indoor temperature is around 70F/21C. The theoretical maximum CoP is 8.8, while the practical limit is somewhere around 4.5, according to Understanding COP. So the Carrier Infinity Heat Pump is close to the top of the practical CoP ratings.
If you’re heating with forced air and want to decarbonize, or just looking to replace an old gas furnace or air conditioner, I highly recommend adding the Carrier Infinity Heat Pump to your shortlist.