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Power Bill... Thoughts?

Post in 'The Boiler Room - Wood Boilers and Furnaces' started by PV2U, Feb 10, 2011.

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  1. PV2U

    PV2U New Member

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    Loc:
    Richmond, VA
    Greetings Gents (or 'Gentesses' as applicable)!! =o)

    White Pine's recent comment about his power bill prompted me to start a thread - I am heating only 1,700+ sq ft (2 story, but upper floor probably only 35-40% of total area) with a heat pump (single unit, perhaps 5 years old) and I used 4200+ kWhs this past billing cycle. Now, I live near Richmond, VA and, according to the bill, the average daily temp for that time period was 33* = not all that harsh. My house is about 20 years old, and is in good repair.

    While my electrical rate is supposed to be something around $.08/kWh, that is rendered pretty much immaterial by the "Wholesale Power Cost Adjustment" fee my electrical cooperative adds in every month. For example, this past month when I used the 4241 kWhs, the "Wholesale Power Cost Adjustment" fee ($115 'WPCA' fee along with the 3 or 4 of the other obligatory penny ante fees/taxes = $.12+/kWh when all considered) turned a $384 outrage into a $518 abomination!! The good news is that it beat my previous "record" by about $22!! :shut:

    A couple years ago, I had a rep from the power company come out and give me a "audit" which equated to him wandering around the house with a handfull of other folk's electrical bills which were higher than mine and telling me how lucky I was that mine wasn't higher (okay, that was only 75% of the audit - he did poke around a little, but didn't have any meaningful insights). Not exactly a study in the scientific method! hehe!

    All right, all that said to provide a little context. This past month's bill was the Redwood that broke the camel's back; I simply MUST do something different. Given the fact that this forum appears to be a clearing house for guys who have decided to do "something different", I thought I'd stop in here and see if anyone had any ideas where I should start, because I'm not sure what I'm going to do. But I have to do SOMETHING even if it's wrong! :OP

    Guidance/Suggestions/Directions/Insults? :O)
    Thanks!
    Paul

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  2. mkling

    mkling New Member

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    4200kW, thats a lot of juice!!!! Even in the middle of summer when I am running my pool pump a lot and my AC seemingly non-stop I have never approached anything like that! At most maybe 1800-2000kW. I would ditch the heat pump and start looking into wood burning appliances. I have seen estimates that heating via electricity cost nearly double that of natural gas, wood or wood pellets per BTU. I might start with looking into supplimenting with a pellet stove, if you want to ditch the heat pump all-together you could find a wood or pellet furnance that would do the job nicely for you, but given you heated space you gave I think they might be overkill.
  3. jebatty

    jebatty Minister of Fire

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    One place to start is to estimate your btu load requirement. If the 4200 kwh month represents your heaviest heat demand period, let's assume that all of that is for heating (actually, most other electric use also ends up as heat anyway). Considering all of the kwh for heat, that equates to 4200 kwh x 3400 btu/kwh / 30 / 24 = 19800 btu/hr for an average 33* month.

    If you begin to think about a high efficiency (80-85%) wood boiler, you might think about a minimum cost of $10,000 for the installation. And at the same time, depending on your situation, costs could run much higher.

    I'll let others run with this from here.
  4. woodsmaster

    woodsmaster Minister of Fire

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    Have you checked the amount of insulation in the attick ? Most houses built 20 years ago need more insulation if it hasn't allready been done.
  5. WhitePine

    WhitePine Feeling the Heat

    Joined:
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    Messages:
    497
    There could be multiple reasons your electricity consumption is so high with a heat pump. Consider these. You likely have one or more of them going on.

    Poor insulation.

    Air infiltration and/or exfiltration.

    Heat pump charge incorrect.

    Air handler blower speed set wrong.

    Dirty filter(s)s and/or condenser/evaporator.

    Heat pump not sized for heating (considered normal, but then you light up the heat strips a lot in cold weather, if that's all you have for back up heat).

    Duct work undersized, leaking, or poorly done (very common).

    "Smart" thermostat turning the heat strips on needlessly in order to keep your temperature swing to a minimum (fairly common).

    Fidgeting with the thermostat setting (manual version of the line above).

    Setting back the thermostat at night (forces the heat strips on during the recovery period).

    Trying to keep the house too warm.
  6. PV2U

    PV2U New Member

    Joined:
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    Loc:
    Richmond, VA
    MKLING: dang right! It IS a lot! And I've never FOUND the extension cord running from my house to the neighbor's, but it's not from lack of looking! HA! This place has always been a juice hog, for whatever reason. I thought when I burned out the old unit that the new, efficient unit would make a huge difference, but, alas, twas not to be.

    Jim: thanks for running the numbers! Ya know, $10K is steep for me, but to be honest, if I could just succeed in "getting one over on the man", it'd be worth a lot. That cottonpicking Wholesale Adjustment Fee they charge me has just about gotten me to the point where I'd rather burn the dang money itself to keep warm than send it over to the power company. I use a lot of power, and that's on me, but I can't hardly stand the insult they add to the injury!! I don't know if going to gasification is, for me, overkill or not? I dearly want an excuse to get something like that, but the winters here are pretty mild (extremely in compared to MN, etc.). I probably heat from NOV-MAR, maybe? Supposing the $10K or so is doable, and suppose I get a unit that can output 19800 btus (is that a lot, comparatively?) would an application such as mine need to have some storage? The good news is that I have 6 woodchucks... er, I mean, kids! :OD

    Hey J.T., I just ran up there and checked, and, according to my trusty yard stick, there's about 10" in the attic - look like a blown fiberglass? Yellow, sort of amorphous? Not in batts like rolled yellow fiberglass, but appears to be pretty much the same stuff. How's THAT for an expert-sounding explanation! hehe! Anywho, whatever it is, is 10" enough? I'm guessing it's no embarassment of riches, R-value wise, but I really have no idea.

    Good Gravy, White Pine! I'm prolly guilty on all counts!! HA! I think from "Smart" down, I'm good. We don't touch the thermostat hardly ever, and it's set at 68. As far as the HP charge, Air In/Exfiltration, Air Handler blower speed and Heat Pump being sized correctly, I'll have to look into that. Insulation-wise, I dunno. It seems "standard", whatever that is - i.e., all walls have fiberglass batts, and the underside of the floor in the crawlspace is insulated likewise. The filter probably isn't as clean as it should be, but I do tend to it now and again. Good food for thought!

    I've thought of having someone come out and do some sort of energy analysis and maybe point a thermal camera at the house, and do some legitimate tests (instead of telling me I'm lucky I don't have a 6,000 sq ft house/garage with the attending $600+ power bill one customer had, like the power company did = LOL). Does anyone have any familiarity with that sort of evaluation?

    Thanks for weighing in, guys. Something simply MUST change here at the "Lil' Ponderosa"!
  7. boatboy63

    boatboy63 Member

    Joined:
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    Messages:
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    Loc:
    Northeastern TN
    I feel your pain when it comes to electric. I attached the latest update that I have from my electric company and you can see how it is for me. My old house is over 100 yrs old for the main level but about 10 yrs for upstairs. We have went thru and added insulation but it still isn't perfect. Prior to the middle of January, we were only using the electric furnace for 10-12 hours a day (actually night). We had an old Buck Stove insert that was fired up around 8 AM and went until about 10PM. After that time when the temp dropped in the house, the furnace would come on.
    Since mid January, we installed the new Magnolia stove and the furnace has literally been unwired. The house has been warmer and the electric bill is $84 cheaper than December's, not to mention, this month's bill is for 5 more days. The outside temps have been just as cold for Jan as they were in Dec and my bill is only reflecting 2 weeks of 24/7 usage of my stove. It is supposed to be down to 14* tonight so I guess we will have to "put another log on the fire".
    Take a look at how much my electric rate has went up in a year. Last year in Feb, I paid $333.08 for 4056 Kw/h. Last month, I paid $365.68 for 3606 Kw/h. In other words, I paid $32 more this year and used 450 Kw/h less. The problem is that I haven't had a raise in 3 years, but gas and groceries have went up.
    I am building a gasification wood boiler, but the early winter caught me before I got it finished. Can't wait until next year and can look at these numbers again when the boiler is up. When it is going, I can even turn my electric water heater off and save another $50+ per month.

    Attached Files:

  8. woodsmaster

    woodsmaster Minister of Fire

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    pv2u 10" isn't bad but it could use more. On blown fiberglass I don't Know r-value per inch ,but you should have r -50 to r-60 and I'm guessing you have around r-35 - r-40. im sure
    adding more will help some but I don't think that it will be a cure all. There must be other issues somewhere. An energy audit sounds like a good idea.
  9. WhitePine

    WhitePine Feeling the Heat

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    Boatboy, your rates are almost identical to ours. We are all going to be paying for the damn TVA's Kingston ash spill for a long time. They even had the balls to give out bonuses to the management that should have been fired instead. >:-(
  10. Pat53

    Pat53 Minister of Fire

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    Loc:
    UP Mich
    If I'm reading your bill right, you're only paying a little over .10/kwh, thats not bad, but the usage numbers are definitely high. Our electric provider has raised rates 18% in just the last 2 years. We pay almost .20/kwh now with all the BS charges included. We have no choice for our power, they are the only utility that serves our area. Bunch of F#$^%& crooks !
  11. boatboy63

    boatboy63 Member

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    As I said before, the house is old and about 3500 sq ft overall. About 2400 of it is downstairs and was what was built in the 1890's and had little insulation. The upstairs that we built has R-19 in the walls and attic has 12-24" of fiberglass bat/blown in cellulose.
    Considering we live in TN, (home of TVA which is the largest electrical supplier in the south), our rates are low in most people's eyes. It was just a few years ago when it was only 7 cents a kw/h. Considering most of my state has a lower median income than up north, it has a dramatic effect on us. Sure, the cost of living is cheaper in our area, but most people here earn half the pay of other areas. There's no way that most of us could handle the electric bills like some of you mention.
    White Pine, if your nick has anything to do with where you live in E. Tn, I am about an hour NW of you.
  12. Willman

    Willman Minister of Fire

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    I knew a guy with high electric bills. He complained to the power company and they sent someone out. They stuck a voltage meter in the ground next to the ground rod and there was power there ! Had it fixed, I don't know what the fix was and his power bills went down.

    Not certain how a wood fired boiler will help out with your ac costs. They are prolly high too.

    Will
  13. steam man

    steam man Minister of Fire

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    Correct me if I am wrong but a direct calculation for kwh to BTU would be correct for resistance heating whereas a heat pump should be 2 to 4 times more efficient, maybe more. This sounds like a serious heat loss for a 1700sqft home in this location.
    I have also heard electricity "leaking to ground" thus using more power. Also, do a good eat loss calc for your home. Your ceiling insulation has to come up. A close look at everything would be prudent.
  14. WhitePine

    WhitePine Feeling the Heat

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    Heat pump efficiency is variable depending on the outside temperature, assuming we aren't talking geothermal (ground source heat pump). It's called the Coefficient Of Performance (COP). The Achilles heel of regular (air source) heat pumps is the fact that they become less efficient as the temperature drops, eventually reaching a COP of 1. Most heat pump manufacturers provide a chart graphing COP versus outside air temperature. It is very useful for managing your heat pump and deciding what kind of auxiliary heat and its cut-in or switch-over temperature is the best choice for any particular situation. Unfortunately, most heat pump owners don't even know they exist.
  15. WhitePine

    WhitePine Feeling the Heat

    Joined:
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    Actually, it doesn't. I completely forgot about the town of White Pine when I picked that screen name. :red:
  16. steam man

    steam man Minister of Fire

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    Good explanation. I haven't touched on those since college over 30 years ago. Heat pumps are rare up here though they are used and even made nearby. I couldn't imagine using it with a 20 cent/KWH electric rate.
  17. jebatty

    jebatty Minister of Fire

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    You're right, I missed that before and now again, not good. No heat pumps in my life.

    If a gassification wood boiler is to be considered, keep in mind that probably the "best" install involves using hot water through low temperature emitters, although many use a hot water to air heat exchanger. At the same time, a wood stove in a good location will do wonders at a fraction of the cost. As you can see from my signature below, we use a wood stove, in our living room, to heat our 1500 sq ft house plus full basement. And except for a little electric heat in the basement to keep it at 50F (about $200 worth/year), that stove is our sole source of heat. The stove keeps the main part of the house at 70F even with -40F outside air temp, plus any windchill effect. I also have a wood gasification boiler with storage to heat the 1500 sq ft shop, and the shop was built new with in-floor radiant to take full advantage of the boiler and use of low temperature hot water. The boiler has capacity to also heat the house, but it would be quite an expense to shift the house to hot water heat, although not out of the question for the future.

    As others say, your biggest bang for the buck normally is insulation and eliminating air infiltration. I wouldn't shift to a new heating system without doing everything reasonable in these two areas first.
  18. daleeper

    daleeper Minister of Fire

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    It sounds like the best place to start is with a true energy audit. One with a blower door test and ir camera to see where air infiltration is occurring. If you don't want to spend the money to do that, then start with more insulation in the attic, and have the heat pump checked over including charge level (you really need to do that anyway). If you are not really set up for wood, what about natural gas or lp gas furnace added to your central air system even at the relatively cheap electrical cost you have, gas would most likely be cheaper than having that resistant heat backup strip kick in. In fact, now that I think about it, at the average temp of 33*, what temp do you have that strip set to kick in at? You might want to look at lowering that temp. Insulation and heat pump tuneup may make substantial difference alone.

    Because you asked this question in the boiler room, I'm guessing that you have at least considered adding a wood furnace, wood stove, or boiler to your system. If you have a good source of wood, and enjoy the work, then go for it. Myself, if I had to buy wood, I would probably just get a second lp tank, and fill in summer at the low price point and not even mess with wood. As it is, there is way more wood on this farm than I can get cut and burned, so I feel obliged to whittle some of it down to stove size. It makes a significant dent in our utility bills. A house your size, a properly placed wood stove would make most of the heat your home would require, and most likely be less expensive installation cost.

    Tell us a bit more about what you are thinking, and in the mean time get that energy audit scheduled, and a service for your heat pump.
  19. PassionForFire&Water

    PassionForFire&Water Minister of Fire

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    Check for "Leak current" and "grounding" before you do anything else.
  20. RobC

    RobC Minister of Fire

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    Foxboro MA
    I to HAD ridiculous electric bills. The problem with most monitoring devices is they go in at an outlet. They only look at one device at a time and don't do 220 at all.
    This unit goes into breaker panel. Monitors whole house instantaneously. Has remote display for counter top / family room.
    http://www.theenergydetective.com/ted-1001

    FYI helpful hint. Pick what outlet you want remote display and tie into the breaker that feeds it.
    My unit paid for itself in the first couple of months. Once I fine tuned my house it pays for itself every month.
    Putting dimmers on light that you use a lot makes a big difference. HVAC fan cycling times. If you on well water turn down the pressure some.
  21. rkusek

    rkusek Minister of Fire

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    Nebraska
    10" of blown fiberglass probably R35 like stated above may be a little on light side but not enought to explain the high useage. Rest of your insulation sounds great. With $500+ electric bills you may be able to justify a $10k boiler system with storage in your climate. Without storage or with a wood stove or furnace, I would think 33 degree average temps in January would make it hard to regulate the heat but maybe not. Last winter we used our 5 ton heat pump almost all winter because I didn't have the HX mounted in the air handler and was still connecting everything to the UG lines buried between house and boiler in pole barn. My highest bill was from 12/2/09 to 1/4/10 was $258 for 4720 kw for 2200 sq ft walkout ranch (ie. ~4400 heated). We were very cold here with many single digits and several nights below zero plus a ton of snow. Fortunately, electricity is cheap here compared to east coast I guess. The winter rates are about half of the summer when you heat with electricity (ie. exceed a base amount of kw). The 4720 worked out to about 4.2 cents per kW with a $36 coal transportation fuel surcharge, and $14 in taxes. I would recommend checking out your heat pump charge and settings like others have recommended. I suspect your auxillary strips must be running too much. You probably have 2 strips (I have a 10kw and 5kw) and they can be set in stages (ie. 5, 10 or 15) to only give you what you need with the right kind of tstat. They wired mine to both come on together but I would probably get a multistage tsat and change it if I didn't have the wood boiler. Your kW useage definitely sounds high compared to mine for those temps. Note at what outside temp that your tstat shows Aux heat. Our heat pump runs almost constantly in zero degree weather but is able to maintain a 70 setting. I know the strips are setup to kick in to assist if it struggles to maintain the temp or when it goes into periodic defrost mode. You don't want to use a programmable thermostat for these however. They recommend leaving tsat at one setting all day unless you are out of town. If you turn it down and turn it back up when you get home, it will immediately go to Auxillary heat if the room temp is more than about 4-5 degrees from the set temp. The electric backup ones are better than the propane/gas backup versions because those shut off the heat pump around 25-30* and let the gas to all the work.

    I will probably have close to 12 grand into my boiler setup when I am done (EKO 40, 1000gal storage (pending), 330' (one way) foamed pex between boiler in pole barn and shed). The same time period for this winter was $160 (2600kw) but we still have an 80gal DHW heater and on some of the warmer days I just let the heat pump take over since I knew I didn't have enough good wood. The heat pump would also kick on for an hour or two each morning when the boiler died out. When I cut in the 1000 gal storage, I should be able to eliminate the heat pump running except when we go on vacation. In addition, I plan to add at least a sidearm to the DHW heater. I know the cheap electric rates here may come to a screeching halt very soon and not being dependent solely on the power grid for heat and DHW is worth something as well. I'm also looking into adding staple up radiant and a battery backup setup down the road as well to avoid having to run a generator constantly to power the air handler blower if we lose power due to weather, rolling blackouts, etc.
  22. PV2U

    PV2U New Member

    Joined:
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    Loc:
    Richmond, VA
    Wow! You guys have a lot of good ideas, and I certainly appreciate you sending them my way!

    The Rant:
    I would seriously love to have a wood gasification boiler, and would love to have an excuse to install one - regardless of how this whole deal with my outrageous electric bill goes. As someone mentioned above, my dang air conditioning bill is @#$!% nuts too, so a boiler unit wouldn't be a panacea, but honestly guys, I'm so sick of passing coin to the utility that I'd rather give two pennies to Garn, Eko, Tarm, insert manufacturer-of-choice-here than give one to the grid. Gravy, I'm so sick of being shackled to the grid that I can't hardly stand it. As I said in an earlier post, I don't mind paying for the electric I use, but the $120 of addition fees/taxes on my bill is, to me, unconscionable. It is inhumane! And, if I want electricity I have no CHOICE but to pay it. There was an "Energy Choice" program that was highly touted as a triumph (deregulation) for the common man to be able to pick his power company, and I was eagerly awaiting that. Thing is, when it was supposed to debut, it was nowhere to be seen. All that hype, all that advertising led to an absolute dead end. I was frustrated beyond measure. Oh, by the way, there IS an energy choice program, but you have to use over a million kWh/yr to qualify. someone certainly has a sense of humor. Okay, enough grousing about the power company I reckon. I would delight to go on for hours about the evils of "the system", but I'll spare you all AND forestall the onset of early carpal tunnel by a few years in one fell swoop of self-denial! hehe!

    In Summary:
    Based on everyone's comments, here's what I'm thinking about doing. I have started calling around about energy audits, to include the fan test and the infrared video. I can get one minus the infrared heat detection for $250, but the guy with the high tech gear thermal imager wants $400. I'm going to prolly go with the $400 because I've been hosing around with this stuff for years and I just want to get the big picture once and for all. I am also intrigued by the whole electricity "leaking to ground" theory, so most likely I'll get someone out here to check that out too. Hopefully the thermal imaging will give me the scoop on what to do about the insulation in the attic and elsewhere. If the energy audit doesn't come up with something obvious, I'm going to have the heat pump checked out again and make sure that everything is humming a precision tune on that front. Basically, the plan is to hound this issue until I get a resolution - and, again, I appreciate you guys providing me with a road map for doing so.

    I will update this thread with my progress - and man, I really hope it's something that I can just fix once I find out what it is!!!
  23. RobC

    RobC Minister of Fire

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    The idea with the TED meter is, for short money you can see what is causing your meter to spin. Then you can address the causes. We have a well insulated home that passed the blower door test and was energy star certified. Until I got the TED I was getting $250 to $450 per month electric bills. Now they are $140 to $240.
    I agree that an energy audit would be a good idea especially the inferred video.
    However that isn't going to tell you that the 6 recessed halogen ceiling lights in the kitchen that are on for 4+ hours a day are killing you. Solution is to use a dimmer and only emit the light you need. My HVAC fan got a new thermostat that has a CYCLE program so you get some circulation, 20 minutes per hour, without being either turned to AUTO or RUN. We use CYCLE on on extreme hot or cold days and AUTO the rest of the time. During the shoulder season we just turn it OFF after the house warms up in the AM and when we go to bed at PM.
    I also change my fan speed setting in the HVAC to a lower setting. I dropped my well pump cut out pressure about 10 PSI and never noticed the pressure drop.
    In my case I cut my bill by seeing what was chewing the juice and worked on a solution. The results were dramatic.
    I have a separate meter for my shop. Constantly had an $80/ month minimum electric bill. Had a 3 gallon hot water for hand washing. That got replaced with an instant hot water unit. That bill is $40/ month now.
    I don't think of our family a being wasteful or negligent. We turn off lights when not in rooms, water when we brush teeth etc. You can get all the energy audits in the world and I doubt they would suggest lowering your blower motor speed or dropping your well pressure.
  24. Willman

    Willman Minister of Fire

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    All the fiberglass insulation will not stop infiltration and the resultant ex filtration, all it will do is filter it. Infiltration is responsible for 40ish% of heat loss or heat gain in the summer in cooling climates. Blower door test over ir camera. An ir scan will point out areas that have no insulation or poorly installed insulation. This will require demo and redo. Infiltration is cured rather inexpensively. Get a case of can foam and go.

    A cheap way to check power if you have the time is to use your meter outside. Turn breakers off and write down your numbers. If all breakers are off meter should not spin. Turn on your highest wattage breakers one at a time and check the numbers after 5 minutes, write em down. You can get an idea which circuit is using the most and check out that circuit. An old refrigerator will draw more than a new one.
    Will
  25. heaterman

    heaterman Minister of Fire

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    Falmouth, Michigan
    Any way you can compare your KW usage from 5 years ago vs current? I'm wondering if there will be a noticeable increase in power consumption. This might give a clue as to whether you are experiencing a decrease in performance of your HP.
    I've installed a few but they are pretty rare in Northern Michigan due to the amount of time spent below minimum operating temps.....Enough to know that the refrigerant charge is critical and a good refrigeration tech is worth his weight in gold.
    What brand is the unit? Single stage or two stage compressor?

    If I were your tech, the first thing I would do would be to inspect the bottom of the refrigerant coil in the air handler. Those fine fins can catch a lot of dust very quickly and if they are dirty can really degrade performance. When you are heating, or cooling for that matter with air, air flow is everything. Once I was certain that there were no restrictions anywhere in the duct system or the equipment itself (inside or on the outdoor unit) I would check to see that the back up strip heaters are coming on at the appropriate temperature. There will be a setpoint either on the equipment or the thermostat that determines the outdoor temp the elements kick on. (some do this based on length of cycle)
    After that, hooking up the gauges would come next to determine if the charge is correct, if the TXV (thermostatic expansion valve) is working properly and if the compressor(s) are working up to snuff.
    If that exploration discovers that everything is functioning normally, it would be prudent to look at specs on new equipment vs the COP on yours to determine whether upgrading would help you out.
    After that of course comes building envelope study to see if where improvements could be made.
    As others have said, air to air heat pumps deliver pretty marginal performance below 35-40* outdoor temps when in the heating mode.
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