Heat Pump Install Day – A Story in Photos

It’s been about a month and a half of the house’s primary heat being “mostly dead”, to quote a line from Princess Bride. I’ve been Fendersmith for the house all this time, making sure the pellet stove is cleaned, filled, and running. I do thank God up front here that the weather has been fairly mild, with only a few nights of freezing temperatures.

If you’re just tuning in, the previous two posts go through system research and selection. But for now…

The system is up and running now, and today brought a final few adjustments to ‘marry’ the sophisticated indoor and outdoor units fully together. Once that’s complete, the system will be working even better than it is now. But even so, it’s now working better than the old system ever did. For once, our home office (which has a big window) is comfortable. And is it my imagination, or did I wake up this morning with clearer sinuses…

But let’s get to our story in photos. Always start with the ‘Before’. So I grabbed the point-and-click, and made a few pictures. Here’s the old outdoor unit (the heat pump), the one that failed spectacularly and started all this stuff in motion:

Our old Heat Pump

And the indoor unit, known as an air handler:

The old air handler, now with nothing to do

I turned around and Ray showed up, right on time:

Right on time!

The first thing to do is decommission the old unit, by removing the old refrigerant. The refrigerant can and will be recycled, as this ozone-unfriendly stuff is now like liquid gold. Here’s the vacuum pump, hard at work removing the old refrigerant and pumping it into a pressure vessel. These vessels are color-coded for the type of refrigerant they contain. The system will be evacuated until it reaches a hard vacuum, ensuring that all the old refrigerant has been removed:

Meanwhile, as the system is evacuated, the old air handler is opened up, power and control cables are disconnected, and any truly rare but still working pieces are saved for the shop’s spares bin.

Meanwhile, Corbin and Travis have arrived with all the shiny-new (and expensive) stuff:

And no, I didn’t offer to help unload. This is their install, they don’t need me in the way. Besides, this stuff is HEAVY. And big.

And inside, we’re about to say ‘goodbye’ to the old ‘stat. This has been the ‘face’ of our heat pump system for 24 years – well, not this one, it’s only about 8 years old, but is the same type as the original. Sorry for the grainy shot; the flash seems to have quit for good on the Olympus point-and-click:

Meanwhile, the system’s been evacuated of all the old refrigerant, so the guys can just go to work with cutting tools. In this photo, they’re removing the old heat pump outside, and Ray is finishing up the last details so that the air handler can be removed. You can see that it’s been severed from the ductwork and is pretty much ready to come out:

Meanwhile, the fellas have found that the original concrete pad is HEAVY!! We poured that when we poured the steps outside that door. The thing is about 8″ thick and has re-bar in it. And it took all three guys to get it out.

So here’s a shot showing the new, sitting next to the old. The fellas are cleaning up after the removal and will come for the new pieces shortly:

Here’s the point where stuff starts to go back in. The new heat pump is missing from the above shot because the fellas are yarding it around and setting it into place. More heavy stuff on the move where it’s best if I stay way out of the way.

However, once it’s been set, Ray now is setting up the heat pump’s electronics to match it to the air handler:

And the air handler has been set and is being bolted into place. Now we start hooking stuff up…

Brand-new refrigerant lines are run; fortunately we were able to use the old plumbing chase from the original install. That made it so that we didn’t have to go drilling holes in either my garage floor or in the walls.

Two guys are getting the air handler set up. Corbin’s working on the refrigerant side, and Travis is at the brake doing some nice artwork in sheet metal.

Just like plumbing: “find the two ends and make them meet…”

And just because it looks cool (and I have to try to show that I can do fair industrial photography, even with a little dinky camera), here’s a shot of doing soldering:

Tough to get a good one, with everything in constant motion.

And after Corbin’s done with the soldering, Travis is making sheet metal meet sheet metal:

So as part of the certified install, the house’s ductwork has to have an air leakage test. It involves putting a blower on the door to draw a slight vacuum on the house:

And then drawing a vacuum on the ductwork itself:

We passed. The 24-year-old ductwork, while not perfect, isn’t going to require a This Old House type of expensive makeover.


Now that the fellas are done with sheet metal and soldering the refrigerant lines, the vacuum pump is placed on the new heat pump to draw a vacuum on the system and test its integrity. Meanwhile, electrical work on the air handler commences. The mains and the control circuits are hooked up:

Corbin and Travis have loaded the old stuff and refuse from the install into the truck (they did a great job cleaning up after themselves); so now it’s just Ray, who’s beginning to charge the system – putting refrigerant into it – and making everything ready for first turn-on. Note that the refrigerant canister is a specific color, denoting the use of the more environmentally-friendly product.

Meanwhile, the new air handler’s ready for duty:

After turn-on, Ray charged the system to its proper working pressures, and everything looks GREAT. The system is incredibly quiet; standing here making a photo of the (running) outdoor unit, I really can’t hear it.

And this is the new “face” of our system:

We really don’t feel the need to heat our house very warm; and now we have even less need for higher temperatures. I am amazed at the comfort from room-to-room. You really don’t know that the system is running – there are no cold drafts, no racket from the heat pump itself, no rumble in the house.

Wow, a long day, doing a really expensive retrofit (it rivals the roof for expense). Time for an adult beverage.

I thank God that all went well, nobody was hurt, and we have a warm house again.

Hope you enjoyed riding along.


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