You can install the greatest HVAC system ever built, but if your house is not insulated well, it's only going to end up costing you more money. Older homes may have fiberglass insulation that has broken down due to pests, moisture, or improper installation. Spray foam insulation can be damaged by careless repair or modification work or can be improperly installed. If your insulation in compromised, your attempts to save money and be comfortable will be in vain.
PickHVAC Tips: First, see the PickHVAC tip above about sizing a central air conditioner. It applies to heat pumps just as much. Secondly, Even if the line set for the new heat pump is the correct size, we recommend replacing the set or at least the fittings. Old lines and fittings are a major source of leaks. When refrigerant leaks out, the heat pump efficiency suffers. Eventually, the unit stops providing heating and air conditioning, and it might break down.
The performance of vapor compression refrigeration cycles is limited by thermodynamics. These air conditioning and heat pump devices move heat rather than convert it from one form to another, so thermal efficiencies do not appropriately describe the performance of these devices. The Coefficient-of-Performance (COP) measures performance, but this dimensionless measure has not been adopted. Instead, the Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) has traditionally been used to characterize the performance of many HVAC systems. EER is the Energy Efficiency Ratio based on a 35 °C (95 °F) outdoor temperature. To more accurately describe the performance of air conditioning equipment over a typical cooling season a modified version of the EER, the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER), or in Europe the ESEER, is used. SEER ratings are based on seasonal temperature averages instead of a constant 35 °C (95 °F) outdoor temperature. The current industry minimum SEER rating is 14 SEER.[dead link]
Free cooling systems can have very high efficiencies, and are sometimes combined with seasonal thermal energy storage so that the cold of winter can be used for summer air conditioning. Common storage mediums are deep aquifers or a natural underground rock mass accessed via a cluster of small-diameter, heat-exchanger-equipped boreholes. Some systems with small storages are hybrids, using free cooling early in the cooling season, and later employing a heat pump to chill the circulation coming from the storage. The heat pump is added-in because the storage acts as a heat sink when the system is in cooling (as opposed to charging) mode, causing the temperature to gradually increase during the cooling season.