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  • Writer's pictureRed Nilsen

What is a Water Source Heat Pump?... And why many contractors avoid them...

A water source heat pump is a type of HVAC system that is far less common in residential HVAC applications than commercial. They use a water loop to remove the heat or cold from the individual units. This water loop is tied to a central system in the building which requires it's own maintenance and repairs.

In a residential setting these are most common in condo complexes such as high rises where there is limited roof space and you could not fit all the outdoor units for the space on the roof. Some high rises have 200-300+ individual units and there is no sensible way to get that many on the roof. There are also restrictions on vertical distance between outdoor units and air handlers which could not be maintained in a 20 story building.

Commercial buildings have more water source systems than residential due to the fact that there is likely one owner over a large building/facility and installing water source systems may be a more cost effective option than air source. We are going to focus more on residential in this article but many of the same factors apply to commercial.

Why Do Contractors Avoid Them?

If you are a homeowner and your water source heat pump breaks down, you may have trouble finding an HVAC contractor to work on it. We are located in San Diego and it is possible in some metro areas the HVAC industry has more businesses that are willing to do this type of work but having worked in both Arizona and California for several companies I can say in those two states most companies turn away this type of work. So what are their reasons for doing so? You are a paying customer and you are offering them money to come to your home, shouldn't they be willing to do so?

  1. Complexity of work. Big number one is that most companies prefer to keep things straightforward for their technicians. Water source heat pumps are oftentimes not something many technicians are familiar with. Rather than train their techs properly to work on this type of equipment many companies would rather turn away the work.

  2. Difficulty working with buildings. Many of the high rises in San Diego are extremely difficult for contractors to work with. Not only can it be difficult for a contractor to even be approved to work in the building, sometimes the buildings may try to place blame on a contractor for an issue that is central to the building.

  3. Commercial vs. Residential... Most companies with HVAC technicians that know how to work on water source heat pumps tend to be more commercial/industrial HVAC companies. Many of these companies WILL NOT ACCEPT residential customers outside of friends and family, and sometimes they will not even accept those clients either! The same is true to residential companies, some of them will turn away any commercial building. Due to water source heat pumps being somewhere "in between" residential and commercial the companies willing to service your equipment may be limited.

  4. Lead time. HVAC companies like to be in and out. Some water source heat pumps may be 2-3+ months out as many are custom order from the factory. This acts as a deterrent to companies that try to have fast turnaround time on their jobs.

  5. Increased liability. In many of the buildings that have water source heat pumps if you cause a leak with a water line the amount of damage you will cause is guaranteed to be in the six figures or more. The video below is the aftermath of a plumber that did not know how to work in high rises. This happened to a client of mine about five minutes after I left the unit. The plumber was uninsured and the homeowner had to pay for damage to several units below them, damage to the elevator, and tenant relocation as the space was not rentable for several months. Total damage was well into the six figures.

All these reasons add up and discourage contractors from touching the work at all. If you are a homeowner and you find yourself owning a water source heat pump and are struggling to find a contractor to repair it my recommended route is to ask your neighbors, the HOA, or the building maintenance who they recommend for service. Familiarity with your specific building may be advantageous to the company that comes out so if you can find a company who has already worked in it that tends to help all involved parties.

If you are in San Diego we can be your company for you water source heat pump repair, replacement, or maintenance. There are tons of buildings in and around downtown that have water source systems and we have worked in the majority of them. Give us a call if you have questions and if we can't help you we can point you to someone who can.

Surf Bros HVAC

619-673-5259 Call or Text

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