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December 04, 2023

What is a heat pump and why are they so popular?

Installing heat pump on a home.

Summary: Heat pumps are a super easy way to combine heat and cooling in 1 device. They have great tax incentives and will save you money on your heating and cooling bills. They have been used in Europe for years and are finally coming to the US.

Air-source heat pumps have become a popular choice for homeowners looking for an energy-efficient way to heat and cool their homes. Unlike traditional furnaces and air conditioners that generate heat, air-source heat pumps work by transferring heat between your home and the outside air.

How Do Heat Pumps Work?

Heat pumps operate on the same principles as your refrigerator. During the colder months, these heat pumps extract heat from the outdoor air and move it inside your home. You might wonder, “Is there still heat in the air when it’s cold out?” The answer is yes! Even in cold air, there is some heat present, and advanced air-source heat pumps are designed to extract this heat efficiently. In the summer, the process is reversed: the heat pump takes the warm air from inside your home and transfers it outside. This dual functionality makes air-source heat pumps a versatile and efficient option for year-round comfort.

How Efficient are Heat Pumps?

Heat pumps are significantly more efficient than other sources of heating. Transferring existing heat requires significantly less energy than creating heat. Furnaces that consume fuel, whether that fuel is gas, oil, or propane, must create heat. The efficiency of a heat pump can be several times higher than that of traditional heating sources. 

The efficiency of a heat pump is measured by the Coefficient of Performance (COP). The COP is the ratio of the amount of heating or cooling provided to the amount of electrical energy consumed. For heat pumps, the COP typically ranges between 3 and 5, meaning that for every unit of energy consumed, three to five units of heat are produced. In contrast, traditional electric heaters have a COP of around 1, as they convert all the electrical energy they use directly into heat.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Air-Source Heat Pumps

Heat Pump Advantages

  • Energy Efficiency: Air-source heat pumps stand out for their energy efficiency. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, these heat pumps can reduce your electricity use for heating by approximately 50% when compared to electric resistance heating methods like furnaces and baseboard heaters.
  • Dual Functionality: The ability to both heat and cool your home with a single system adds to the appeal of air-source heat pumps. This eliminates the need for separate heating and cooling systems, simplifying your home’s HVAC setup.
  • Improved Air Quality: High-efficiency air-source heat pumps often come with advanced features that can improve indoor air quality. They dehumidify better than standard central air conditioners, making your home more comfortable, especially during humid summer months.
  • Significant incentives: The Inflation Reduction Act offers substantial financial incentives for homeowners who opt for air-source heat pumps. The High-Efficiency Electric Home Rebate Act (HEEHRA), part of the Inflation Reduction Act, provides point-of-sale rebates on any heat pump for home heating and cooling up to $8,000 for low to moderate income households. The amount of each rebate depends on your household income and the heat pump you choose. For households with income 80% below the area’s median, the rebate covers 100% of the new heat pump cost up to $8,000. For those with household incomes between 81-150% of the area’s median, the rebate covers up to 50% of the heat pump’s cost. There is a $2,000 incentive for homeowners that do not meet the income requirements.

Heat Pump Disadvantages

  • Climate Sensitivity: While air-source heat pumps are effective in most climates, their efficiency can decrease in areas with extended periods of subfreezing temperatures. However, technological advancements are making them increasingly viable in colder regions.
  • Initial Costs: The upfront cost for an air-source heat pump can be higher than that of a traditional furnace or air conditioner. The long-term energy savings often justify this initial investment. Additionally, federal, state, and local incentives exist to offset some of these costs, like the Inflation Reduction Act mentioned above.
  • Maintenance: Like any mechanical system, air-source heat pumps require regular maintenance to operate at peak efficiency. Neglecting this can lead to decreased performance and higher energy costs over time.

Conclusion

Air-source heat pumps offer a versatile, energy-efficient, and increasingly cost-effective solution for heating and cooling your home. While they do have some limitations, the benefits often outweigh the drawbacks, making them a smart choice for many homeowners. If you’re considering an upgrade to your home’s heating and cooling system, an air-source heat pump could be the energy-efficient solution you’ve been searching for. 

 

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