By Sandy Long, Chaffee County chapter leader
I’ve heard about heat pumps for several years now but I confess, I haven’t really understood them. I think they might need a better name. It turns out they can also cool buildings. I always thought they required digging deep into the ground but that is only a certain type called ground source heat pumps. The most popular heat pump is an air source heat pump which has an outdoor unit that looks a lot like an air conditioner.
In an ideal world, I really don’t need to know about heat pumps. When my heater goes out, I call my HVAC person and they tell me about a new system that is 40% more efficient and can save me money each month. They tell me that it will run on electricity. (Fortunately, I live in Colorado and 70%-80% of our electricity will be from renewable sources in 2030.) The system will require a unit outside and cost a little more but there are rebates to lower the upfront cost. For those that already have an air conditioner, the heat pump can replace both the furnace and the air conditioner so you would only need one unit outside.
Since we don’t live in an ideal world, here’s some basic information about heat pumps so you can transition to a heat pump and urge others as well.
What is a heat pump?
Heat pumps are a very efficient way to heat (or cool) homes and buildings. They run on electricity, reducing the use of fossil fuels (propane, natural gas, oil) to heat our homes. They are very similar to an air conditioner. Heat pumps exchange heat between the outdoors and indoors. In winter, they draw heat indoors from the air or ground, even when it’s cold outdoors. In summer, they can cool a building by just pumping the heat out. They always have an outside unit and one or more inside units. Ground source heat pumps are a little different since they draw heat from the ground. https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/heat-pump-systems
Types of heat pumps
Air Source Ducted – If you have a forced air furnace with ducts, you can use the ducted air source heat pump. This will involve replacing your indoor unit and adding an outdoor unit. Check out this short video for an example of a ducted heat pump installation. Mitsubishi Ducted Heat Pump System - YouTube
Mini-Split (Ductless) – If you don’t have ducts or can’t use your existing ducts, you can install a Mini-Split, or Ductless, heat pump. This will involve adding indoor units. These indoor units can be wall mounted or floor mounted. The outdoor unit can work with more than one indoor unit. Check out this short video for an example of a mini-split setup. How It Works - YouTube
Air to water heat pumps: This is a type of air source heat pump that heats water instead of air. Air to water heat pumps will work if you have in-floor radiant heating. However, if you have hot water baseboard heat, current heat pumps do not support the high temperatures required. Here’s some information on radiant floor heating with a heat pump. Radiant Floor Heating with Heat Pump | Arctic Heat Pumps You can also add solar water heating but this does make a very complex system. Air Source Heat Pump and solar water heating combined (arcticheatpumps.com)
Heat pump water heaters: You could replace your water heater with a heat pump water heater, save on your monthly utility bills and reduce your carbon footprint. Here are some good articles to learn more. Everything You Need To Know About Heat Pump Water Heaters – Forbes Home How To Find The Best Hybrid Heat Pump Water Heater — July 2022 (carbonswitch.com) Heat pump water heaters were originally powered with 240V but newer models use 120V so you won’t need to run a new 240V electric line.
Ground source heat pumps: These heat pumps are also called Geothermal heat pumps. They transfer heat between the air inside and the ground outside. They are more expensive and require trenches. Geothermal Heat Pumps | Department of Energy
Heat pump costs
There are a lot of factors that affect how much a heat pump will cost – home size, ducted or not, number of zones, location, etc. The average cost is around $14,000. Colorado costs are higher than average at $9.64 per square foot. Heat Pumps Costs — Here’s How Much Homeowners Are Paying in 2022 (carbonswitch.com)
Once you get a heat pump, you will save on daily/monthly costs. You’ll save almost $2 a day over natural gas sources and close to $7 a day over propane sources.
Electric heat pumps are by far the cheapest source of home heating this winter, according to Rewiring America analysts. (Courtesy of Rewiring America)
If household income is lower than 80% of the Area Median Income, you get a 100% rebate up to $8,000.
If household income is between 80% to 150% of the Area Median Income, you get a 50% rebate up to $8,000.
If household income is above 150% of the Area Median Income, you get a 30% tax credit up to $2,000.
Find the Median Income in your area - Area Median Income Lookup Tool (fanniemae.com) For example, Denver’s Area Median Income is $117,800 so a household earning less than $94,240 would be eligible for a 100% rebate up to $8,000.
Cold climate heat pumps
The DOE (Department of Energy) has sponsored a Residential Cold Climate Heat Pump Technology Challenge for companies to develop a next-generation electric heat pump that can more effectively heat homes in northern climates relative to today’s models.
“Lennox International, headquartered in Richardson, Texas, developed the first prototype that achieved the Technology Challenge’s standards about a year ahead of schedule. The prototype delivers 100% heating at 5°F at double the efficiency, and 70% to 80% heating at -5°F and -10°F. ” DOE Announces Breakthrough in Residential Cold Climate Heat Pump Technology | Department of Energy
“Carrier will soon begin field tests for a prototype air-source heat pump for cold climates. It is designed to provide high-efficiency heating performance in harsh climates with temperatures equal or below negative 29 degrees Celsius, while being grid-interactive. The US-based heating tech specialist expects to commercialize the solution by 2024.” Air-source heat pump for harsh, cold climates – pv magazine International (pv-magazine.com)
Challenges to heat pump adoption
Heating systems can last from 15 to 20 years. They are typically replaced in emergency situations, where equipment needs to be readily available. Local contractors need to recommend the technology and be familiar with it. For mass adoption, heat pumps will need to be affordable with incentives that are easy to obtain. Source: https://thehill.com/changing-america/sustainability/energy/3658706-are-heat-pumps-the-key-to-accelerating-the-energy-transition/
Bottom Line: Why get a heat pump
The best reason to get a heat pump is to save money on your monthly utility bills. Propane and natural gas prices have historically been unstable and have recently increased significantly. Transitioning from propane and natural gas will reduce your carbon footprint, especially as our electricity grid gets cleaner. Recent advancements in technology will address concerns about operations in colder climates. A heat pump can also provide cooling in warmer months which is beneficial as many folks in Colorado don’t currently have air conditioning but will need it. Finally, you should get a heat pump and take advantage of new federal and state financial incentives.