Heat Pump Basics: Everything You Need To Know

The energy-efficient alternative to traditional heating and cooling systems.

By
Kimberly Hutchings
on
January 24, 2023
Category:
Smart Home
Tags:

One of the most important considerations we take when it comes to keeping our homes comfortable is temperature. But when we think of heating and cooling our homes, for most of us, traditional systems like gas furnaces and air conditioning units are what come first to mind.

What if we told you, though, that a more energy-efficient alternative can do both while also saving you money on your utility bill?

Enter heat pumps — read on for everything you need to know!

What Is A Heat Pump?

So, first things first. What exactly is a heat pump anyways, and how does it work?

In simple terms, a heat pump is a dual heating and cooling system that uses low amounts of energy to regulate the temperature of a building. It transfers heat from one area to another, either through the air or the ground.

Air-source heat pumps, which are the most common, operate by transferring heat within the air of a home to the outdoors and vice versa. In contrast, ground-source heat pumps harness geothermal energy, transferring heat between the air inside a building and the ground outside.

Generally, if you understand how traditional air conditioning systems work, then you know how heat pumps work, as their functionality is essentially the same. But the critical difference lies in a heat pump's ability to heat a home as well. Unlike traditional heating systems like gas furnaces, they do so not by generating their own heat but by transferring already existing heat from one location to another. This means you only need to install one set-up in your home instead of two separate HVAC systems!

On average, ground-source heat pumps are the more efficient option, especially if you live in a colder climate. However, the downside is that they come with a pretty hefty price tag — typically nearly double or more than an air-source heat pump installation. This price difference is primarily due to the additional technical knowledge and equipment involved in installing these geothermal systems and can be a considerable barrier in many homes pursuing this option.

If you live in a more moderate climate, though, an air-source heat pump system can be just as, if not more, efficient for your home — but more on that later.

What Are The Benefits of A Heat Pump?

Now that we understand the basics of a heat pump, let's get to the good stuff. What are the perks? Well, the good news is there are quite a few of them.

They’re energy efficient and will save you money

To begin with, both air-source and ground-source heat pump systems are known for their energy efficiency. This can mean some significant savings on your monthly energy bills. In fact, according to the Department of Energy, air-source heat pumps can result in savings of nearly $1000 a year!

And for ground-source systems, this number is even higher, providing savings roughly 10-20% greater, depending on where your home is located.

Of course, a few factors come into play when determining your savings more accurately. So be sure to consider details like the size of your home, the climate where you live, your home's insulation, and current heating methods to paint a more complete picture. 

They’re better for the climate than traditional heating sources 

Then there's the climate impact. 7% of fossil fuel energy in the U.S. is used for home water and interior heating, and heat pumps offer an excellent way for all of us to reduce our usage. In truth, according to research from Harvard University, if heat pumps became the standard in the U.S. (instead of installing new central air-conditioning systems), we could have heat pumps in 44% of American homes by as early as 2032. And if this was the case? These homes could reduce "their fossil fuel use during the colder months by at least one-third." Talk about the power of community change!

They’re better for your family’s health

Heat pumps aren't just good for our planet, though. They can also have a positive effect on our health too! For example, suppose you're switching from fossil fuel-driven heating that relies on natural gas or propane sources. In that case, adopting an electricity-based heat pump system can help eliminate the risk of gas and carbon monoxide leaks in your home. This is a significant win, especially considering that the presence of natural gas indoors has been linked to an increase in cases of childhood asthma

But how do you know if a heat pump system is suitable for your home? There are a couple things to consider.

How To Know If A Heat Pump System Is Right For Your Home

We now know there are two main types of heat pump systems, air-source and ground-source heat pumps. And we've gone over the positive impacts for you and the planet. So now let's consider whether this type of heating and cooling system is right for your home and, if so, which option is the best investment.

Air-source heat pumps work best when temperatures range between 23°F to 77°F. Any colder than this, and the heat pump may not operate as efficiently, requiring extra energy to function, such as working in tandem with an alternative heating system. However, the plus side to air-source heat pumps is that they're typically simple and efficient to install. They're also easier to access for servicing needs as the units are located above the ground. Overall, this makes air-source systems largely more cost-effective, especially off the bat, and the preferred choice for moderate-climate regions. 

In comparison, ground-source heat pumps tend to be a more considerable investment. However, they are also often a significantly more efficient option on a year-round basis, as ground temperatures tend to fluctuate less than the air. In particular, this is true if you live in a climate where temperatures drop below 23°F during the winter. In addition, these heat pump systems are located underground, which protects them from some of the wear and tear that air-source systems can be subjected to. On the downside, though, this can mean higher costs when you need repairs, as digging underground may be involved to access the system.

Ultimately, choosing which system is right for you comes down to a personal preference and extended factors like location, finances and more. Consider investigating what approaches are most common in your area to get started!

Take Your Energy Saving One Step Further With OhmConnect

Ready to invest in a more efficient heating and cooling system for your home? Why not get rewarded for your energy efficiency at the same time?

OhmConnect is a program that rewards you for using less energy in your home. They'll alert you when electricity is most expensive and polluting in your area, allowing you to plan your power usage (like when to adjust your heating) and save. 

Plus, as a free member, OhmConnect will take the energy you save and sell it back to the grid, sharing the profits with you. That means money back in your wallet, simply for living a more eco-friendly lifestyle! Learn more and sign-up today by clicking here.

Kimberly Hutchings

Kimberly Hutchings is a writer, content creator, podcast host and occasional film photographer with a passion for working alongside business that are making a difference in the world. She holds a BA in Communications Studies & English Literature from Wilfrid Laurier University and a certificate in Graphic Design & Visual Communications from OCAD. Always keen to take up a new hobby, you’ll likely find her in her spare time tracking down a deal on her next getaway, scouring Pinterest for the latest cookie recipe, or quietly scribbling things down in her journal.

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