A heat pump is a dual-purpose home heating system that cools in summer and warms in winter. It uses energy efficiency to move heat from one place to another, reducing fossil fuel use in the process. Like a central air conditioner, it has an outdoor unit with aluminum fins and coils that release or collect heat, and an indoor unit that blows warm or cool air through ductwork throughout the house. Some models include a ductless option, ideal for homes with no ductwork or for those who don’t want to pay for a full duct installation.
Like traditional furnaces, modern heat pumps run on electricity. But unlike gas or oil burners, they extract heat from the ground or air, so they have a smaller carbon footprint. And they can be combined with solar panels or other renewables to make your home even more sustainable.
Heat pumps also require good insulation and air sealing to perform well, especially in colder climates. Because they don’t blast hot or cool air into the house for short periods as furnaces do, they can save a lot of energy by keeping your home at a steady temperature all day long. However, you will need to keep a backup heater handy for those rare very cold days.
The best heat pumps have a variable-speed compressor, which allows them to deliver only as much heating or cooling as you need at any given time. This helps to keep the temperature and relative humidity in your home stable, so it’s more comfortable. They also have a higher COP than single-speed units, so they are more efficient.
In the US, the performance of a Heat Pump is rated with either its EER or SEER rating, in British thermal units per hour (Btu/hr.). The COP is calculated by dividing the total amount of electrical energy used by the output of the working fluid.
Some manufacturers rate the noise level of their models with a decibel scale. Read the labels carefully to find a model that fits your lifestyle and noise tolerance.
If you live in a very cold area, look for models that are rated to work to their full capacity down to 5 deg F and lower. They may require a simple electrical-resistance back-up system to keep them running during these conditions.
If you’re considering a heat pump, ask friends and neighbors who they’ve used and for referrals. Then, get price quotes from several contractors. Look for a contractor with experience with these systems and who is familiar with assessing your home’s insulation, air sealing, and duct system. You can also seek advice from green-energy resource groups, which often know of contractors who install these systems in your area. In some cases, these organizations can help you get a rebate if you install a heat pump. They’re a great way to offset the initial investment and reduce your energy costs.