There has been a lot of recent marketing and articles surrounding the transition from fossil-fuel burning space heating and cooling to heat pumps, but you may be wondering what the benefits are behind all the hype. Heat pumps have been around for almost 40 years, but unlike their predecessors, today’s heat pumps are quiet, reliable and operate in a much broader range of conditions. We’ve laid out some of the biggest reasons to make the switch, and some of the benefits you may not have been aware of. As Registered Energy Advisors, the Energy Werx team performs hundreds of home energy evaluations per week, giving us great insight on how the equipment performs, and what real homeowners have to say about making the switch to a heat pump. Whether you are considering installing an air conditioner in addition to your furnace, your current HVAC system is at the end of its lifespan, or you’re looking to reduce the environmental impact of your home, we’ll break down some of the best reasons to install a heat pump.
Reason #1 – They provide a better level of comfort
We’ve all heard stories about that neighbour or family friend who installed a heat pump, and when they needed it most in the middle of winter, it couldn’t keep up. Fortunately, this hasn’t been an issue in over a decade, and new cold-climate heat pump technology can maintain full output down to temperatures as low as -25C. In addition to being able to keep up on the coldest days of the year, heat pumps are better able to match the load for the rest of the year. They can achieve this through inverter driven compressors, which have the ability to ramp up and ramp down to give you the exact amount of heating or cooling you need at that moment. Traditional, single-stage furnaces only deliver a set output, regardless of what the house needs at that point in the day. This translates into inconsistent temperatures as the furnace kicks on and slightly overheats the house, before kicking out and letting the house get a point slightly below the desired temperature.
Another way heat pumps contribute to a better level of comfort is simply by the fact that you now have air conditioning in the summer. Heat pumps operate by transferring heat between outside and inside air. With a reversing valve, the heat pump can reverse the transfer of heat from the inside air to the outside. The ability to match the load mentioned earlier is especially crucial in the shoulder season months in green-grass climates, when there may not be a large differential in temperature, but humidity levels remain high. An air conditioner actually has two functions, first and foremost, removing heat, or what is known as the sensible load, but also removing moisture, or the latent load. Think of a humid summer day, when you feel uncomfortable and sticky, even though the temperature isn’t overly high. As the humidity level increases, it becomes increasingly difficult for our body to get rid of excess heat. Variable capacity heat pumps provide much longer run times, allowing much more air to pass over the cold condenser coils, in turn, providing better dehumidification and increased comfort. As air conditioning becomes more of a necessity than a luxury during the cooling season in many regions of the country, a heat pump is able to do double duty keeping you toasty in the winter, and cool and comfortable in the summer.
Reason #2 – They’ll save you money
One of the primary reasons we see homeowners switching to a heat pump is to reduce their heating costs. Today’s heat pumps are incredibly efficient, and usually operate 2-3x more efficiently than even a high-efficiency gas furnace. By transferring heat from one place to another, instead of creating it with a flame or through electric resistance, there can be significant cost savings realized. A typical furnace uses a roughly 1650 C flame to supply rough 51 C degree air. A heat pump is able to utilize much lower temperatures to achieve the same outcome, resulting in significantly lower energy usage. Although fossil fuels sources, such as natural gas, may be significantly cheaper than electricity, this considerable gap in efficiency brings operational costs to a much similar level, and can insulate you as a homeowner from potential gas cost increases associated with carbon taxation.
A big factor to consider in the energy usage of an aging furnace, is the power associated with the blower fan itself, responsible for pushing the air through your ductwork to where it needs to go. Much like the fixed output capacity discussed earlier, single stage air handlers end up pushing much more air than is often required and using excess power. Most new heat pumps are equipped with electrically commutated motors, more commonly known as ECM motors. By controlling the motor speed with a tiny microprocessor, substantial reductions in electrical usage are achieved.
Another common concern we hear is : “I heard that heat pumps are really expensive.” With the current government grants and rebates available such as the Canada Greener Homes Grant, it is often cheaper to install a heat pump, than to replace your aging furnace. An Energywerx Energy Advisor can walk you through the grants specific to your local area, and make sure you are maximizing the available funding when upgrading your mechanical systems.
Reason #3 – They are the environmentally friendly choice
By switching to a heat pump, you are reducing the single biggest source of operational carbon associated with your home. Electrifying your space conditioning equipment allows you to take advantage of Canada’s clean power grid and help lead the way in reducing our national greenhouse gas emission footprint. In 2019, buildings were the third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada, with oil and gas and transport being number one and two. Space and water heating made up three-quarters of that number in residential buildings. Put in the simplest form, heat pumps use significantly less energy than any other options on the market.
As building codes move towards the mandate of making every home, Net-Zero Energy Ready, or in layman’s terms, capable of producing as much power as they consume in a year, space heating and cooling systems become increasingly important when it comes to reducing your electrical usage. While it is crucial to start with a well designed building envelope, your HVAC system is the biggest single load generally associated with a residential home. By choosing the most efficient technology currently available, less input from renewable energy systems, such as solar panels is required. Climate change has transformed the world we live in and switching to a heat pump might be the single biggest impact we can have on our personal environmental footprints.
These are just a few of the reasons we commonly recommend considering the switch to a heat pump when we encounter homeowners looking to upgrade their mechanical equipment. Whether you are looking for optimized performance, or you’d like to make your home a little greener, there are countless benefits to heat pumps. Working with a reputable, experienced contractor is always recommended, to ensure the installation is done correctly, and the systems functions properly with regular maintenance for years to come. Heat pump technology is rapidly evolving and is becoming a reliable option for heating and cooling in an increasing number of climate zones every year. A friendly, knowledgeable Energywerx BC Energy Advisor can help walk you through the pros and cons of each system and how they relate to your home, as well as enable you to take full advantage of any applicable rebates currently being offered.