Electric heating has been in use for decades, while heat pump technology is a relatively new innovation in the heating and cooling industry. So, naturally many people are looking for answers to important questions about heat pumps and whether this type of HVAC system is a wise decision for their home.
If you are considering using a heat pump in your property, but you can’t decide if your individual situation warrants considering installing a heat pump system, we aim to help you make an informed decision. We will lay out what heat pump pros and cons are, and you can decide if a heat pump will work for you.
Let's Start with the Basics of Heat Pumps
Consider Your Local Climate Zone First
Before diving into the heat pump pros and cons it’s worth understanding the effect your local climate can have on the efficiency and running costs of a heat pump heating system.
If you live in a northern state or a climate that is generally colder, the chances are that standard heat pumps and electric heating systems are not the best choices. Instead, systems that rely on natural gas are typically better, in terms of cost, heat output, and often efficiency.
Although heat pump technology continues to advance in terms of efficiency and capacity, they are generally most suitable for more moderate climates where there is less demand for prolonged heating.
Similar to running a system that uses electricity to heat a home, in colder climates it’s generally more expensive than natural gas to run an electric heating system. This is due to natural gas heating not taking as long to reach its maximum heat output which in-turn uses less natural gas to run the system, and natural gas is often cheaper than traditional electric.
Heat Pump vs Furnace - What's the Difference?
Air source heat pumps utilize refrigerant lines to transfer heat from one location(usually outside your home) to another(usually inside your home), while gas furnaces burn fuel to generate heat.
For this reason, air source heat pumps are much more efficient as they use less electricity to produce a heating effect. This is because instead of relying on fuel energy, heat pumps use the natural heat reservoir already present in the environment.
Heat pumps are also able to cool your home in the warmer months which will keep you from purchasing an additional air conditioning system for your home.
Heat Pump vs Air Conditioner - What's the Difference
Since in our explanation of the difference between a heat pump vs furnace we informed you that, although the heat pump HVAC system is called a “heat pump”, it’s a somewhat misleading term. This is due to the fact that the system is also able to provide you will cool air during warmer months.
For this reason we are inclined to explain the difference between a heat pump vs a central air conditioning system.
Similar to the furnace which is only able to provide you with one type of air, hot air, a central air conditioner is only able to provide you with cool air. Central air conditioning systems are usually paired with furnaces to complete an HVAC system that looks similar to the heat pump heating system.
Central air conditioning systems and heat pump systems resemble each other due to the compressor that resides outside your home. Both units also use electric at some point of their process as well. The main difference between a heat pump vs air conditioner is that the heat pump is able to supply both cold and hot air, while the central air conditioner is only able to provide cold air.
Digging into Heat Pump Pros and Cons
Heat Pumps Are More Efficient than Furnace Heaters
Air source and geothermal heat pumps are more energy-efficient than furnace heating systems as the energy output is greater than the energy input. For example, the typical heat pump will produce 3kw of thermal energy output for every 1kw of electricity consumed.
Due to the fact that furnaces have to produce the heat that they are transferring to the spaces needing heat in your home, and the heat pump is just transferring heat from one location to another, the heat pump is a more energy-efficient heating system.
Heat Pumps Heat & Cool Your Home
Although they are named “heat pumps” they can actually be used much like an air conditioner and so they are ideal for use during warm weather. The ability for them to be used for both cooling and heating is perhaps one of their greatest advantages.
When heating your living space, heat pumps transfer heat from the air outside into your home. In order to cool your home, this process is reversed, heat from inside your home is transferred to the outside.
Heat pumps achieve this with the use of a condenser component (that mimics an evaporator), and a refrigerant (like R-4110A). The condenser can then be switched to apply different levels of pressure to the refrigerant, which in turn determines whether it is in cooling or heating mode.
For example, the condenser can then either place the refrigerant under high pressure resulting in condensation, which releases heat resulting in a warming effect. Or, alternatively, it can place the refrigerant under low pressure, resulting in evaporation, which absorbs heat and results in cooling.
Heat Pumps Reducing Global Warming
Believe it or not, but heat pumps are assisting in saving the world. Climate change and global warming are in the news almost daily. It’s a fact that the Earth’s temperature is getting warmer by the year.
Since heat pumps do not use gas, which when burned to heat a furnace release vapors which contribute to air pollution, and rely on very little electric energy to work, they are in fact assisting in reducing global warming.
In other words if the climate you reside allows you to install a heat pump as your HVAC system, you should take advantage of that fact, and do your part to stem global warming.
Heat Pumps are Safer
Unlike many electric heating systems, heat pumps do not rely on the heating up of a metallic element to radiate heat. Instead, they use a refrigerant gas to transfer the heat from one spot to another. For this reason, heat pumps are safer for homes and for use around pets and children.
Like almost every other type of heating and cooling system, heat pumps are not perfect and do have a number of disadvantages. As already noted, they are not able to handle extremes in temperature and so are not suitable for those that live in cold climates.
Backup Heating Required
Heat pumps will only operate at their maximum efficiency when they are within a certain temperature window. Typically, they begin to lose their efficiency to transfer heat when the outside temperatures drop below 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
As a result, a backup heating source is required should you face extremes in temperature. Although, having said that there are many modern heat pumps now equipped with heat strips, which can provide some additional heating.
Electric heating should always be the last resort for those looking to save. Yet, it’s always a good idea to have an electrical heating backup such as an energy efficient space heater. Although, they are by no means the cheapest devices to operate, for zone heating, they can be used responsibly.
Many heat pumps need to be installed, which can often be a task requiring a professional service. Typically, this involves both the internal and separate external unit being fitted to the walls and the pipework, and wiring being set up, which can often be more work than required to install an air conditioner.
Having said that, it would be unwise to ignore the long term benefits and savings that come with using a heat pump to heat and cool your property instead of standard AC.
Final Thoughts on Heat Pump Pros and Cons
We at HeatTalk are big fans of heat pumps, if you live in a climate suitable for using them year-round. Not only will you be benefitting your family’s well being in the short-run, but the long-term benefits for doing your part to keep climate change at bay is a reason to give a heat pump HVAC system a very deep consideration when looking to update your HVAC system.