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, like which is the most efficient?
If you are considering using a heat pump or an electric heater in your property but you can’t decide which is best for your particular circumstances, we aim to help you make an informed decision.
Consider Your Local Climate Zone First
Before delving into the pros and cons of heat pumps and electrical heating, it’s worth being aware of the effect your local climate can have on the efficiency and running costs of heating systems.
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.
The situation is also very similar when using electricity to heat homes in colder climates too, as it’s generally more expensive than natural gas. The main reason for this is due to natural gas heating not taking as long to reach its maximum heat output and natural gas is often cheaper too.
How are Heat Pumps and Electric Heaters Different?
Air source heat pumps utilize a refrigerant to transfer heat from one location to another, while electric heating systems such as those that utilize a metal element must create the heat from scratch.
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 electrical energy to warm a metal element, they use the natural heat reservoir already present in the environment.
Heat Pumps Are Much More Efficient than Electric Heaters
Air source heat pumps are much more energy efficient than electrical 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.
On the other hand, electrical resistance heaters thermal output will be roughly equal to how much electricity is consumed. In addition, electrical heaters that rely on a heating element can take some time to reach their maximum heat output e.g. the point at which the element is the hottest and radiating the maximum amount of heat possible.
For this reason, a person that lives in moderate climate such as the south east states can expect to save a considerable amount of energy and money by trading their electrical heater for a heat pump.
Heat Pumps Heat & Cool Your Home
Although they are named “heat pumps” they can actually be used much like an air conditioner and so are ideal for use during warm weather. This 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 in the air outside into your home. In order to cool your home, this process is reversed e.g. 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 Improve Air Quality
If you have ever used an electric heater then you are probably aware of the strong smell they can emit after not being used in so long. Over time, dust, pollen, and other particulate matter can find its way onto your electric heaters elements. Once switched on, this mass of dust and dirt can result in a very unpleasant odor and this is not an issue faced by heat pump users.
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.
Heat Pump Disadvantages
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 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 zonal 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 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.