March 8, 2021
How Energy Efficient Are Heat Pumps?
Heat pumps were for a long time considered an inferior alternative to other home heating and cooling solutions with the exception of some specific scenarios. Both the reality and perception have started to change, however. In fact, heat pump installations are on the rise not just in Jacksonville but throughout the country and even around the world. There are a number of reasons for this trend, including the advancement of existing technologies, the introduction of new technologies, and various government-funded incentives that have made heat pumps more appealing. With these developments in mind, let us explore how energy-efficient heat pumps actually are compared to your other options.
What Is a Heat Pump?
A heat pump can both cool and heat, which is one of the major characteristics differentiating it from a furnace, which can only provide heat, and from an air conditioner, which can only cool air. It is worth noting that you do not necessarily need to use a heat pump to both heat and cool, and we will get to why that is significant in a few moments. Heat pumps work by moving air from one space to another. During winter, your heat pump can move heat from the outside into the home, and during summer, it can move the heat in the home to the outside, which provides a cooling effect.
Advantages of Heat Pumps
If a particular heat pump is suitable for the climate in which it is installed, then it will be more energy-efficient and offer lower running costs. Heat pumps tend to require less maintenance than their alternatives. They are safer as opposed to combustion-based systems. Heat pumps have lower carbon emissions and thus have more incentives available for them, and they have longer expected lifespans with proper maintenance, which can make them the better investment over the long-term.
Disadvantages of Heat Pumps
Heat pumps generally have a higher upfront cost both in terms of the equipment and the labor involved. There can be additional costs as well if transitioning from a different type of system. While the lower operational costs can offset these initial costs, that might take the life of the unit. The average heat pump is not well suited to very low temperatures. You need to identify the ideal Seasonal Performance Factor—or SPF—for your climate. While there are enhanced heat pumps that can operate in the coldest climates North America has to offer, there are additional costs to consider for these upgrades.
Heat Pump Versus Furnace and Air Conditioner
The biggest difference between a heat pump and a furnace is that the furnace generates heat while the heat pump transfers it. A heat pump is more similar to an air conditioner. It still works by transferring heat from one area to another, but it also has refrigerants like an AC and actually cools. If your climate is ideal for a particular heat pump, it will be superior. After all, it is more energy-efficient, requires less space and is cheaper to maintain. Heat pumps do tend to be a bit noisier, but if this is an issue, that additional noise can be dampened. Furnaces will be better in colder environments. Air conditioners will be better in hotter environments. Earlier we mentioned that heat pumps can be used for a single purpose. This is significant in Florida where heat pumps are often used to deal with the mild winters but central air conditioning systems are preferred to deal with the sweltering summer months.
Types of Heat Pumps
There are three core types of heat pumps, and which one will be more energy-efficient for you will depend on the specific usage. The most common type of heat pump is the one we have been discussing. Air-source heat pumps transfer heat from inside the home to the outside. Compared to a furnace, these can reduce energy consumption by as much as 50%. These heat pumps are also available in mini-split configurations that do not require a duct system. Ground-source and water-source geothermal heat pumps are a newer technology that can achieve even greater efficiencies but at a higher initial cost. The newest technology is the absorption heat pump. These heat pumps are quite similar to traditional air-source heat pumps but run not on electricity but natural gas and other fuel sources.
The Modern Heat Pump Has Come a Long Way
As mentioned in the introduction, heat pumps were long considered less efficient except in climates where both the summer and winter were mild. However, several key innovations have changed this. Two-speed compressors allow heat pumps to achieve heating and cooling capacity on demand. That not only makes them more energy efficient but allows them to operate in colder and warmer conditions. Dual- and variable-speed blowers have also increased energy efficiency while minimizing noise. Desuperheaters have allowed for high-efficiency heat pumps, and scroll compressors have lowered noise, extended lifespan and allowed for the speedier transfer of air.
Two primary energy-efficiency ratings are used to rate heat pumps: SEER and HSPF. The Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio is a measure for cooling systems that reflects how much energy it costs to achieve similar cooling. Air conditioners are rated with SEER too, which makes it easy to compare a heat pump to an AC in terms of cooling. Note that if you are looking at ductless systems, they will likely be rated with EER, which stands for Energy Efficient Ratio. Things are trickier with heating. Furnaces and boilers are rated with AFUE. Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency reflects total heat output divided by total fuel energy. Heat pumps are rated with the Heat Seasonal Performance Factor, which is essentially the equivalent of SEER for heat and cannot be compared to AFUE directly.
Replacing Old Heat Pumps
Advancements in heat pumps have been significant in the last decade. Just five years ago, HSPF maxed out at 10 whereas 13 is now commonplace. If you have an older heat pump, it is recommended to be aggressive about replacing it because the short-term savings can be significant.
Extending Heat Pump Lifespan With Regular Maintenance
While heat pumps require less maintenance than furnaces, the importance of regular maintenance cannot be overstated. Firstly, most manufacturer warranties require it less you void the protection. Secondly, it will help maximize the lifespan of your system, and thirdly, seasonal maintenance ensures that your utility bills do not increase over time.
Your Local Heat Pump Experts in Jacksonville
Buehler Air Conditioning is a heating and cooling company that has served Jacksonville and the neighboring communities for more than a decade. We are a BBB-accredited company with an A+ rating that is certified by the EPA and offers NATE-certified cooling and heating experts. If you need to replace a heat pump or are considering transitioning to one, we can help you make the best choice for your home. You can also count on us for the installation, maintenance and repair of all types of heating equipment, cooling solutions and indoor air quality systems.
Call us today or contact us online to learn more about how we can serve you.Read Previous Article Read Next Article