Are air source heat pumps right for you?
Last updated 3/6/2023
Air source heat pumps are an innovative, efficient heating and cooling technology, but they may not be suitable for every property. It is important to understand the unique specifications of your home to determine if a heat pump installation makes sense for you.
Factors to consider before installing an air source heat pump
There are four main factors that will determine whether an air source heat pump is a good HVAC option for your home: location and climate, budget and cost, property type, and your existing heating & cooling system.
Location & climate
Air source heat pumps can operate in a wide range of temperatures, but their efficiency will fluctuate based on the temperature of the air. Most heat pumps are still effective at below-freezing temperatures, but at a certain point, they are no longer able to comfortably heat your home. The specific temperature point depends on the type of air source heat pump you install. Newer air source heat pump technology designed for colder climates can operate at temperatures below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Colder temperatures also mean that while the air source heat pump will continue operating, it will do so at lower heating capacities and slightly less efficiently.
Tips for installing heat pumps in cold climates
- Confirm that the air source heat pump you’re installing is designed to operate in lower temperatures.
- You may also want to install a backup source of heat for particularly cold days – many homeowners choose to keep their existing furnace or boiler for this purpose.
- As with any heat pump installation, it’s crucial to ensure that the system is sized appropriately and correctly installed. This is even more critical in colder climates, as poor quality such as improper sizing, selection, and/or installation may reduce the usual energy and cost benefits.
Budget & cost
Your cost of installing air source heat pumps varies based on the equipment you’re installing and the number of units that you need for heating and/or cooling your property. Air source heat pumps can save money long-term because of their higher efficiencies and lower utility costs compared to other HVAC systems. They are typically associated with higher upfront costs, so you may consider financing options for your system as well. [Pro tip: Some states have loan programs that offer special rates or even 0% interest options for switching to efficient solutions like air source heat pumps.]
Most homeowners see a cost between $3,500 and $6,000 to install a single air source heat pump. The number of air source heat pumps you need depends on the equipment you choose, your geographic location, how well insulated your home is, and the size of your property. As an example, an efficient, single-family home may need 3 to 5 units to heat and cool the entire property.
Air source heat pumps will work for most properties, but some will be more suitable for air source heat pumps than others. Well-insulated energy-efficient homes will see the most savings with air source heat pumps as they’ll require less electricity overall to maintain warm or cool temperatures in the house. If you live in an older home or one that just isn’t well insulated, you may want to begin the process with an energy audit.
Taking some steps to make your home more energy efficient before installing air source heat pumps will save you money in the long run. Consider adding insulation to attic walls, weather stripping, sealing ductwork, and installing programmable thermostats to maximize your benefit.
Your property is also a particularly good candidate for air source heat pumps if you experience spots in areas of the home that are persistently cold or hot or, alternatively, want to regulate temperatures of specific rooms differently from one another. For example, if you work from home and spend most of your time in one section of the house during the day, you can use zoned heating and cooling with heat pumps or mini splits to only heat and cool the areas you’re working in throughout the day.
Air source heat pumps can be controlled independently from one another, which gives you the ability to customize the temperature of each room in your home, also known as zoned heating and cooling. If there are certain rooms you don’t mind keeping cooler during winter months because of lack of use, or certain areas of your home that need to be cooler during the summer, air source heat pumps can be more efficient than relying on a central cooling or heating system which has to heat and cool your entire living area.
Your existing heating or cooling system
The existing heating and cooling system (or systems) in your home will impact whether air source heat pumps make sense, as well as how much you’ll save in the long term. In many situations, an air source heat pump is going to be a more efficient and cost-effective way to heat and cool your home. This is especially true if your home is currently heated with oil or propane, and even more so if your system is over 15 years old.
The amount you’ll save on your utility bills depends on the type of heating system you have currently, as well as the fuel that it uses. Most U.S. homes are heated with a furnace or boiler system that uses gas, oil, or propane to operate. Below is a table that shows what the average savings are for a traditional heating system replaced with air source heat pumps in the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic region of the country:
|Type of heating system||Average annual energy savings (kWh equivalent)||Average annual cost savings|
|Electric resistance heaters (i.e. furnaces, baseboard heating)||3,000||$459|
|Oil heating systems (i.e. furnaces, boilers)||6,200||$948|
|Displaced oil systems (oil system remains as back up, operates less frequently)||3,000||$300|
Source: Department of Energy
If you are installing an air source heat pump in your home, it’s probably replacing some form of air conditioner – either a central unit or window units for individual rooms. The primary benefit of choosing an air source heat pump rather than air conditioning units is that the air source heat pump can provide the dual functionality of both heating and cooling, while air conditioners can only cool. Air source heat pumps also do not require the level of ductwork that central air conditioning systems need, and therefore are typically easier to install.
If you have an older central air conditioning system that needs replacing, now may be a good time to look into your air source heat pump options. If you have existing ductwork at your property for the air conditioner, it’s worth considering a ducted system as you can likely use your existing ductwork with your new air source heat pump. Air source heat pumps may also be worth considering if you’re currently cooling your building with multiple air conditioning window units. Like window units, air source heat pumps allow for temperature control of specific zones of a building, and they typically cool a room 1 to 2 times more efficiently.
When an air source heat pump might not be a fit
There are a few instances when air source heat pumps might not be a current fit for your heating and cooling needs. We cover a few considerations that may indicate another clean energy solution is your next best bet, such as:
- No availability for an outdoor unit: If your home is a multi-family unit without accessibility to outdoor or roof space for the outside unit, you may not be able to install air source heat pumps. However, if your HOA or shared building allows you to, you can sometimes place the outdoor unit on the roof or in a shared yard. You’ll likely just need to work with your HOA, landlord, or property management office to confirm specifics.
- Your home is older or poorly insulated: If you know you’re in need of some updates to insulation and weatherproofing, it’s not that heat pumps can’t help increase your efficiency, it just may be best to do those weatherization and insulating updates first.
- Your floorplan and current HVAC system are complex: Some homes with multiple levels and an existing setup that may make installation extremely costly may not be a fit since it would take you much longer to recoup your investment even with lower electric and gas bills. You’ll just need to assess your current system, installation costs, and potential monthly utility savings to see if heat pumps are a fit for you.
If you’re interested in more efficient heating and cooling your home or your current HVAC system is aging, it may be worth reaching out to some local heat pump contractors to see if heat pumps are a viable option for you. Many HVAC contractors or plumbers also handle heat pump installation and maintenance, so they can provide a quote to help you consider your options.