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Are air source heat pumps right for you?

Last updated 7/26/2018

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 property 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 heating and cooling option for your home: geography, budget, property type, and your existing heating & cooling system.

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 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’ve installed; 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 can continue operating, its heating capacities will lower.

If you live in a cold climate and need to heat your home or business when the air temperature is below freezing, 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 will simply choose to keep their existing furnace or boiler for this purpose.

Cost

The cost of installing air source heat pumps in your building is variable, but primarily determined by the type of unit you’re looking to install and the number of units that you need for heating or cooling your property.

Air source heat pumps can save money long term because of their higher efficiencies and lower utility costs, they are typically associated with higher upfront cost than traditional heating and cooling systems, so you may consider financing options for the system as well. Most homeowners see a range of $2,000 to $8,000 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. An efficient, single family home may need 3 to 5 units to heat the entire property.

Property type

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 generate 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 in preparation for air source heat pumps will save you money in the long run. Consider adding insulation to attic walls, weather stripping, sealing ductwork, installing programmable thermostats to maximize the 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. 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.

If there are certain rooms you don’t mind keeping cooler during winter months because 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.

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 your home. This is especially true if your home is currently heated with oil or propane, and even more so if your system is 15+ years old.

The amount you’ll save on your utility bills depends on the type of heating system you have, 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 an air source heat pump is being installed to cool 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 electing to use an air source heat pump rather than an 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 investigate 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 more efficiently.

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