Heat Pump Systems: Are they worth it?

November 15, 2022
Do Heat Pumps Work

Heat pumps can save energy by replacing ductwork or heating and cooling units in a number of climates. The heat pump, just like refrigerators, transfers power from a warm space to a cool space, thereby cooling the warm and cool rooms. In the heating season, heat is transferred from the cold air to your heated residence. Throughout the cooler weather, heat pumps transfer energy from your house to your outside. The use of heat pumps instead of heat pumps provides efficient comfort to homes.

Most of us still use fossil fuels to heat our homes, for example, by burning natural gas or using it to generate electricity for space heaters and air conditioners. A usual resistive electric heater is 100% efficient; this means that you get 1 joule of heat out for every Watt you put in.

However, we have a solution that could move up to five times more heat than the electricity we put into it. Heat pumps are an amazing piece of counter-intuitive technology that can be up to 500% efficient. In the past, they struggled in more extreme conditions, but things have come a long way since then.

Is a heat pump better than AC?

Are heat pumps effective? And should we use them more frequently? Heating and cooling systems contribute a lot of energy usage in homes globally. In Europe, they use up 50% of the total energy consumption, with 80% still coming from fossil fuels. Here in the U.S., heating and cooling electricity only uses around 31%. Even though that's lower than in other places, it's still substantial; many homes rely on natural gas or oil for direct heating.

Every year, the U.S. emits 441 million tons of carbon dioxide just from heating and cooling our buildings--but what if there was a technology that didn't use fossil fuels and actually broke the laws of physics by producing more heat than the amount of electricity put into it? Enter heat pumps: in the world of physics, there's something called conservation of energy.

Essentially, the energy in a confined system must stay consistent; you can't make or get rid of energy. You can only shift it. From a surface perspective, heat pumps appear to dismiss this rule since you could obtain 3-5x more heat energy out of a heat pump for each kW of electricity put into it. Though, it's not making heat energy--it's merely shifting it.

By using only 1 Watt of electricity, you can move 3-5 joules of heat. For example, heat pumps work by extracting heat from the outside air or ground to heat the inside of a home or office building. They can also operate in reverse to cool your house - much like an air conditioner works by moving hot air out of the house and into the ground or outside air. So essentially, a heat pump is just a series of exchangers that moves hot air out during the cooling cycle and then back into the house during the heating cycle.

How do Heat Pumps Work?

We’ll begin by examining how heat pumps heat and cool our homes, but there are some other interesting ways we can put heat pumps to work in our everyday lives. We’ll go through two of those as well. So let’s start with the first area, which I’ve already touched on—heating and cooling your home. The most common type of heat pump used for this purpose is an air-to-air heat pump.

These pumps work similarly to air conditioning systems. A reversing valve is used in order to provide both heating and cooling, however. In heating mode, common fluid R134a boils at very low temperatures(-26.3ºC or -15ºF) as the outdoor unit blows refrigerant over it through tubes. The process of becoming a vapor begins when the refrigerant heats up.

The compressor is used to increase the pressure and temperature of the refrigerant vapor. As the vapor enters the evaporator, it warms up from releasing heat into the room, which turns it back into a liquid. And that's how the cycle continues.

Air source heat pumps work by reversing the flow of a typical heating system. Instead of drawing heat from the outside and moving it into the home, air source heat pumps extract heat from inside the home and send it outside. The fan then blows over coils which move the extracted heat into the outside air. Because of this process, air source heat pumps are very efficient, with a coefficient of performance (COP) between 3.0-4.0 Every 1 watt of electricity provides 3-4 joules of heat. In comparison, a high-efficiency boiler powered by oil or gas is around 85% efficient at below one wattage.

Heat pumps can be used with forced air, as well as underfloor or radiator systems. However, you may need a larger size radiator to ensure that its surface area is large enough to release enough heat into the room. Also, heat pumps are environmentally friendly since they don't release any harmful gasses like natural gas and oil furnaces do.

Ducted air source heat pumps

The thermal pumping system consists of three main types: air – air, water source or geothermal. They collect heat in a room and concentrate them to be used inside. The simplest heat pump is an air heat pump that moves heat from your house to air from other areas. Modern Heat Pump technology reduces your heating power consumption by about 50% compared to the heat pump. Besides cooling and reducing energy consumption, heat pumps are more efficient than conventional central cooled cooling systems.

Ductless air source heat pumps

Air source heat pumps also exist in ductless versions known as mini-split heat pumps. Additionally, a special type of air-source heat pump known as a reverse cycle chiller generates hot and cold energy rather than air which allows use in heated floors in heating modes.

What is the downside to a heat pump?

There are a few snags preventing heat pumps from becoming the go-to worldwide. These comprise the upfront cost, efficiency in colder areas (depending on technology), and also regulatory oversight in certain countries.

The Energy Saving Trust revealed that an air source heat pump for a four-bedroom detached home located in Northern Ireland could provide £4,300 (roughly $5,600USD) more n savings annually and avoid 6.5 more tons of CO2 emissions when compared to running an old (G-rated) LPG boiler.

In the US, an average homeowner using a heat pump to replace an electric furnace and oil boiler can save $815 - $929 annually. Consequently, if you utilize a natural gas boiler instead, your savings are only about $200 yearly since gas is less expensive.

However, heat pumps usually have a higher capacity for energy efficiency in comparison to other heating systems. At an ambient temperature of -10ºC (which is approximately 14ºF) or lower, the electric power consumption rate for the heat pump will begin to increase so that it can function properly.

Not only that, but at very low temperatures, frost can cover the outdoor coil, making it less effective. HVAC installers often suggest complementing heat pumps with a small electric heater in areas where cold days are common. In those cases, heat pump systems are still more efficient than other options over the course of an entire year.

The amount you'll save on your energy bill by installing a heat pump depends on where you live and the climate there. States in the southeastern part of the country, for example, will see more savings than states like Wisconsin.

Geothermal Heat Pumps

Another type of heat pump is the ground-to-air heat pump. In general, geothermal systems operate in a similar way as air-to-air models; however, a liquid needs to be circulated through tubes deep into the ground. They are also highly efficient, with a COP from 3 to 5, though their initial cost is expensive and can range anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000+.

Geothermal or water-based heat pumps can deliver greater power through the transfer of heat between the house and the water. Even though the cost is higher for installation geothermal heat pumps have lower operating costs due to relatively constant ground and water temperatures. Geothermal Heat Pumps are of great benefit in many ways as they provide heat. It can decrease energy usage by 30-40 %, control humidity is stable and it is ideal for many homes. It depends on whether you need an electric heating unit that will be able to heat your water or electricity.

The Department of Energy reported that payback periods are only 5-10 years for this type of product, and it can work well in any location since the ground has more stable temperatures than the air.

Heat Pump Water Heater

Did you know that heat pumps can be used for more than just heating and cooling your home? They can also be used to generate hot water by integrating them with your heating and cooling system. This way, they can work together to create a circulatory pump effect, which will help heat the water more evenly.

Hybrid water heaters are a fantastic and efficient alternative that can save you considerable money on your electricity bill. They also have a shorter return on investment than tankless water heaters- 4 to 7 years rather than 15 to 18 years. Not to mention, the lifespan of a hybrid water heater is about 15 years!

Electric resistance heaters are also included in these models as a backup heating option in case the temperature outside isn't warm enough to heat the water to the desired temperature. It's important to keep in mind, though, where they will be installed.

Installation for these heaters must be in an area where the temperature is between 40ºF - 90ºF, with at least 1,000 cubic feet of open space around it. They're often installed in garages because of this, but a small utility closet won't work.

With these types of hybrid heaters, another potential issue is that they extract heat from the air around them--potentially making the room colder. This could be a good or bad thing, depending on your needs. They have been known to provide $200-$600 in energy savings for homeowners per year.

Cost of Hybrid Water Heater

A 50-gallon tank costs around $1,200, while an 80-gallon one is about $2,500; however, the size and product quality can affect these prices. Furthermore, standalone water heater installation will set you back approximately $600 to 800 after adding in labor expenses. On a brighter note, check to see if your state offers any rebates or incentives - like the government's federal tax credit of $300.

The average hybrid electric heat pump water heater costs $300 per year to operate, while standard electric models cost nearly double at $600 annually, according to Energy Star. Tankless hot water heaters are even more expensive to run, with the Department of Energy estimating an annual price tag of $400-800.

Some of Rheem's standalone water heaters can save you $491 a year on energy, qualify for local utility rebates, and are 4x more efficient than conventional electric water heaters. Some models even come with built-in Wi-Fi to connect to a smartphone app for further control and usage tracking.

Heat Pump Clothing Dryer

More and more, people are using heat pump-style clothes dryers (or ventless dryers) as they gain popularity. With a traditional clothing dryer, you have to vent warm, humid air to the outside of your home- significantly reducing the efficiency of your entire house. A heat pump dryer runs the air through an evaporator first to remove moisture without losing too much heat.

Some excellent advantages of switching to a ventless dryer are that they emit little to no noise, don't require exterior ventilation, and are much more efficient. These heat pump dryers use refrigerant in condenser coils, making them 28%-50% more energy-efficient than standard dryers, and because they don't need ventilation, they can be installed in small spaces like closets or under counters. Of course, there are some disadvantages too.

Heat pump dryers cost twice as much as traditional dryers, but they save energy in the long run. One potential downside is that since they don't get as hot, it might take slightly longer to fully dry your clothes. It really depends on how patient you are. Companies like GE and Miele have already started selling ventless dryers here in the US; they're much more common in Europe, though.

Miele, for example, manufactures several models of heat pump dryers that range in price from £899 to £2,799. While GE's four models don't have as many features/are less expensive, they're still interesting because sensor dry technology monitors moisture and temperature continuously to avoid wear and tear on clothes caused by over-drying and inconsistent heat.

GE ventless dryers range in price from $999 to $1419. A traditional electric dryer can cost between $0.53 - $0.55 per load of laundry, while a gas dryer generally costs around  $0.38 - $0.39 per load, and a heat pump dryer usually falls within the costing of $0.17 - $0.33 per load.

If you're looking to save money in the long run, heat pump dryers are a great investment. You'll also be getting more bang for your buck because they usually last much longer than traditional electric or gas dryers. In fact, some have lifespans that are almost double. Just something to keep in mind as you make your decision.

Moving Forwards

Consequently, what does the future look like for those who adopt heat pumps? The global market is anticipated to grow 8.1% from 2022-2030 and be valued at $67.7 billion in 2021 alone.

Incentives from the government, like tax credits and rebates, are making it easier for people to switch to energy-efficient products. Washington is leading the way by recently updating its energy code to require electric heat pumps over traditional furnaces and water heaters.

New four-story commercial and multifamily residential buildings will have to follow these rules starting July 2022. In most cases, the new rules make it so that HVAC systems like natural gas or less efficient electric heating systems can't be used.

The Rocky Mountain Institute recently analyzed that shifting towards electric heat pumps could save 8.1 million tons of carbon emissions by 2050. This would be equivalent to taking nearly 1.6 million cars off the road for a year and would have a significant impact on climate change.

Are heat pumps really worth it?

Yes! Heat pumps are an amazing piece of technology, and with solar, they can be even more efficient. If you’re looking to invest in a new heat pump ac system, make sure to consider going solar as well. By doing so, you can maximize your energy efficiency and save money on your energy bills in the long run. Let us help you find the right company to partner with for your solar needs – we have a wide selection of top-rated providers who will get the job done right. What are you waiting for? Start saving today!

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