If you are tired of expensive heating and cooling bills, it makes sense to look for more energy-efficient HVAC systems. One type of heater and air conditioner that is becoming more popular lately is the heat pump. This new technology claims to provide excellent heating and cooling for a fraction of the cost. Do heat pumps live up to these promises? Here’s what you need to know about heat pump efficiency.
What Makes Heat Pumps Use Less Energy?
To understand why heat pumps tend to be energy-efficient, it is helpful to take a look at how they work. A heat pump is essentially a large-scale version of the same technology inside of a refrigerator. It works by moving heat around instead of directly generating heat. This electrical device uses an evaporation and condensation cycle to transfer heat. As the refrigerant moves through the system, it picks up heat from its surroundings. Then, high pressure is used to condense the refrigerant, causing it to release heat in another location.
This energy transfer system allows heat pumps to work as both an air conditioner and a heater. In the summer, they pick up all the heat from inside your home and release it outdoors. During winter, this process is reversed. Residual heat from outside is gathered and concentrated, and then it is released indoors. This process is usually extremely effective until the weather outside reaches around 25 to 30 degrees, at which point a heat pump may also use a backup electrical heater to generate a little extra warmth.
In addition to basic air source heat pumps, there is also a special style called a geothermal heat pump that doesn’t require backup heaters. Instead of using outdoor air for the temperature exchange, geothermal heat pumps use the residual temperatures found deep within the earth. A cable loops underneath your home instead of cycling through the outdoor air. Since temperatures underground are stable all year round, a heat pump can pick up warmth from the earth and transfer it inside your home with ease.
Whether you get a geothermal or regular heat pump, this heat transfer process makes it use energy very differently from other heaters. Most types of heaters, like furnaces and boilers, warm your home by generating heat. They must actively burn fuel to warm the air, but this isn’t a very energy efficient process. Since a heat pump only uses a small amount of electricity to move already existing heat around, it ends up requiring less energy, and the result is big temperature changes.
How Does Heat Pump Efficiency Compare to Other HVAC Systems?
A heat pump’s efficiency is typically quite like an air conditioner’s efficiency. Air conditioners are basically a one-way heat pump, so they operate at about the same level of energy efficiency. Whether or not you save energy by getting a heat pump for cooling your home will depend on how old your previous model was. If your heat pump has a higher SEER rating than your out of date old one, you will get energy savings with the new installation. Heat pumps also provide more efficiency savings when you consider material efficiency. Since you can use the same unit for both heating and cooling, you use fewer materials and create less manufacturing byproducts than a homeowner who has to purchase an air conditioner and a separate furnace.
The impressive efficiency savings will appear when you switch to using your heat pump to warm your home. A heat pump transfers up to 300% more energy than it consumes, while a high-efficiency gas furnace only transfers 90% of the energy it consumes. Even on extra cold days with a backup electrical heater running, a heat pump uses about 50% less energy than an electric furnace. Of course, just like any other HVAC system, different heat pump models have different energy efficiency ratings. If you get a heat pump with an extremely high HSPF rating, you can save up to 76% on your heating costs.
Efficiency savings are even higher once you look at geothermal heat pumps. This specialized type of heat pump does not require a backup electric heater, so its energy costs are even lower. Temperatures underground tend to be warmer in winter and cooler in summer, making it much easier for your heat pump to operate. While an air source heat pump has an already impressive heating efficiency of 300%, geothermal heat pumps have a stunning efficiency of 600%. This means that investing in a geothermal heat pump allows you to roughly double all your energy savings.
Benefits of Selecting a High Efficiency Heat Pump
One of the big advantages of a heat pump’s efficiency is that it means more savings for you. The reduced energy usage leads to far less money spent on your utilities. The exact amount you save depends on many factors, such as what type of energy you used before making the switch. For an average efficiency heat pump, heating costs for an entire year are around $550. This is significantly lower than every other heating option. A gas furnace usually has an annual cost of around $830, while an electric furnace often has a cost of around $1,300.
These savings are so impressive that they end up offsetting the slightly higher installation cost of a heat pump. A heat pump is usually about $5,000 to $10,000 to install. Meanwhile, a furnace costs about $3,000, and an air conditioner costs around $4,000. With the energy savings from a heat pump, the system ends up paying for itself in three to four years. Since they last around 15 years, this means you can end up saving about $6,000 altogether over the lifespan of the equipment.
In addition to being great for your wallet, the efficiency of a heat pump is great for the environment too. Heating and cooling account for almost half of the energy used in the average home. A heat pump helps to lower energy consumption, resulting in less carbon dioxide, other greenhouse gases, and other harmful emissions. The environmental protection agency rates geothermal heat pumps as the most efficient HVAC system currently available. They reduce the number of greenhouse gases. Consequently, they help to reduce the risks of overheating the earth. Furthermore, the efficiency of operation means there is less air pollution present. You’ll notice a better overall air quality in your home, especially if you’ve ever used a furnace.
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