If saving money, preserving the environment for future generations, and enjoying optimum in-home comfort is important to you and your family, you might want to consider installing a heat pump. Our climate in the Houston area, where we experience fewer occurrences of freezing temperatures than the rest of the country, makes this a prime location for installing a new heat pump system instead of a central HVAC system.
Additionally, with so many older homes in the area, it isn’t uncommon for our HVAC technicians to encounter homes that have never had central HVAC ductwork installed. Installing a central HVAC system in a home without existing ductwork requires extensive remodeling that can run into tens of thousands of dollars.
Until recently, these older homes have had to rely on costly and inefficient electric space heaters and in-window air conditioners to carry the burden of in-home comfort. Installing new heat pump systems will allow owners of older homes more flexible room-by-room heating and cooling options.
What is a Heat Pump?
Heat pumps are standalone, “all-in-one” heating, ventilation, and cooling systems designed to replace standard furnaces, air conditioners, and central HVAC systems. Heat pumps work by transferring thermal energy between spaces using liquid refrigerant as the transfer medium.
Unlike a furnace that uses natural gas, heating oil, or a large amount of high-current electrical power to generate warmth, a heat pump can use much less energy to achieve the same level of heating. Only having to relocate already existing heat, whether moving it from inside to outside or vice-versa, results in just a small amount of electricity being used.
Heat pumps are also known as ductless mini-split systems and comprise two components connected via one tiny conduit that allows for airflow and electrical connectivity. The indoor portion of the mini-split heat pump system is a small, wall-mounted cassette unit that must be mounted on an exterior wall.
The outer wall positioning allows easier access for the conduit that runs to the outdoor compressor unit, operating as far as fifty feet away from the indoor unit. Up to four indoor cassette units can be connected to a single outdoor compressor unit allowing for complete control over the comfort of your home.
How Does a Heat Pump Work?
Following the same concept as your kitchen refrigerator, heat pumps use electricity and liquid refrigerant to capture heat and relocate it. Your refrigerator takes heat from inside the storage area, stores it in the liquid refrigerant, and then circulates it through the copper coil on the back of the fridge. As the heated liquid travels along the loop, any heat contained is displaced into the air around the refrigerator.
Heat pumps have been getting much-deserved attention in the home heating and air conditioning industries. Yes, we included the AC industry because, in addition to being able to heat your home effectively all winter, your heat pump can also cool your home in the summer. Heat pumps use a small amount of electricity and liquid refrigerant to, depending on the season, either move heat into or out of your living space.
The heating cycle of a heat pump occurs when the unit extracts heat from the air outside of the home and first transfers that heat to a liquid refrigerant. That refrigerant is compressed, raising its temperature quickly. The heated liquid is sent along to the indoor heat exchanger, where cool air is passed over a heating element and warmed. Your heat pump can extract heat from outdoor air as cold as 25°F, although they start to operate at a much-diminished efficiency level anywhere below that temperature.
What are Some Heat Pump Advantages?
1. Much Lower Cost of Operation
Because, unlike a massive 2-ton, 40,000 BTU HVAC system with a gas or electric-fired furnace, your heat pump is not creating heat from thin air. By only having to relocate existing warmth, heat pumps can reduce energy bills during the heating season by anywhere from 20% to 70%. Many customers that have installed a ductless mini-split system in their home report an average of 50% savings on their winter energy costs
2. Better for the Environment
The benefits of installing a heat pump aren’t limited to savings on energy costs. In all of their iterations, heat pumps use greener solutions to significantly reduce the environmental impact of heating and cooling our homes.
Heat pumps are better for the environment as they only require about 1/3 – 1/2 of the energy to operate compared to a central HVAC system. Heat pumps do not need utility connections other than a standard 110 volt AC electrical hookup, as they do not use natural gas, heating oil, or liquid propane. By not actively burning fossil fuels at the ignition source, as you would with a furnace or space heater, you improve indoor air quality by eliminating smoke and off-gassing that occurs with any combustible fuel.
3. Possible Tax Benefits for Installing a Heat Pump
The environmental benefits of a changeover from central HVAC to a heat pump are such that even the federal government wants to help you make the switch. To help offset a part of the installation costs incurred by the homeowner, tax credits are available for those who install a heat pump before January 1, 2024. Check out this link to see the specific requirements and limitations to these incentives.
Are There any Disadvantages to Heat Pumps?
1. Cost of Installation
The initial cost to equip your home with a multi-zone mini-split system will probably run somewhat higher than a standard HVAC system. It is safe to assume that the installation price can be recouped in just a few years with the amount of money saved through energy cost reductions. Depending on the size of your home, the installation of a heat pump system with air registers and climate control in each room can cost $3,500 – 5,000 per zone.
2. Not Suitable for Every Home
Poorly insulated homes will not fare as well with a heat pump, particularly during the summer months. Heat pumps aren’t as powerful as a more substantial central AC unit, so they’ll need to work considerably harder to keep up with demand, especially if only one mini-split system is installed.
3. Grey Energy Consideration
While researching this blog, I noticed that many HVAC installers tout heat pumps and mini-splits as better for the environment because they burn zero fossil fuels. This claim is only partially correct because heat pumps do not require any fuel connection other than standard 110-volt AC power. The fact that they do require AC power is where the idea of “grey energy” comes into consideration. Without the need for natural gas, heating oil, or liquid propane for an ignition source, a heat pump does not locally combust any fossil fuels. However, it should be assumed that fossil fuels are being burned to generate the electricity being used by the mini-split, as 65% of total electrical generation in the US is reliant on the burning of fossil fuels.
4. Could a Heat Pump Be Right for Your Home?
Are you thinking about replacing your current inefficient and underpowered HVAC system? Give Nick’s Air Conditioning a call today to discuss your comfort needs and schedule a visit from one of our licensed and experienced technicians. We can evaluate your current HVAC system and help guide you toward the technology that best suits your requirements.