An air-source heat pump sits outside a snow-covered house

Heating and cooling our homes usually accounts for 40-50% of our energy usage, depending on the climate you live in. There are many different types of heating and cooling systems – furnaces, boilers, baseboards, stoves or fireplaces, central ACs, window ACs, and more. Your home might have one or many of these systems to keep you comfortable through all seasons.

Many traditional heating systems that have been around for decades burn fossil fuels – like natural gas, propane, or fuel oil – which contributes to pollution. Others might use electric resistance to produce heat, which although electric, are inefficient and costly to operate. 

What is a heat pump?

Heat pumps are an energy efficient electric option that can heat, cool, dehumidify and filter the air inside your home in a single machine. Instead of burning fuel to generate the heat, they work by pulling heat out of the air and transferring it into your home in the winter. In the summer, they work in reverse. 

A diagram showing a heat pump moving heat into a house

Benefits of a heat pump

In addition to being more energy efficient and better for the environment, heat pumps can also make your home safer, more comfortable, and increase its value. If you don’t have air conditioning today, upgrading to a heat pump means that you get a more efficient heating system and AC for the price of one.

If your current heating system runs on fuel oil, propane, or electric resistance then you’re also going to save money on your energy bills. If you’re on natural gas, the math might not net out in savings, but it depends on local energy prices.

Cold climates

Heat pumps used to only work in mild climates, but cold climate heat pump technology has advanced dramatically. Heat pumps have been popular in Nordic countries like Norway, Sweden, and Finland for years and are quickly gaining traction in Maine and Alaska. 

That said, depending on your home setup and the ability to properly retrofit it with a heat pump, it may still be recommended to keep a backup heating source for particularly cold days. Even with a backup heating source, you can expect your heat pump to cover the vast majority of the heating load and all of the cooling load.

Retrofitting for your home

There are many different types of heat pumps available on the market. The best choice for your home depends on your home’s current systems and your goals.

Weatherize first

A home undergoing renovation, with pink sheets of insulation between the studs of exterior walls

Before you make the switch to a heat pump, you should first weatherize your home to ensure that it is properly insulated and air sealed. This will prevent your future heat pump (and your current heating and cooling system!) from having to work harder to keep your home at the right temperature, saving you money on your bills. It may also allow you to get a smaller heat pump, which would reduce the upfront cost.

If you’re not sure what weatherization work needs to be done, you can start by getting an energy audit. The audit will identify the areas in your home that are inefficient (like ducts, windows, attics, crawl spaces, and more) and help you prioritize those efficiency improvements.

Electrical panel and wiring

Depending on the capacity and remaining space of your electrical panel, you may need to have an electrician add or reconfigure circuits on your panel and add 220V outlets for the heat pump components to plug into (learn more). This should be done in preparation for or alongside the heat pump install.

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