If it's time to replace or upgrade your home central air conditioning, then maybe it's time to consider a heat pump instead of another AC system. Despite the name, a heat pump is primarily an air conditioner. But, it does much more than that.
In this episode, Mike Gunderson from Compass Heating and Air gives us a crash course on heat pumps and also debunk a few myths about them.
If you’re ready to improve the comfort of your Fox River Valley home, call or email Mike for your free consultation.
A heat pump is essentially an air conditioner that runs in reverse. It works both as a heater and an air conditioner.
If you're looking at it as an air conditioner, it pulls heat from your house to make it cooler in the summer and it dumps that heat outside. In the wintertime, when you're in heating mode, it's absorbing heat from outside and bringing it indoors to make the home more comfortable.
Even though it’s cold outside in the winter, the heat pump draws the heat that's outside and brings it into your house.
For us at thirty degrees above zero, we're cold. Some people are putting on sweatshirts when it's fifty out. But as long as the temperature outside, your ambient air that you're drawing the heat from, is warmer than the refrigerant temperature, the refrigerant will absorb that heat as heat always transfers to cold.
It’s like the old saying that if you open the window in your house during the winter, you're not letting the cold air in, you're letting hot air out. Even though it feels cold to us, there's still enough heat out there so the heat pump can do what it needs to do.
The refrigerant itself is the medium that transfers the heat from one area to another. Your refrigerant is inside of a closed-loop. You're connected to an indoor and an outdoor unit.
In the summertime, the heat in your house heats up the refrigerant. Since that refrigerant runs in a loop, once it reaches the heat pump outside, the refrigerant dumps the heat.
In the winter it works in reverse so that the heat that's outside heats up the refrigerant and when the refrigerant travels inside to the coil, it takes the heat with it. The heat is riding with that refrigerant, and then it's expelled in the home.
There's something inside where you're going to have heat transfer either to or from the living space that you're trying to condition.
Then you'll have a unit outside where you're going to either gather heat like you would in the winter in order to put that into the conditioned space or in the summertime.
When the refrigerant absorbs that heat in the winter, it's transferred inside. It's like it's magnified essentially. Because of the way the devices and everything works, that makes that coil warm, and the air in the house goes across the coil.
Then that heat of the coil is transferred to the colder air from indoors. That heat that’s transferred circulates through the house.
When we apply air that's much cooler that warm air is created by the transfer from the hot coil and it goes into your air that is circulating into the home.
There's a big question here for homeowners and especially in Northern Illinois: “I've heard these heat pumps don't actually work in the winter. They don't provide enough heat”
Back in my grandfather's days and even in my father's day, heat pumps did not work extremely well, especially up here in the Northern climate. It was always considered to be more of a Southern or Southwestern device.
But now that we have Inverter technology, they do extremely well with the heating, even in our climate.
You get into the idea that heat pumps just don't work in the winter because we used to have to size the heat pump based on what you need for air conditioning. But the inverter technology allows for sizing for your heat load. Then, it also allows for the same unit to cycle down when you’re air conditioning.
We have extreme cold Inverter compressors right now, so if you're at 13 below zero, as much as 22 below zero in some cases, the units work extremely well. They will provide ample heating.
The cost of operation does go up when you're talking about the heating, when it gets colder outside, especially in extreme temperatures. But the equipment is capable of providing heat in those climates where before it was not.
An inverter compressor is going to allow the system to run more evenly as opposed to shutting on and off. It makes it more efficient.
Look at it as driving your car on a highway. You're going to get a lot better mileage; you're not having to put the gas pedal down so far to the floor to maintain what it is you're trying to do.
Instead, you let up and you just kind of maintain 60 miles per hour or whatever it is you're trying to drive. Whereas if you're stopping and starting and going from zero to sixty, you tend to burn a lot more gas and fuel.
Now, let’s compare this to a gas furnace or even a radiator. We're all familiar with them clicking on and off a few times every hour. Sometimes, you can even feel the house has gotten just a little cooler right before it comes on. Then it turns on full blast, warms it up, and then turns off.
With inverter technology, it doesn't have to do that. It can just always run almost all the time, but it's just not always running at full blast. A lot of the time it's running in a low power mode so that it maintains the temperature instead of having to correct it.
The next big question is: Why go with a heat pump over a conventional air conditioner, or even a conventional forced-air furnace and air conditioning setup?
The heat pump tends to have a more even, quiet heat than gas furnaces do. For many folks who have had radiant heat in their home using a boiler and radiators, heat pumps give you a nice, even heat. And then of course, they’re very quiet for the most part.
Heat pumps have more of a continual low run time. So the house tends to be more evenly heated as well. That’s versus a gas furnace that just comes on and wants to heat the home and be done.
Air conditioning is great during the summer, but it just sits there throughout the rest of the year. With a heat pump, they also offer the ability to heat.
So any heat pump you get is going to give you extended use of your, what we call “an air conditioner.” It allows you to heat from that, as opposed to burning fossil fuels if you're trying to back away from that a little bit.
But you also are paying less money out of your pocket to use a heat pump, even versus a gas furnace.
In our climate, it's not always advisable to go with a heat pump only and just forego a furnace or an electric air handler. But many times you can, and that's going to depend greatly on your home and insulation, stuff like that.
Because they are designed to run longer periods, they're typically also a little more durable when it comes to their quality of construction and the components that are included.
Heat pumps tend to have components that you often see on higher-end air conditioners, as opposed to your standard air conditioning. The biggest thing about the heat pump instead of just an air conditioner is the fact that it does cost less to run.
Long ductwork runs and multiple floors with one furnace tend to create hot and cold spots in the house. When you have a heat pump that's running for a longer duration at a lower rate, you get more even temperature throughout the house.
When it comes to comfort in the home heat pumps have less of a reliance on added moisture for maintaining humidity. So that's a lot more comforting as well.
My wife's favorite part of the heat pump is that it's quiet and feels more even. She just feels like the house is more comfortable when a heat pump is running versus the gas furnace.
Upfront, a heat pump typically costs anywhere from $800 to $1,200 more than a comparable air conditioner for efficiency.
So, it is a little more expensive than your standard air conditioner upfront. Cost savings is going to come when you're operating the unit and saving money elsewhere.
Typically rebates on heat pumps are a little bit higher than for air conditioners. ComEd has really focused on heat pumps. We're still looking at higher efficiencies that you're getting very nice rebates anywhere from $300 to $500.
Because heat pumps are so energy-efficient, the cost of operation winds up saving you a substantial amount of money over the course of the year.
When it comes to heating your home, generating heat is much more expensive than moving heat around and with a heat pump. That's exactly what we're being allowed to do: Move heat that's already existing. We don't have to generate the heat. It's already there.
The inverter in modern-day heat pumps allows for less wear and tear on your equipment. And, it maintains a more even temperature in your home at a lower cost.
We rate them on the coefficient of performance. The coefficient of performance of one is the same as an electric resistive heat. That's what most people think is pretty expensive to run. I would agree with them on that. You're generating heat at that point.
Modern heat pumps with inverters are getting anywhere from three and a half to just over four.
When you're moving the heat with these heat pumps, the coefficient of performance of four would be, like running four of these heat pumps for the same amount of energy that you're using on one resistive electric heat source.
Based on our average costs here in Illinois, for electricity being between six-and-a-half and eight cents per kilowatt-hour. Then you have your gas furnaces, which operate typically somewhere between 65 and 69 cents per therm in the wintertime.
It actually winds up being less of an operating cost with a heat pump than it does to run even a 95-percent gas furnace.
In our home, we have solar panels and went with a Daikin VRV Life. We have a bedroom over the garage, so we tied a ductless unit into the same system, as opposed to going with a separate Daikin system with a furnace and air conditioning with the ductwork.
We really love running the heat pump. It’s more comfortable in the house for sure, and the cost of operation has been very, very low. The nice thing with that is we're able to utilize the solar power we're generating to offset that even more. If you have a natural gas furnace, you're not going to be able to manufacture your own gas.
We do have a modulating gas furnace as well. So we have high-efficiency gas, and the heat pump is extremely quiet when it’s running. We had it running all winter long last year, which would have been 2019 into 2020. The gas furnace kicked in four or five times the entire winter.
So that kind of gives you an idea of how well these inverters work when you're heating. This year, we went ahead and switched everything over to gas in November, as opposed to running the heat pump. We did that with the idea to see what is the difference in cost: What is our normal electric rate versus when we're running a heat pump?
It was amazingly low to heat your house with an inverter heat pump.
During that first winter with the heat pump, the heat was definitely a lot more even in the home. My wife prefers the heat pumps. She feels like it's more evenly distributed. It's definitely quiet. You don't know that the heat pump is running the majority of the time.
It's just maintaining the temperature and you feel like the air is not really blowing on you. It's a higher comfort level. It just feels like the heat is there and you're not doing anything to manipulate that.
When you can combine with solar, and you're not using fossil fuels to heat or cool, you're not counting on the electric company necessarily to provide you with the electricity you need. Instead, it is generated at your home and that plays into your carbon output.
For me, having a little more independence from the grid is nice. It's a neat thing to see the power you've generated at your house going to heat and cool your home.
We can pick and choose what works best for our homes. We have a gas furnace and it's there when we get really cold. We did have a couple of winters ago where we were 25 below zero, and 50 degrees with the wind chill below zero. That’s pretty chilly for a heat pump system.
Now, if your house is designed that way, we do have some customers who have high-efficiency homes. They have a lot of insulation and great windows, and they are able to use the heat pump in the times where the temperatures actually did dip below 25 below, the heat pumps were still working.
But, they are able to maintain the heat in their home because the heat that was put there was kept there.
Any heat pump is going to be better than no heat pump. The whole gamut of heating and cooling is going more in the direction of heat pumps. Hence, the reason ComEd is giving a special incentive for heat pumps that they hadn't quite done in the past.