Heat pumps are all the rage in today’s energy efficiency space. With a solid presence in the market and continual growth of adoption in both commercial and residential settings, customers are looking for the facts. With the acceptance of any new technology come questions that stem from common misconceptions.
That’s where we come in. Today we’re breaking down the top misconceptions about heat pumps and sharing the truth, in simple terms, to help navigate your customer inquiries.
Misconception #1: Heat pumps only provide heat to homes or buildings.
Truth: Despite their misleading name, heat pumps actually have both heating AND cooling capabilities. The system can move heat from inside the building and release it outside (cooling) or absorb heat from outside and release that heat inside the building (heating). The component in the system which switches the flow of the refrigerant for heating and cooling functions is the reversing valve.
Misconception #2: Heat pumps do not work well in cold climates.
Truth: Heat pump technology has come a long way since it was initially introduced to the market. Today, contractors can provide options to fit customers heating needs in climates with a range as low as -15˚ F. This Cold Climate Heat Pump Technology Challenge from the US Department of Energy provides further insight.
Misconception #3: Heat pumps are noisy.
Truth: The noise from a heat pump is minimal, in some cases as low as 51 dB – that’s softer sound than a microwave! Indoor units offer quiet operation for heating and cooling, and outdoor units are installed away from areas where noise may be a concern, such as bedrooms or offices.
Misconception #4: If a heat pump is installed, you cannot use any other heat source.
Truth: There are now hybrid systems available, called dual-fuel heat pumps, that allow integration with a gas furnace. As with a standard heat pump, this technology offers heating and cooling modes. In warmer months, the system operates in cooling mode as an air conditioner. During the cooler time of year, the heat pump will operate in heating mode to warm the space. When temperatures drop in winter, the heat pump will automatically switch to let the furnace take over, heating the building with maximum efficiency.
Misconception #5: Heat pumps are less efficient than other heating types.
Truth: With the proper equipment and settings for your climate zone in place, heat pumps can be a more efficient option than other sources and can offer significant savings. To ensure your system is operating at maximum efficiency, be sure to work with a trained HVAC professional for installation and system settings.
Misconception #6: Heat pumps do not require maintenance.
Truth: Heat pumps are machines and, like any other HVAC equipment, the electrical and mechanical components require routine maintenance. Annual and semi-annual inspections are essential if you want many years of reliable operation. Also, regular filter changes will keep it running efficiently.
According to the DOE, the difference in energy consumption between well-maintained and poorly maintained systems averages between 10-25%. Therefore, most heat pump systems should have routine maintenance (i.e., cooling and heating check-ups) performed every six months. In addition, it is recommended that air filters are changed regularly depending on both surrounding conditions and filter size.
Myth 7: Setting the thermostat back saves energy in cold weather.
Truth: Heat pumps run more efficiently when set to an appropriate temperature and left alone. It requires more energy to regulate each time you change the temperature settings than if it were set at an average. If a backup heat source is involved, setting the thermostat back on the heat pump will typically turn on the backup heat (usually electric resistance heat), which defeats the energy-saving purpose.
The DOE recommends not to set back the heat pump’s thermostat if it causes the backup heating to come on since backup heating systems are usually more expensive to operate. Further details can be found in this article on the DOE website. Many thermostats will also turn on backup heat if the equipment has been operating in heating mode for around 15 minutes, and the space has not reached the setpoint to satisfy the thermostat.
Myth 8: Heat pumps are pretty expensive to install.
The cost of heat pump installation actually depends on many variables, including (but not limited to) the system size, application, brand of equipment, and existing application versus new installation. While up-front costs can be high, you still may be saving money when you consider the savings over the lifetime of your heat pump. Another way to cut costs is to check with your local utility for available rebates that can help offset the cost.
The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 provides ten years of consumer tax credits to make homes energy efficient and run on clean energy. This makes heat pumps, rooftop solar, electric HVAC and water heaters more affordable.
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