Popularized back in the 1970-1980s with the oil crisis, heat pumps are an alternative way to heat and cool homes. However, in the Chicagoland area we are not as familiar with heat pumps as our southern neighbors. This is primarily due to the harsh winter weather up north and energy costs. Traditionally, we use an air conditioner together with a gas-forced furnace to provide for our heating and cooling needs.
However, this is about to change.
Thanks to emerging technology, heat pumps today have improved performance and energy efficiency to provide both comfort and energy savings. Alongside enhanced ComEd Electric Rebates, Federal Tax Credits and increasing natural gas prices, the heat pump (in lieu of the outside air conditioner) paired with an energy efficient gas furnace are soon to become the preferred method to heat and cool homes in our area.
So, what is a Heat pump and how does it work?
Q&A below to learn more about how heat pumps operate and what benefits they offer.
A heat pump is an HVAC appliance that is installed outside your home. It does the job of both an air conditioner and a furnace, to some degree. Like your cooling system, a heat pump system has both indoor component and outdoor components. Electric heat pumps (KW) are the most common type of heat pump among American homeowners.
There are two types of electric heat pumps:
Air-source heat pump: This heat pump type transfers heat between indoor and outdoor air, just like an air conditioner.It can easily take the place of an existing air conditioner.
Ground-source heat pump: This heat pump type transfers heat between indoor air and the ground outside or to a local water source. Installations for this type of system are a bit more complex. (I.e., drilling into the ground to install the loops, landscaping.) and are typically more popular during the construction of a home.
How Does a Heat Pump Work?
Simply put, a heat pump works like an air conditioner. In fact, in the summer, it functions as the air conditioner and some heat pumps look identical to an air conditioner. Most people think the air conditioning system adds cooling to a home but it actually transfers heat by the process known as the Refrigeration Cycle or Heat Pump cycle. Again, it doesn’t make cold, it removes heat and pumps the heat against the natural direction of flow.
During this process the indoor unit transfers heat from the indoors and the outside unit rejects that heat to the outside in the summer and does the reverse in the winter. That is how a heat pump works. Remember it does not create heat it simply redistributes it. This magic is created by manipulating the refrigerant (R-22 or R410a) through compression and expansion. There are many components that work together in the heat pump process but this is the basic concept. It’s hard to believe that there is heat in the cold weather outside but there is, to some degree. Modern heat pump technologies enable this warming process to work even in the coldest environments. For harsher weather, you will need to supplement the heat with a furnace to take over on those extremely chilly nights.
Why Have Heat Pumps Not Been in High Demand Until Recently?
Conventional HVAC appliances like air conditioners and furnaces have been more affordable to purchase and install. Not to mention, in the Chicagoland area, it’s been cheaper to heat homes with gas than with electricity. However, with natural gas prices on the rise, electricity is becoming a more affordable alternative for heating. Operational Equipment comparison calculators are available to illustrate what energy and cost savings could look like. The newly released enhanced ComEd Electric Utility rebate coupled with the Federal Tax Credit, is helping to offset the difference in the upfront cost of the equipment installation between an air conditioner installation and heat pump installation.
Why Is There a Sudden Boom in Heat Pump Use?
Similar to the popularity of electric vehicles due to higher fuel costs, the thought of using clean energy could be attributed to the awareness and interest in heat pumps. Further attraction is the ComEd Electric roll out of a considerable rebate for Heat Pump equipment and the Federal Tax Credits that are brought back. In many cases, the price difference has been erased. Improved heat pump technology makes them more energy-efficient than most conventional air conditioners and furnaces, resulting in reductions in the natural gas use. Plus, now it is tried and true technology that can go to lower temps than in previous generations.
Are Heat Pumps Good for the Environment?
Heat pumps themselves are environmentally friendly because electricity is 100% efficient. However, the source of Electric energy in many areas is not always so clean. It can be from coal and natural gas, so fossil fuels can also be involved in the heating and cooling of your home.
Are Heat Pumps Worth the Investment?
While heat pumps have a higher upfront cost, the lower monthly electricity bills produce long-term cost savings. The U.S. government also offers heat pump owners ways to save money through rebates and discounts.
State and federal tax credits available for heat pump installations make the appliance more affordable for the average homeowner. Check with your tax preparer for the tax credit eligibility requirements.
Utility Companies are also offering lower interest long term loans up to 10 years, which are added to the monthly bill on qualifying equipment to eligible customers.This allows the homeowners to upgrade to high efficient equipment and pay for it over time in lieu of paying the wasted gas and electric of inefficient equipment.
What Is the Lifespan of a Heat Pump?
The lifespan of equipment is dependent upon maintenance, electric service reliability and climate. Heat pumps and air conditioners typically last about 10-15 years.
What Is the Maintenance of a Heat Pump?
A heat pump should be cleaned and checked each year by a Professional HVAC Technician. A residential heat pump takes the place of an air conditioner and is typically paired with a furnace.
Annual maintenance is needed for the both heat pump/air conditioner in Spring/Summer and the furnace in Fall/Winter.
How is a Heat Pump installed?
Since a residential heat pump operates during the winter months, special consideration needs to be done for proper installation. Unlike typical air conditioners that are installed at ground level, heat pumps need to be raised up higher than anticipated snowfall.
When does the furnace take over for the Heat Pump?
During the installation of the thermostat important information is entered for the thermal and economical break point for your specific home. The Heat Pump is operational too close to subzero temperatures. However, at some point it becomes inefficient on performance and energy consumption and the gas furnace will fire up at those temperatures. The thermostat will decide when to change over but it can also be overridden by the homeowner at any time at the thermostat.
Can I put a cover on my Heat Pump?
Since it operates year-round, do not place a cover or anything over the top of your residential heat pump.
Why is there ice on my Heat Pump?
In the winter months the coils outside in the heat pump become very cold. They actually are colder than the outside air. Which can create ice to form on the heat pump unit outside. When this occurs the heat pump will go into a defrost mode. Typically taking about 5-10 minutes to thaw. You will see steam when it is in defrost mode. If it takes longer than 4 hours, turn the unit off and call the experts at Air-Rite to service your system. Do not attempt to chip the ice away, the aluminum fins on the unit are delicate.
What Is the Difference Between SEER, SEER2 and HSPF on a Heat Pump?
These are the ratings used to measure the energy efficiency of air conditioners and heat pumps. Similar to gas mileage per gallon, the higher the rating the lower the energy consumption. In the United States, we have used SEER to measure the cooling performance. However, beginning January 1, 2023, the rating and method of testing is changing. The new rating will be SEER2. SEER, SEER2 and HSPF are ratings used to measure the efficiency of heat pumps, air conditioners and other HVAC appliances. Remember the higher the ratings, the more efficient the equipment is.
- SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio): measures a air conditioner/heat pump efficiency when in cooling mode (Prior to Jan 1, 2023)
- SEER2 (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio): measures a air conditioner/heat pump efficiency when in cooling mode (Starting Jan 1,2023)
- HSPF (Heating Season Performance Factor): measures a heat pump’s efficiency when in heating mode
Where can I get more information on a Heat Pump for my home?
While the heat pump and air conditioner may look the same, their performance, as mentioned, is different. With that, special consideration for the wiring, application and location of the outside unit, call Air-Rite, and we can schedule a Comfort Consultant to stop by and discuss the details with you.
Where can I find information on the rebates and tax credits for Heat Pump?
The ComEd rebates vary on the equipment paring and system selection and are done instantly by the installing HVAC contractor. The best way to find out about the heat pump rebate eligibility is to schedule a visit with a HVAC Comfort Consultant to evaluate your needs, select a system and review rebate availability. Once you have designed your system, you can check with your Tax Preparer on your tax credit eligibility.
Is a Heat Pump Rite for you? Contact your local experts to find out.
Are you wondering whether a heat pump is right for your home or office space? Air-Rite Heating & Cooling, Inc. is here to help you.Contact us using the link below, and we will be in touch with you shortly.