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Good News About Air-Source Heat Pumps

Because of new technologies and incentives, there has never been a better time to invest in a heat pump. According to Ross Welterlen, energy services engineering director for Corn Belt Power Cooperative, headquartered in Humboldt, Iowa:

“Today’s air-source heat pumps are not your father’s heat pumps.”

Photo of an air-source heat pump.
Air-Source Heat Pump (Photo: NRECA)

There are a variety of reasons why it’s time to take another look at air-source heat pumps (ASHPs). They are:

  • Much more energy efficient than other types of HVAC equipment such as fossil fuels (gas, oil, propane) and resistance electric units. ASHPs offer 200-250 percent efficiency in winter vs. gas, oil or propane units, which are only 80-97 percent efficient.

  • Powered by electricity, the cleaner energy source. Rather than creating energy, air-source heat pumps remove energy from the air, concentrate it and push the heat either into or out of your home to provide heating or cooling.

  • Able to provide year-round heating and cooling in the same unit. You don’t need to purchase a separate furnace and air conditioner.

  • Customizable with ductless or ducted units, allowing various configurations to heat and cool individual rooms, zones or your entire home.

  • Healthy and safe, with no worries about carbon monoxide or other gases, and the units can filter and dehumidify air to improve your home’s air quality.

  • High performers in the coldest weather. Advances in technology have taken the industry from a primarily above-freezing-only appliance to one that can perform well in nearly any cold climate. Energy Star now has a cold-climate standard, which was to be launched in January 2023.

Heat Pump Options The types of heat pumps available may be confusing. Here are the types you will want to learn about:

  1. Geothermal heat pumps are often considered to be the “gold standard” for heating and cooling. There are two types: ground-source and water-source. While these systems are exceptionally efficient, they are also more expensive than other HVAC systems and require either a horizontal or a vertical loop system. For more information on geothermal systems, check out what Energy.gov has to say about choosing and installing a geo system.

  2. “Original” ASHPs, that is, a model not necessarily rated for cold climates, may require a backup heat source, such as a gas furnace or resistance electric heat. While the traditional heat pump will usually handle heating until the temperature dips to about freezing, an additional heat source is needed to keep your home comfortable after that point. A dual system can make sense if you have a heat source and want to add a heat pump for greater efficiency. These units require ducting.

  3. A cold-climate heat pump is now considered a viable option for homes in almost any climate, without requiring a backup HVAC system. When checking for heat pump options, you’ll want to differentiate between “cold climate” and those not rated for our cold winter weather. It’s vital that if you choose this option, you’ll need to be thorough in sealing your home, purchase the right unit for your home and hire a reputable contractor who is experienced in installing heat pumps. Also recognize that these units require ducting.

  4. Mini-split units. These small units do not require ductwork. They are used to heat a room or an area of the house rather than conducting heat throughout the living space.

First Steps When Considering an Air Source Heat Pump

  1. Tighten up your home. No heating system can be effective at keeping your home comfortable during the heat or the cold if you have leaks and drafts. Contact your electric cooperative for details about rebates, energy-efficiency information and more. Additionally, this podcast with energy expert Bill McNally on IPR Talk of Iowa, offers suggestions and resources. From this link, scroll to the program broadcast on Feb. 7, 2023. If you are interested in an energy audit to help determine your needs, Green Iowa AmeriCorps based at the University of Northern Iowa, may be able to help you; while they provide audits in some portions of the state, they can provide energy savers kits statewide. Find details here.

  2. Explore options. Again, the energy advisor at your REC can provide valuable information about the various types of systems available, details about reputable sales/installation companies operating in your area and more. One question to ask contractors about is ductwork. Ross Welterlen notes that converting a ducted conventional furnace to a ducted heat pump system may require larger ductwork. That’s because the heating discharge temperature of a heat pump is lower than a conventional furnace, which may require more airflow.

More Good Advice These consumer guides offer details that will answer many of your questions.

  • Air-Source Heat Pump Buying Guide from Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships (NEEP) includes detailed consumer information on the types of heat pumps, how they work, how to select the right unit for your home, finding a contractor and other guidance.

  • Getting the Most Out of Your Heat Pump, also from NEEP, is a brief guide to getting the greatest comfort and most savings from your investment.

Next month: We’ll recap tax benefits of purchasing a heat pump.

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