Installing an efficient electric heat pump will help you reduce your energy costs (in many cases) and reduce your carbon footprint, while improving indoor air quality and comfort in your home.
Air-source heat pumps (ASHPs) are reversible air conditioners. Just like an air conditioner, in the summer they transfer heat from inside your home to the outside. In the winter they “concentrate” and transfer heat from the outside to inside your home.
See the video at right on how a heat pump can heat your house during the cold winter months. Heat pumps run on electricity but are 2-3 times more efficient than electric resistance heating. Heat pumps provide both heating and cooling for your home, all in one unit. Heat pumps consist of an outdoor unit connected to one or more indoor units by refrigerant lines.
ASHPs can use ducts to transport the warm or cool air throughout your home, like most home heating and central air conditioning systems. There are also “ductless mini-split” and “mini-duct” systems (the latter being a hybrid of ductless and ducted systems). Air-Source heat pumps can also be used to supply heat to in-floor radiant heating systems. These systems are called air-to-water heat pumps.
Ductless heat pumps, also known as “mini-splits,” move refrigerant, rather than heated or cooled air, from the outdoor unit to one or more indoor units. The indoor units are typically wall-mounted and include a small fan. (See ductless heat pump diagram to right.) Ductless mini-split heat pumps tend to be more energy-efficient than ducted systems, in part due to eliminating ducts and requiring smaller fans.
Heat pump technology used to be limited to southern regions of the country. Over the past 5-10 years, heat pumps have been improved and designed to operate in cold climates. The result is a new product category, cold climate heat pumps, which can now perform well year-round, even in the coldest counties in Colorado.
For new and existing homes, heat pumps can provide several important benefits, including:
Reduced annual heating costs
Reduced air pollutant emissions
Heat pumps work very well and tend to be more cost-effective in new homes than in retrofits of existing homes. There are also many benefits of designing new homes to be all-electric.
For retrofits of existing homes, air emissions, comfort, and safety will be improved in nearly every case, but the costs only pencil out today in some applications.
More details are provided below, in the “heat pump applications” section.
Before considering how or whether to upgrade your home’s heating system, you should start with making sure your home is well-insulated. Improving your home’s efficiency by insulating, air sealing, and other weatherization steps will help your heat pump or other heating system work more effectively. Weatherizing will save you money on heating and cooling, improve your comfort, and (as with heat pumps) may be financed through incentives or rebates to help pay for it. See the weatherization/home performance section in this guide.
Check with your electric or gas utility or local government energy services department to take advantage of rebates and financing assistance for home weatherization. See utility rebates
Income-qualified Coloradans can apply for free help in weatherizing their home through the Colorado Energy Office’s Weatherization Assistance Program.
Here are some of the most cost-effective applications for heat pumps in Colorado homes. And in the “How Choose Your Heat Pump Scenario” section below, you can find your climate zone, home size, and current heating and cooling system. We provide estimates of initial costs and potential energy cost savings for a heat pump solution that meets your needs.
STEP 1: Find your heating & cooling equipment
STEP 2: Find your climate zone from the map above
STEP 3: Click on your home size
Air-source heat pumps (ASHPs) are essentially reversible air conditioners. Just like an air-conditioner, in the summer they transfer heat from the air inside your home to the outside. In the winter they transfer and “concentrate” heat from outside air to heat your home.
Air-source heat pumps are the most common (see question number 1). Ground-source heat pumps use water in underground pipes as the heat source (or sink), rather than air. They are more expensive than ASHPs but are also more efficient. Ground-source heat pumps can be used for larger homes, for homes in colder climates (such as Colorado mountain areas), or for multi-family buildings or schools.
There are also “air-to-water” heat pumps, which are air-source heat pumps that transfer heat from the heat pump to water rather than to provide warm air. These systems are less common, but can be used to provide hot water for radiant heating systems.
Whether a heat pump makes sense for your home depends on your current heating system, location, etc. Installing a new heat pump system will not be cost-effective in some situations. Please see the Heat Pump Resources section above.
Heat pumps provide both heating and cooling, and they cost about the same as a new furnace combined with a new central air-conditioning system. However, a heat pump costs significantly more than a gas or propane furnace. If your home has a natural gas furnace or boiler and is comfortable in the summer without air conditioning, then a heat pump will not make economic sense for you.
A ducted heat pump system is very similar to a central AC system, and the heat pump works the same as the AC system during the summer months (providing cooling to the home). In the winter months, the heat pump is able to operate in reverse mode, drawing heat from the cold outside air, concentrating it, and warming the home.
Cold-climate heat pumps achieve better energy performance at colder temperatures than standard heat pumps, and they are designed for higher efficiency over the entire range of winter temperatures. The best cold-climate heat pumps provide 70-80 percent of the heat pump’s maximum heating capacity at temperatures as low as 5 degrees F.
For a new home in climate zones 4 or 5 (all areas of Colorado except for the mountain areas), a cold-climate heat pump system will work very well without a backup furnace. However, for an existing home in these areas with a gas furnace, it will probably be more cost-effective to keep the existing furnace as a backup.
Love Electric aims to accelerate the adoption of heat pumps, heat pump water heaters, and other efficient electric technologies in homes and businesses across Colorado, to lower consumer energy costs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and provide improved health, comfort and other benefits. Love Electric is an initiative of the Beneficial Electrification League of Colorado (BEL-CO).