What is a Heat Pump?

A heat pump is a mechanical-compression cycle refrigeration system that can heat a controlled space, or be reversed and cool the same space. Typically, there are two components to a heat pump system: an indoor unit called an air handler (which circulates air in the space) and an outdoor unit which is the heat pump, but is very similar to the compressor in standard central air installations. The refrigerant is circulated and it absorbs heat (to cool the space) or releases heat to warm the space.

 

 

What types of heat pumps are there?

There are quite a few, but the ones that I've started to see with more regularity are mini-splits (they are installed directly into the walls), and systems that are quite similar to central air installations, where the air handler is in the attic, and the heat pump which is outside.

 

 

How efficient are heat pumps? Do they save on heating costs?

Heat Pumps work with electricity and are considered very efficient. They are a recomended product by MassSave.  They are supposed to be much more efficient than traditional baseboard electric heat. The electricity doesn't come from nowhere of course, it comes from the power plant, and most power today in New England is generated from Natural Gas or Nuclear fuel (about 75%). Although electricity has gotten more expensive lately, the supply of Nat Gas is significant, and will probably keep a lid on prices for the foreseeable future. Oil has been headed in the opposite direction, but still on balance is probably more expensive than heat pumps. Certainly, heat pumps have been significantly less expensive than oil the last few years, when it traded between 3 and 4.5 dollars a gallon. Electric Heat Pumps are probably not cheaper to operate than nat gas furnaces.

Simplistically, heat pumps are a way to take advantage of the low price of Nat Gas even when you have a oil system heating your home. If oil ends up being much cheaper to operate, the old system is still installed, and can be used as the primary, so it's also a great way to "hedge" your bets on any one fuel type.

 

What are the real advantages of heat pumps?

As noted above, heat pumps can save you money with heating your home. But they can ALSO cool your home. So if you don't have A/C, a heat pump can be a great solution. A/C is a feature more and more buyers expect, so you can increase the value of your home and save on energy costs with these systems.

 

 

 

What are cautions with heat pumps?

 

  • Heat Pumps don't work very well when it gets really cold out. The newer systems can operate in temperatures below freezing, but you'll still need another heat source in your home for the coldest parts of winter.
  • The larger systems require duct work to be run in your house, if you don't have duct work already. This is an additional expense.

 

A mini-split system.  The top unit is the one that is wall

 mounted in the home.

 

  • There are "ductless" systems, but they need to be installed in the wall, and while generally unobtrusive, are not invisible like central air or even forced hot water (which is not invisible, it must be said, but is not at eye level either).
  • The ductless systems generally require multiple
  • wall units to cool a home of any significant size.