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5 Misconceptions About Heat Pumps

Heat pump system purchases are on the rise, with smart homeowners looking toward more energy-efficient options.

August 1, 2023

Americans are buying more heat pumps for their homes than ever. According to Canary Media, an independent, nonprofit newsroom covering the transition to clean energy and solutions to the climate crisis, the annual sales of heat pumps in the United States in 2022 rose above 4 million units, outpacing the sales of gas-powered furnaces. Despite their growing popularity, there remains misinformation and misunderstandings about heat pumps among homeowners. It’s time to ‘clear the air’ about heat pumps and learn how these energy-efficient heating and cooling systems can maximize your savings and comfort.

What is a Heat Pump? 

A heat pump is an energy-efficient way to cool and heat your home. Heat pump systems differ from other heating and cooling systems because they use energy to pull heat from the outside and transfer it inside. To cool a home, the process is reversed, and heat from inside the home is simply transferred outside with the heat pump air handler. Because heat pumps simply move existing heat from one place to another, it is more energy-efficient and cost-efficient than other types of HVAC systems. Heat pumps are installed outside of the home and can act alone to perform both heating and cooling functions.

As heat pumps gain popularity, it’s important to learn how a residential heat pump works together with an AC, furnace, and air handler. A residential heat pump, made specifically for homes,  can both heat and cool your home, whereas air conditioners only cool your home and furnaces only heat your home. Air handlers can be paired with either an air conditioning unit or a heat pump to move cool air through ducts and circulate the cool air throughout the home. However, homes with no ducts can opt for a ductless heat pump, also commonly called a mini split heat pump, which is an alternative to a radiator or baseboard for heating or a replacement for window units for cooling. As the name implies, with a ductless heat pump, no ductwork is needed. Head units are mounted on an interior wall or ceiling, with an accompanying unit outside.

Common Misconceptions about Heat Pumps

Heat pump systems are a smart heating and cooling solution for many homeowners, and heat pumps operate nearly identically to air conditioning units when in cooling mode. However, there are many misconceptions about heat pumps that may give a homeowner pause before purchasing. Take a closer look at five common misconceptions about heat pumps to see if a heat pump is the right HVAC option for your home. 

1. Are heat pumps only for heating? 

No, although the name only mentions heating, heat pumps can both cool and heat your home. Although people typically think of heating when it comes to heat pumps, names can be misleading. Heat pumps use a mechanical-compression refrigeration system that can either heat or cool your home, depending on the season. No matter what the temperature is outside, a heat pump can gather heat located from the ground or the air, depending on what type of heat pump it is. The pump collects the heat and compresses it to increase the temperature of a refrigerant, then pushes the heated air into the home. When the weather is warm, the system reverses and moves heat from inside the home to transfer it outside. This means you only need one system year-round to maintain a comfortable temperature indoors.

2. How does heat pump efficiency compare with other heating and cooling systems?

In the long run, heat pumps are more energy efficient and result in greater cost savings than other heating and cooling systems. Generally, air-source heat pumps have an efficiency rate of 300 percent, which means that a heat pump will produce three units of energy for every unit of electricity it absorbs. Electric boilers have an efficiency rate of 100 percent and gas broilers of 98 percent, significantly less than heat pumps. In the winter, the efficiency rate of heat pumps falls 20 percent, but still remain at least 2.4 times more efficient than gas boilers in the winter. Aside from energy savings, heat pumps can help you save over 30 percent on your energy bill compared to other conventional heating systems. However, heat pumps are more expensive to purchase and install, making the upfront cost higher than purchasing and installing other types of HVAC systems. Overall, while the upfront cost may be more than other options, an efficient heat pump paired with proper insulation will save you money over time. 

3. Are heat pumps louder than other heating and cooling systems? 

While heat pumps used to be pretty noisy, modern air pump technology has evolved into much quieter systems. As long as your heat pump is properly installed by a professional, you shouldn’t have any issues with excess noise. Heat pumps produce about the same level of noise as a refrigerator, which may sound like a low hum. This humming sound comes from the pump’s fan, which pulls air into the system. Additionally, most manufacturers will rate heat pumps by a sound power rating, a lab-tested decibel (dB (A)) measurement of the sound generated by the heat pump when it’s running at full capacity. Some heat pumps are as quiet as a microwave at 51 dB(A). For a quieter model, you will want a heat pump with a rating of no more than 60 dB(A). If the noise level of a heat pump is a concern for you, speak with a professional to determine where to install the outdoor unit, away from areas where noise may be a concern, such as bedrooms or offices.

4. Should a heat pump be used only in warmer climates? 

One of the biggest misconceptions about heat pumps is that they only work in more temperate climates. Heat pumps are designed to work in all seasons and in all climates. Most efficient heat pumps, like Trane systems with their Climatuff™ Variable Speed Compressor, can handle temperatures as low as 0 degrees Fahrenheit for average-sized homes. While it is true that heat pumps have been most common in the warmest parts of the United States for decades, that trend is changing. When properly installed, heat pumps result in cost and energy savings in climates across the United States. 

Although heat pumps work in different climates, there are some things to take into consideration before installing a heat pump. 

  • For a ground-source heat pump, you will want some garden space. If you do not have garden space, you can use an air-source heat pump and mount it to an exterior wall. 
  • Check with your local authority before installing a heat pump, especially if you live in a historic home. 
  • Be sure your home is well insulated before installing any heat pump with at least wall and roof installation. 

5. Do heat pumps burn out quicker than other heating and cooling systems?

Heat pumps can both heat and cool your home, so it may make sense that these units, which run year-round, would burn out faster than other heating and cooling options. Heat pumps do not need to run continuously if the home is well insulated. The key to longevity for heat pumps lies in the maintenance schedule. When properly maintained by a professional, a heat pump can keep your home comfortable for years. As long as your heat pump is properly maintained, high-quality models will last 10 to 20 years and an average of 15 years. 

Purchasing a Residential Heat Pump for Your Home

Heat pumps are growing in popularity across the United States and will continue to do so as the government provides incentives for energy-efficient appliances. For most homeowners, a heat pump is an energy and cost-efficient way to heat and cool your home year-round, no matter which climate you call home. To find the right heat pump for your home or to learn more about seasonal maintenance, talk to your local Trane Comfort Specialist™ today!

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