Heat pumps are an exciting technology that offers green heating options for your home energy needs. Heat pumps extract heat from outside (even on the coldest days) and pump it throughout your home. During warmer months, heat pumps work in reverse to keep your home cool.
Discover more about heat pumps from Burlington resident Jim Feilders by watching this video and checking out the informative Q & A further below.
“I had my heat pump installed in 2010 as part of my home reno. The green features in my house have resulted in heating and cooling energy about 90% less than surrounding homes, and the carbon emissions are also as low. With no humidifier or dehumidifier, the humidity stays within the ideal range all year long. No shocks at light switches or dry skin in the winter. Temperatures are equal throughout the home.”
~ Jim Feilders, Burlington resident.
Notice: The Province canceled the Green Ontario Fund in 2018.
Q & A with Jim Feilders, engineer and local green homeowner
What is an air-to-air heat pump and how does it work?
These units can heat or cool your home by moving air between the outdoors and indoors. They literally “squeeze” heat out of the air in much the same way that your refrigerator or air conditioner does. However, what’s great is that they can get heat out of even sub-zero air and can warm your home even in the middle of winter in Canada.
On extremely cold days, some units may require a boost, often from an electric heating coil that is used to supplement the heat produced by the pump. My unit is good to minus 35 degrees, however, so the heat pump does it all in my case.
In the summer, they work in reverse and cool your home by moving heat out of the house via the same process.
This technology has actually been around for awhile, but it is getting better and better – and costs are decreasing. A number of Japanese companies have been very actively pushing the technology and now offer some very efficient units, which look like large air conditioners. It has been tested extensively in Canada and I can say from my own experience with my own home, which has been heated and cooled this way for eight years, it works! I know of at least eight other homes using this technology around Burlington in Southern Ontario – and interest is steadily growing now that the technology is becoming more accessible.
So it replaces my furnace?
Yes, and your air conditioner. There are also units that can be attached to an existing furnace. These add-on units provide about 70% of your heating and also give you air conditioning.
And this is different than a ground-source heat pump?
Yes, ground source heat pumps, which some people call geothermal, need lines buried in the earth, either in long loops or down deep wells. It’s good technology for large new buildings or homes with lots of open space around them, but a lot more difficult and expensive to install in existing homes without a lot of space.
What does an air-to-air unit cost?
It will depend on the size of your house and how well insulated it is among other factors. But roughly up to double what a conventional furnace-air conditioner combo would cost. However, a heat pump lasts as long as its competition.
Some manufacturers also now have “lease to own” programs that can be a great way of adopting the technology. The loan is secured by the unit, so credit is not a problem. A home line of credit continues to be a low-cost way to finance things if you have access to that. And in the City of Toronto, the Home Energy Loan Program (HELP) program offers loans at as little as 2% interest that are tied to your property, so if you end up selling your home before the loan is paid off, the buyer assumes the loan through their property tax payments.
And what about operating costs?
For my home, it costs 75% less to run the heat pump system than it would to heat with gas and cool with a conventional A/C because the heat pump is so efficient. But again, it will depend on the specifics of your home. My home is super well insulated, which is also a great way to save money. For the typical natural gas heated home, the savings in operating costs will go a long way to make up for the capital costs over the life of the unit, especially if your existing furnace and AC are not top-ranked for efficiency.
In the case of a home that is heated with electric baseboard units, operating costs with a heat pump will be significantly lower because the heat pump is so much more efficient. And you get A/C to boot. The same for homes heated with propane or fuel oil.
Heat pumps also generally have lower maintenance costs than a conventional furnace-A/C combo.
So who should be looking at this technology?
Certainly anyone with electric baseboard, propane or fuel oil heating. And anyone in the market for a new furnace- A/C combo could well come out ahead by switching. Remember that natural gas prices have risen by 27% since 2013 and will likely continue to climb thanks to carbon pricing and other market factors — we’re coming out of a period of rock-bottom gas prices. And even if you don’t want to replace your furnace, you can explore an add-on heat pump unit to cut gas use and add A/C to your home.
What is the environmental benefit?
Well, this is where the technology really shines. Because Ontario got rid of dirty coal, our electricity is now very low carbon – and heat pumps run on electricity. So you will dramatically reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with heating your home — by up to 90%. Now, if you combined this with solar on your home, you could make the electricity the system uses even lower carbon. So this is a great way to address the biggest climate impact of your home. And you can do that in many cases while saving money or spending the same as you do now – a huge win-win!
Heat pumps use standard refrigeration technology which is reliable and time-proven. With technology advances and the introduction of new incentive programs, the life cycle costs of heat pumps are very competitive when compared with gas furnaces.
The savings in operational costs and maintenance far surpass the initial investment, making heat pumps a more economically viable solution in the long term.