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It’s no secret that we are in the midst of a new era of heating and cooling. One where advanced technologies enable unparalleled efficiency, sustainability and personalized comfort. It’s also a time when the heat pump is quickly gaining traction and contractors are seeking insights as they add the product to their offering.
Contractors may express hesitation when it comes to suggesting heat pumps to their clients for a variety of reasons. One major concern is the upfront cost and second, some contractors may not be familiar with the technology or may not have the necessary training or certification to install heat pumps.
For many contractors, simply replacing an existing gas furnace with the same device may be an easy solution. But the reasoning behind making that choice may not be what is best for the customer and may be based on myths surrounding heat pumps. To help contractors best advise their customers and strengthen their reputations, here are five of the most common myths about heat pumps.
Myth 1: Installing a heat pump for places where it gets very cold doesn’t make sense.
Reality: Heat pumps work by absorbing free heat from the air outside a home, then transferring it inside. People believe the job gets tougher when it’s chilly out, but heat pump technology works well in a wide variety of climates.
A common misconception states that to achieve high-efficiency electric heating in a cold climate, one needs an expensive, hard-to-install ground-source heat pump, which absorbs heat from underground. While it might not seem like it, on a freezing day there is still heat in the air outside. A heat pump takes some of that heat and moves it around the home. This basic principle enables a heat pump to take in one unit of energy, in the form of a watt of electricity, and pump out between three and four units of heat.
It is true that years ago this technology worked well only in milder climates. But in recent years, a new generation of heat pumps have been developed with inverter-driven variable-speed compressors. These essentially give the heat pump the ability to quickly transport heat from frigid outdoor air. With proper installation and high-efficiency compressors, a heat pump can function at a much higher efficiency than a gas furnace.
Additionally, Rheem recently performed well in the DOE Residential Cold Climate Heat Pump Technology Challenge which was developed to accelerate the commercialization of next-generation heat pumps. Rheem designed a residential heat pump that was able to provide 77 percent of nominal heating capacity at minus-15 degrees ambient temperature, delivering top quality performance. This DOE challenge showcases the exceptional performance heat pumps can provide in a variety of temperatures.
Myth 2: Heat pumps aren’t environmentally friendly.
Reality: Over time, heat pumps have developed a reputation for causing pollution and damaging the environment. The beauty of the heat pump is that there are no harmful emissions, as they don’t rely on fossil fuels like oil and natural gas to generate heat. Heat pumps also generally put out more cool and warm air by volume than the amount of energy it takes to run them. Together, these two elements make them more sustainable than other heating options.
Switching to a heat pump can be a vital step toward a zero-carbon system. Not only are they a safer alternative for the environment, but also for indoor air quality since there is no carbon monoxide release. It’s also much safer to not pipe gas into customers’ homes since they can be a liability due to a range of public health and safety impacts.
Myth 3: It costs a ton to install an electric heat pump or air handler.
Reality: There is a misconception among some contractors that if their customers were to switch out their gas furnace with an electric air handler or heat pump system, it would involve structural changes to the home and cost more.
This isn’t true. While there may be an initial upfront cost, it is important to note that a heat pump is an efficient all-in-one system covering both heating and cooling for most climates – that’s two birds with one stone! In climates facing more extreme temperature swings, a secondary heating source may be needed.
When in cooling mode, heat pumps are as efficient as central air conditioners and are much more efficient than window AC units, which can be costly to operate. Heat pumps can really save homeowners money on their electric heating bills. Contractors would be right in advising homeowners that their initial upfront cost is offset by the future savings from heating and cooling their home. This can be leveraged even more if the heat pumps are powered with solar energy.
Finally, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 recently put the spotlight on heat pumps, promising rebates and tax breaks to help offset the cost of installation.
Myth 4: A heat pump is going to require extra maintenance.
Reality: Like every other high-functioning device, a heat pump requires annual maintenance. The most important task for a heat pump is regular filter replacement. This ensures that the unit is working efficiently, reducing the likelihood of breakdowns. Since the outdoor unit is running all year long, it is sensible to advise homeowners to make sure it’s maintained and that the outdoor coil is clean.
To do an even more thorough job, contractors need to make sure they check the insulation or partner with an external company to ensure that the house is leak proof. If a home is insulated to the right standard, a heat pump will be able to function optimally while maintaining comfortable temperatures all year round.
Myth 5: Building electrification is inconvenient and heat pumps can’t sustain the load.
Reality: Building electrification is not just a trend, it is a necessary step toward achieving a sustainable future. Heat pumps are a highly effective and efficient method for heating and cooling large commercial properties and whole buildings. They work by transferring heat from one location to another rather than generating heat through combustion like traditional heating systems. This process is more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly, making heat pumps an attractive option. In fact, they can provide up to three times more heat energy than the electricity they consume.
One of the primary advantages of heat pumps is their ability to provide both heating and cooling in a single system. This means that a building can use the same system for both hot summer days and chilly winter nights, rather than having to invest in separate heating and cooling systems. Heat pumps can also be used in conjunction with other heating and cooling systems, such as radiant heating or forced-air systems, to create a comprehensive climate control system.
Energy Efficient Solutions
The heat pump is having its moment in the spotlight. Suggesting heat pumps to clients can benefit contractors by increasing demand, building a better reputation, saving homeowners money, taking advantage of government incentives and establishing long-term maintenance contracts.
Suggesting the correct heat pump is key. There are three main types of heat pumps:
Air-source heat pumps.
Ground-source heat pumps.
Ductless mini-split systems.
Air-source heat pumps extract heat from the outside air and transfer it into the home, while ground-source heat pumps extract heat from the ground. Ductless mini-split systems are ideal for homes that do not have ductwork.
Contractors should assess the home’s insulation, size, age, and layout, as well as the climate and the number of occupants, to recommend the best heat pump. Sizing is critical, and a heat pump that is too small will not heat or cool the home efficiently, while a heat pump that is too large will be more expensive to operate. Contractors should also consider the client’s budget, efficiency goals and maintenance needs when suggesting the correct heat pump.
If contractors can leverage these insights and add heat pumps into the offering, it can further strengthen their reputation as a customer-first service provider. Additionally, heat pumps add an energy efficient solution for the customers of contractors while creating a more sustainable future for their community.
Jeff Goss is the director of residential project management at Rheem.