EP: 03: Replacing Central Air? Here’s Why A Heat Pump Is Better
Jump to Transcript | Jump to Show Notes
In this episode, Mike Gunderson from Compass Heating and Air gives us a crash course on heat pumps and also debunk a few myths about them.
If you’re ready to improve the comfort of your Fox River Valley home, call or email Mike for your free consultation.
Replacing Central Air With A Heat Pump
What Is A Heat Pump?
For us at thirty degrees above zero, we’re cold. Some people are putting on sweatshirts when it’s fifty out. But as long as the temperature outside, your ambient air that you’re drawing the heat from, is warmer than the refrigerant temperature, the refrigerant will absorb that heat as heat always transfers to cold.
It’s like the old saying that if you open the window in your house during the winter, you’re not letting the cold air in, you’re letting hot air out. Even though it feels cold to us, there’s still enough heat out there so the heat pump can do what it needs to do.
In the summertime, the heat in your house heats up the refrigerant. Since that refrigerant runs in a loop, once it reaches the heat pump outside, the refrigerant dumps the heat.
In the winter it works in reverse so that the heat that’s outside heats up the refrigerant and when the refrigerant travels inside to the coil, it takes the heat with it. The heat is riding with that refrigerant, and then it’s expelled in the home.
There’s something inside where you’re going to have heat transfer either to or from the living space that you’re trying to condition.
Then you’ll have a unit outside where you’re going to either gather heat like you would in the winter in order to put that into the conditioned space or in the summertime.
When the refrigerant absorbs that heat in the winter, it’s transferred inside. It’s like it’s magnified essentially. Because of the way the devices and everything works, that makes that coil warm, and the air in the house goes across the coil.
Then that heat of the coil is transferred to the colder air from indoors. That heat that’s transferred circulates through the house.
When we apply air that’s much cooler that warm air is created by the transfer from the hot coil and it goes into your air that is circulating into the home.
Will A Heat Pump Work All Winter In Northern Illinois?
Back in my grandfather’s days and even in my father’s day, heat pumps did not work extremely well, especially up here in the Northern climate. It was always considered to be more of a Southern or Southwestern device.
But now that we have Inverter technology, they do extremely well with the heating, even in our climate.
We have extreme cold Inverter compressors right now, so if you’re at 13 below zero, as much as 22 below zero in some cases, the units work extremely well. They will provide ample heating.
The cost of operation does go up when you’re talking about the heating, when it gets colder outside, especially in extreme temperatures. But the equipment is capable of providing heat in those climates where before it was not.
Look at it as driving your car on a highway. You’re going to get a lot better mileage; you’re not having to put the gas pedal down so far to the floor to maintain what it is you’re trying to do.
Instead, you let up and you just kind of maintain 60 miles per hour or whatever it is you’re trying to drive. Whereas if you’re stopping and starting and going from zero to sixty, you tend to burn a lot more gas and fuel.
Now, let’s compare this to a gas furnace or even a radiator. We’re all familiar with them clicking on and off a few times every hour. Sometimes, you can even feel the house has gotten just a little cooler right before it comes on. Then it turns on full blast, warms it up, and then turns off.
With inverter technology, it doesn’t have to do that. It can just always run almost all the time, but it’s just not always running at full blast. A lot of the time it’s running in a low power mode so that it maintains the temperature instead of having to correct it.
So any heat pump you get is going to give you extended use of your, what we call “an air conditioner.” It allows you to heat from that, as opposed to burning fossil fuels if you’re trying to back away from that a little bit.
But you also are paying less money out of your pocket to use a heat pump, even versus a gas furnace.
In our climate, it’s not always advisable to go with a heat pump only and just forego a furnace or an electric air handler. But many times you can, and that’s going to depend greatly on your home and insulation, stuff like that.
Heat pumps tend to have components that you often see on higher-end air conditioners, as opposed to your standard air conditioning. The biggest thing about the heat pump instead of just an air conditioner is the fact that it does cost less to run.
When it comes to comfort in the home heat pumps have less of a reliance on added moisture for maintaining humidity. So that’s a lot more comforting as well.
My wife’s favorite part of the heat pump is that it’s quiet and feels more even. She just feels like the house is more comfortable when a heat pump is running versus the gas furnace.
So, it is a little more expensive than your standard air conditioner upfront. Cost savings is going to come when you’re operating the unit and saving money elsewhere.
When it comes to heating your home, generating heat is much more expensive than moving heat around and with a heat pump. That’s exactly what we’re being allowed to do: Move heat that’s already existing. We don’t have to generate the heat. It’s already there.
The inverter in modern-day heat pumps allows for less wear and tear on your equipment. And, it maintains a more even temperature in your home at a lower cost.
Modern heat pumps with inverters are getting anywhere from three and a half to just over four.
When you’re moving the heat with these heat pumps, the coefficient of performance of four would be, like running four of these heat pumps for the same amount of energy that you’re using on one resistive electric heat source.
Based on our average costs here in Illinois, for electricity being between six-and-a-half and eight cents per kilowatt-hour. Then you have your gas furnaces, which operate typically somewhere between 65 and 69 cents per therm in the wintertime.
It actually winds up being less of an operating cost with a heat pump than it does to run even a 95-percent gas furnace.
We really love running the heat pump. It’s more comfortable in the house for sure, and the cost of operation has been very, very low. The nice thing with that is we’re able to utilize the solar power we’re generating to offset that even more. If you have a natural gas furnace, you’re not going to be able to manufacture your own gas.
We do have a modulating gas furnace as well. So we have high-efficiency gas, and the heat pump is extremely quiet when it’s running. We had it running all winter long last year, which would have been 2019 into 2020. The gas furnace kicked in four or five times the entire winter.
So that kind of gives you an idea of how well these inverters work when you’re heating. This year, we went ahead and switched everything over to gas in November, as opposed to running the heat pump. We did that with the idea to see what is the difference in cost: What is our normal electric rate versus when we’re running a heat pump?
It was amazingly low to heat your house with an inverter heat pump.
It’s just maintaining the temperature and you feel like the air is not really blowing on you. It’s a higher comfort level. It just feels like the heat is there and you’re not doing anything to manipulate that.
For me, having a little more independence from the grid is nice. It’s a neat thing to see the power you’ve generated at your house going to heat and cool your home.
We can pick and choose what works best for our homes. We have a gas furnace and it’s there when we get really cold. We did have a couple of winters ago where we were 25 below zero, and 50 degrees with the wind chill below zero. That’s pretty chilly for a heat pump system.
Now, if your house is designed that way, we do have some customers who have high-efficiency homes. They have a lot of insulation and great windows, and they are able to use the heat pump in the times where the temperatures actually did dip below 25 below, the heat pumps were still working.
But, they are able to maintain the heat in their home because the heat that was put there was kept there.
Any heat pump is going to be better than no heat pump. The whole gamut of heating and cooling is going more in the direction of heat pumps. Hence, the reason ComEd is giving a special incentive for heat pumps that they hadn’t quite done in the past.