ACHRNEWS

What's So Hot About Heat Pumps?

November 9, 2009
Dale Green

I found it quite interesting to read the July 2009 shipment numbers for heat pumps from the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI). Seeing more than a 21 percent increase in shipments (156,464 units up 21.3 percent) from the same month a year ago, gives us all a glimmer of hope as the economy continues to recover. Personally, I also find this to be an encouraging sign because many of us have heard that heat pump technology can often be very confusing as consumers determine whether it’s a good option for their homes.

One of the ways we describe a heat pump is to put it in consumer familiar terms, like comparing it to your car. A car has the ability to drive both forward and in reverse, whereas a heat pump has the ability to both heat and cool. I’ve even heard heat pumps referred to as the “magic appliance.” Why? Because heat pumps can do the work of both a furnace and an air conditioner so there’s no need to install separate systems to heat and cool your home. Going back to our car analogy … to top things off, while gasoline prices seem to be a never-ending guessing game when it comes to driving our cars and obtaining optimal fuel efficiency, heat pumps can be one of the most efficient ways to heat and cool a home for many people because they simply transfer heat, rather than burn fuel to create it.

As ambassadors for our industry, it’s incumbent upon us to help homeowners navigate the technology and nuances of today’s heat pumps to help them determine if they are viable options for their part of the country and lifestyle. We need to remember that most consumers do not know how much they’re paying for a kilowatt hour of electricity and not all homeowners know what they currently have for a home system when it comes to heating. As long as it works, people usually don’t give it much thought.

As with most major purchasing decisions, it’s often beneficial for homeowners to ask themselves some simple, yet important questions to help determine if they should consider buying a heat pump. Here are some things to consider sharing with your customers in simple terms:

• If homeowners live in a temperate climate where there aren’t many days or nights below freezing, a heat pump might be the perfect choice because instead of using a furnace and air conditioner they may be able to save money on their utility bill. Heat pumps may not be the best choice in colder climates, however, so it is important that homeowners learn which kind of heating and cooling equipment is best for their area before installing one in their home.

• If a homeowner lives in an area with a limited supply of natural gas, they’re also a perfect candidate for a heat pump because their home is powered by electricity.

• We also need to help customers think about their preferences when it comes to the degree in which they want to have intense heat. As we know, natural gas-fired furnaces provide much more intense heat, while heat pumps take longer to heat a home, so it’s a more gradual heat designed for more moderate climates.

Since I’ve been in the industry, it’s amazing to see how the technology has changed with heat pumps. Today’s units are about 1½-to-2 times more efficient than the old models. We’re now using variable speed blowers, helping them be even more effective when it comes to uniformly heating and cooling homes. But at the end of the day, it still takes a qualified HVAC contractor to determine which system best serves the specific needs of each customer. We need to remind consumers that a qualified HVAC contractor can help them make this decision by performing a load calculation on their homes and estimating the cost of operation for the different combinations of equipment on the market.

As we’re seeing in today’s challenging housing market, many homeowners are rethinking their home improvement and remodeling projects by focusing on practical and cost-saving upgrades. The good news for our industry is that experts report home improvement projects that increase energy efficiency are among the best investments for delivering real paybacks now and in the future. According to the Appraisal Institute, for every dollar saved in annual utility costs, homeowners can expect to add $20 to their home’s market value.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, heat pumps are gaining market share and are becoming one of the most cost efficient systems people can buy to heat their homes. As consumers continue to look at home energy options that pay dividends now and in the future, heat pumps are becoming “hot.” With all of the advances in today’s high-efficiency units, we could borrow a line from Oldsmobile by saying, “It’s not your father’s heat pump.”

Publication date: 11/09/2009