Air Source Heat Pumps-Your Questions Answered!

We’ve had a ton of enthusiastic questions and interest following our recent announcement of the Heat Clean campaign to educate Vermonters on the opportunity to reduce fossil fuel use for heating and save money through air-source heat pumps. So, we’ve pulled together a few answers to the most frequent questions below.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much savings are we talking?

How much you can save with a Cold climate heat pump (CCHP) of course depends on what fuel you use now, and how much of it you use. While heating needs vary widely from home to home, a “typical” Vermont family using about $3,000 in oil a year could save $1000-1500 a year. That’s because Cold climate heat pump installing one or more heat pumps can cut fossil fuel reliance by 60-80%. So, while your electric bill will go up (since heat pumps run on electricity), your oil or propane bill will go down a lot more.

What’s the cost of installing a heat pump?

The install cost will generally be in the $3-8,000 range, but because the savings are so large if you finance it you’ll save money from year one.

Are they hard to install?

No! Cold climate heat pumps can be installed in a day, without any major retrofitting. That’s because they’re “ductless”, meaning you don’t need to install new ducting or connect to existing ducts.

Who installs cold climate heat pumps?

VPIRG is partnering with a number of installers in Chittenden and Addison counties for our Heat Clean campaign, and our goal is to encourage installation of 100 heat pumps by the heating season. These installers’ names are on the back of our Fact Sheet and can be found at Don’t live in Chittenden or Addison Counties? Several of those installers operate more widely, and that page also links to a tool to lookup heat pump installers anywhere in Vermont.

Will my electric bill go up?

While it’s true you’ll be using more electricity (that’s what heat pumps use to run), you’ll be saving much more from reductions in your oil or propane use than you’ll be spending on electricity. A “typical” home heating with oil or propane now will save $1000-1500 a year, even after taking into account increases in electric usage. For an example, see our info sheet.

I’ve heard these aren’t suitable for places with really cold climates, like Vermont.

In fact, thanks to a technological breakthrough a few years back, truly “cold climate” heat pumps now exist. These new units will operate here in Vermont, even when temperatures sink to -10 or -15. It’s important to install a cold climate heat pump though, as there are still lots of similar heat pumps on the market that don’t operate efficiently below freezing.

I’ve heard these aren’t suitable for houses that are not well insulated.

If a home is being heated with fossil fuels now, in most cases it’s going to be a win for the environment to install a cold climate heat pump, whether or not that home is particularly efficient. There’s no question it would be better for that home to be weatherized too, but these units are so efficient that installing them will reduce total energy use, even taking into account the energy lost in generating & transmitting electricity (click here for more detail).

All to say, if you haven’t looked into weatherizing your home yet you would almost certainly benefit from it. Pairing an efficient home with a cold climate heat pump is even better than doing either measure by itself. But if for whatever reason you’re unable to weatherize right now, you still could likely benefit from a cold climate heat pump.

Are these still efficient in houses with lots of rooms or non-open floor plans?

How open vs. segmented a house is/how many rooms it has is certainly a factor to consider, just like it is with a wood or pellet stove. That said, a home doesn’t need an open floor plan to benefit from a cold climate heat pump or pumps. Just like a wood stove, these heat the room they’re in the most, but that heat naturally moves (and can be more intentionally moved) to other parts of the home as well. How much that will impact the benefit of the unit depends on the home. The best way to figure out whether a heat pump is right for your home is to contact a qualified installer and talk through your particular situation.

Can a heat pump work alongside my existing oil, propane or gas boiler?

In fact, it’s designed to. Your heat pump will supply most of your heat most of the year and your old fossil fuel system will make up the difference on the coldest winter days.

Is a cold climate heat pump really cleaner? Don’t they run off of electricity, most of which is generated using dirty fuels — especially fossil fuels?

Yes, cold climate heat pumps are cleaner than burning fossil fuels at your home to stay warm, even if they’re powered by electricity generated using oil or gas. That’s because they’re so efficient that significantly less oil or gas is needed to generate that electricity then you’d need to burn in your home to make the same amount of heat.

This was a key question for us when we were looking into this technology. We did our homework, having our staff do significant research on the topic and even bringing in an outside consultant to make doubly sure. Even when you take into account the energy lost in the generation and transmission of electricity, you’re still reducing pollution overall by installing one. If you’re interested in getting more detail, you can read VPIRG’s testimony on the topic in the legislature, as well as the report we commissioned (page 6-7 covers greenhouse gas impacts). And if you want to reduce your carbon pollution even more, consider going solar or weatherizing, in addition to installing a heat pump.

If you’re interested in finding out where your utility purchases come from, you can see Green Mountain Power’s portfolio here, VEC’s here and BED’s here. For other utilities, see your individual utility’s website.

Do I need to go solar at the same time?

Similar to weatherization, going solar to power your cold climate heat pump gets you even more than a heat pump by itself – more pollution eliminated, more savings over time – but even if you can’t go solar just yet a heat pump by itself is worth considering.

What if I use wood or wood pellets? Is this still worth looking into?

Cord wood and wood pellets are cost competitive with cold climate heat pumps, so if you’ve already largely switched from fossil fuels to wood the economic benefits of installing a heat pump will be smaller. That said, if you still use a decent amount of oil or propane and supplement with wood, a heat pump may make sense. It’s also worth noting that heat pumps have two other advantages over wood and pellet stoves – convenience (no loading necessary) and local air pollution (even the most efficient biomass stoves emit particulates, though substantially less than older stoves and fireplaces).

If I heat with gas is this still worth considering?

Even without taking into account any of the climate-roasting methane that leaks out during the drilling and transportation of fracked gas, our research clearly shows heat pumps are better than gas from a pollution perspective. Installing a cold climate heat pump to reduce a home’s gas use would result in a significant reduction in carbon pollution. And while cost wise gas and heat pumps are about on-par right now, historically fossil fuels (including gas) have had more volatile prices than electricity.

Can these be used in commercial buildings?

Smaller commercial buildings could just use the same units residences use, and there are versions of the technology that can be used in larger commercial buildings (the bottom two model lines on, for instance).