Heat pumps 101: Efficiently heat and cool your home while saving money

Over 300 people participated in a webinar to learn more about heat pumps and how to find the one that works best for any home.

Panelists and hosts of Heat Pumps 101
Johanna Neumann | TPIN
Matt Casale

Former Director, Environment Campaigns, U.S. PIRG Education Fund

In a webinar organized by Environment America Research & Policy Center and U.S. PIRG Education Fund, attendees learned the basics of how to modernize their homes with heat pump technology. Homeowners told their stories of how they installed heat pumps in their homes, and heat pump professionals explained the basics of how heat pumps work, the different types of heat pump available, how to find and work with contractors, and how to make your home a good candidate for heat pump installation.

Benefits of heat pumps

The event kicked off with a message from Colorado Senator John Hickenlooper, who talked about the benefits of heat pumps- how they can operate at over 100% efficiency, save on energy bills, and slash carbon emissions by 40%. Senator Hickenlooper has installed a heat pump himself, and has worked to pass tax credits promoting heat pumps as well.

Heat pumps can seem like miracle devices…[they] can beat the efficiency of virtually any other household device. Senator John Hickenlooper
US Senator from Colorado

Heat pump basics

Rob Bayless, senior project manager of Elephant Energy, talked about the basics of heat pumps and home electrification, explaining how heat pumps operate by moving heat- from outdoors to indoors in the winter, and vice versa in the summer. The fact that heat pumps only have to move heat and not create it is key to their efficiency. He also discussed the difference between ducted and ductless heat pumps- homes that already have well-maintained central ducts are generally best suited for ducted heat pumps, whereas homes with zonal systems are generally a better fit for ductless systems. 

In Colorado this past winter we had weather down to -18 degrees, which is really cold for Denver, and we had dozens of heat pumps cranking out heat and keeping people warm. Rob Bayless
Senior Project Manager at Elephant Energy

How to find a heat pump installer

Jane Melia, CEO and co-founder of Harvest Thermal, spoke on how homeowners can work with installers. Given how many factors go into picking the right heat pump, she recommends homeowners talk to a contractor before making a decision on what kind of heat pump they want. Many areas have local resources or lists where people can find contractors with heat pump experience. When talking to a contractor, she recommends asking if they have installed a heat pump before, if they have a customer reference, and if they have an understanding of concepts like energy efficiency and air sealing. She also recommends checking the license to see how long they have been operating.

If you meet a contractor who says “Don’t do heat pumps, it’s a bad idea”, I suggest you go and find somebody else. Because heat pumps work really well in most climates. Jane Melia
CEO and co-founder of Harvest Thermal

How to make your home heat pump-ready

Zachary Turner, the in-home estimator for Climate Control, recommends that before homeowners pick out a heat pump, that they make sure their home is as efficient as can be by working on weatherization, air sealing, and insulation. Zach suggested that if you have an older home or live in a colder climate, to call in a company to test your home for air leaks. He then discussed the different types of heat pumps beyond ductless and ducted, such as a “super-split”, or variant refrigerant fluid, often used in larger projects. Despite the fact that most people he does assessments for aren’t outright looking for a heat pump, it often ends up being the best option. 

I would suggest that you first think about making yourself a good candidate to have a heat pump…that you do think about the weatherization and home performance. Zachary Turner
In-home Estimator at Climate Control

Home owners share their heat pump stories

Our homeowner panel featured Emily Kelly-Fischer and Wendy Mihalic, both heat pump users. Wendy lives in San Diego, California, and began her heat pump journey for environmental reasons, out of a desire to decarbonize her home. Emily is located in Denver, Colorado, and began with the desire to replace her gas furnace, which was nearing the end of its life. She liked the idea of having one appliance that could heat and cool, and being able to take advantage of Denver-area rebates, as well as being able to get off gas eventually. Wendy wanted to electrify several different aspects of her home at once. Emily had some issues finding a contractor willing to work with heat pumps, until she heard about Elephant Energy from a news story and reached out to them. Wendy’s family invested in a ducted, zonal heat pump system, but she mentions that her electrification journey actually started with her rooftop solar panels. Wendy recommends homeowners try to electrify as many parts of their home at once. Both Emily and Wendy are very happy with their new systems.

It’s not just one appliance- it’s all of them….electrification plans for homeowners are really important. Think it through. Wendy Mihalic
San Diego homeowner
If something breaks, it’s at least worth asking- can this be replaced with an electric appliance? Emily Kelly-Fischer
Denver homeowner and State Financial Administrator at The Public Interest Network

Attendees asked more than a hundred questions of our experts, heat pump installers and homeowners during the webinar. You can read the questions asked during the webinar and read answers and listen to the video excerpt from the webinar relevant to that question below.

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Authors

Matt Casale

Former Director, Environment Campaigns, U.S. PIRG Education Fund

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