Common questions and answers about heat pumps

Interested in getting a heat pump, but have questions? Check out our Q&A.

Heat Pump Installation
JPC-PROD | Shutterstock.com
Karli Eheart
Karli Eheart

Former Public Lands Campaign, Associate, Environment America Research & Policy Center

Matt Casale

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

Lots of people are excited about heat pumps these days- and there’s a lot to be excited about, from their efficiency to their environmental benefits, to the incentives available to install one. But as with any technology, people have questions. Here’s some answers to common questions people have about heat pumps.

Many of these questions and answers are taken from our heat pumps webinar, which is viewable here.

Federal tax credits

Is there an income limit for the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) tax credits for heat pumps?

There is no income limit for the IRA tax credits- the only qualification required is that you have tax liability. Later this year, there will also be rebates aimed at lower and middle income homeowners, set up by the states.

What does the $2,000 cap on the IRA tax credit mean? If the heat pump costs more than that, can I get it for multiple years?

The federal tax credit won’t cover the entire cost of the heat pump, and will either cover $2,000 or 30% of the cost of the heat pump, whichever is lower, in the year you install it. Some cities and states have their own programs, and there is also a system-level 30% credit for systems with thermal energy storage.

Do all heat pumps and heat pump water heaters qualify for the 30% federal tax credit?

Not necessarily. To qualify for the IRA tax credit, heat pumps and heat pump hot water heaters must meet efficiency requirements, and be in the Consortium for Energy Efficiency’s highest non-”advanced” tier.

Can you still get an IRS credit on a heat pump if your backup is a gas furnace or oil system? 

Yes! You can have a non-heat pump backup and still use the credit to purchase a heat pump.

State and local incentives

How can we find out about state and local heat pump rebates, if the contractor doesn’t help?

Ideally you find a contractor who is knowledgeable about state and local heat pump rebates. In the absence of that, here are some databases that provide information on state and local incentives.

When will the income-related heat pump rebates go into effect?

Most likely around the end of 2023, but it depends on how the Department of Energy Implements the program.

Can you use state and local heat pump incentives as well as the IRA tax credits?

There is currently nothing to keep local, state and federal rebates from being stacked, but it’s possible that this could change in the future.

Installation costs

What is the difference in price between ducted and ductless heat pump systems?

The ductless mini split systems cost about 20% more than ducted systems. That said, especially if you are switching from oil, these upfront costs can more than pay for themselves in long term savings. Rebates and incentives also help to offset the upfront costs.

How much does it cost to install a heat pump heating and cooling system?

Depending on your home’s size and the climate you live in, the cost to install a heat pump before incentives can range from $3,500 to $35,000. It’s a good idea to get multiple quotes from several contractors to get a complete picture of your options.

How much does it cost to install a heat pump hot water heater?

Depending on the model, your existing hot water heater, and several other factors, installation of a heat pump hot water heater can range from around $1,900 to $3,800.

Operating costs and savings

How do you minimize the impact to your electric bill after switching to a heat pump? 

One major way to reduce your electric bill and make sure that your heat pump is running as efficiently as possible is to invest in weatherizing your home and making sure you’re maximizing your home’s efficiency. Another way is to invest in a heat pump system that has a thermal battery or other “load shifting” technology, which can help by running when electricity is cheapest and storing the heat for later use.

How much can I save on my energy bills with a heat pump heating and cooling system?

Heat pumps are about 3-5 times more efficient than most conventional HVAC systems. Depending on the system it’s replacing, annual savings on your energy bill can range from $100 to $1,300. 

How much can I save on my energy bills with a heat pump hot water heater?

Heat pump water heaters are 2-3 times more efficient than most conventional hot water systems. On average, you’ll save about $175 to $575 a year in operating costs compared to a conventional hot water heater.

Questions about electric and grid issues

What is the minimum electricity service needed for a central ducted heat pump system? 

This depends on the system used and the needs and the size of the home. Usually a heat pump will require between a 30 and 60 amp circuit, but heat pumps can often be installed in homes with only 100 amp circuits.

How do you decide whether you need backup from a non-electric source?

This depends on the BTU rating of your heat pump and how cold it gets in your area. 

What happens to heat pumps during a power outage?

While our utilities pride themselves on providing power during all types of weather, it’s a fact of life that sometimes the power does go out. For better or worse, a heat pump is just like a gas-powered furnace or boiler. All require electricity to operate (this surprises many homeowners, but your furnace and boiler also require electricity to provide heat!). If you live in an area that is prone to frequent power outages, going “off the grid” with solar and battery storage might be a compelling option for you. And soon, you may also be able to power your home via your EV!

Installation and transition questions

If someone has two gas furnaces heating their home, is it possible to swap out one furnace at a time?

Yes! It is possible to replace one then plan to convert another in the future.

Does a ducted system replace an existing gas furnace?

Typically it can. Most heat pump HVAC systems will leverage existing ducts (not mini splits though).

Is it possible to have a ducted heat pump in one part of the house and a mini split in another? If your existing furnace is set up with multiple zones, can that be retained with a heat pump setup?

Yes, it is possible to have multiple “zones”.

Is it possible to have a ducted and ductless hybrid heat pump system?

Yes, it is possible to have a centrally ducted system supplemented with mini-split heads. This can be a great option for rooms that are especially hot or cold without ducts supplying it.

If someone only has AC ductwork, will it work for a ducted system?

It should, but it depends on the size and condition of the ducts. Heat pumps require a fair bit of airflow and so sometimes require larger ducts than the ones that already exist.

If I have no ducts, what type of heat pump system should I be looking for?

A ductless mini-split system can be a great option for homeowners without any ducts!

What kind of heat pump system might work in a house with an older furnace and radiator that lacks a separate water heater?

Sounds like you might be a good candidate for a mini split system, but you would want a professional to take a closer look at the water heater setup. 

Can you have floor based heating and a heat pump?

Yes! There are heat pump systems available for radiant floor heating.

How would a mini-split heat pump system work with radiant heating? 

The mini split can be used for cooling and heating in the warmer seasons, then the radiant heating can be used through the coldest months of winter.

Can you compensate for a drafty house with a higher capacity heat pump?

You can size the heat pump for the larger load, but usually the best investment is to improve the level of insulation and efficiency of your home with weatherization and building envelope improvement.

Installation location questions

Are heat pumps good for houses of all sizes?

There are lots of different heat pump sizes that can cover a whole range of home sizes and environments

Can you install a heat pump on a roof, under a house, in a mobile home? 

Yes! Heat pumps can be installed in all of these spaces.

Can a ducted heat pump be installed in a crawl space?

It depends on the size of the crawl space, but it’s definitely possible!

Should you do lead based paint testing of walls where a ductless heat pump would be installed? 

It’s absolutely a good idea to get tested for lead paint if you have any concerns or suspicions.

Heat pump water heaters

Are heat pump water heaters more or less efficient than an electric tankless water heater?

Heat pump water heaters are the most efficient way to heat water, but the tradeoff is that they heat water slightly slower and they do expel cold air.

How common is it to install a heat pump HVAC system and water heater together?

It’s very common to upgrade a heat pump and water heater in one go!

I have a tankless gas water heater, with no room for a tank. Can I switch to a tankless heat pump water heater?

No, heat pump water heaters all have tanks.

What applications are recommended for air to water heat pumps?

Air to water heat pumps work very well in a wide range of climates. Harvest Thermal uses a high efficiency heat pump water heater that is cold climate compatible, providing the same output down to 4 degrees Fahrenheit – and other cold climate heat pumps would also work well.

Can heat pump water heaters collect heat from outdoors rather than from their  immediate surroundings?

Yes, you can add ducting to them that allows them to pull air from the outside and then expel the cold air to the outside. It’s a great option for some climates.

General heat pump questions

How noisy are heat pumps? What is the noise level of the outside compressor and inside units of a heat pump?

It varies a lot. Some heat pumps are super quiet (37 dB peak). Others can be noisier. You should include noise in the criteria that you specify to the contractor.

How does one control the heat from the heat pump?

Heating and cooling is either regulated by a remote or a typical thermostat.

Can you turn on a heat pump system remotely?

Depending on your contractor, many will install technology that allows you to monitor and control the system from your phone.

What should I be looking for in a specific heat pump model or company?

One big thing that’s important to look at when making any big purchase is the warranty- the length of it and what it covers. EnergyStar, the Northeast Energy Efficiency Project, and Consumer Reports both offer resources that give more information about different heat pump brands and models. However, for the most part, the important things are making sure that you’re getting the heat pump that’s right for your home and climate, which is something you’ll want a trustworthy contractor’s help with.

How long do heat pumps typically last?

Heat pumps usually last 10-15 years, but well-maintained ones can last up to 20-25 years.

It gets very cold where I live. How well do heat pumps work in the cold?

Elephant Energy has installed many heat pumps in very cold places (ie the Colorado Front Range) and they function extremely well in that climate. They’ve also been proven effective in other very cold climate locations (for example, Alaska and Maine). However, there are many people who still think that heat pumps don’t work in this climate because up until a few years ago, heat pump technology was not robust enough for cold weather conditions. Technology improvements have now rendered this belief a myth. If you’re interest in cold climate heat pumps and our recommendations on backup heat, recommend you taking a look at our article on the topic here. The cold climate heat pumps Elephant installs function at 100% down to -5F. This article has more detail.

Are the liquids that heat pumps use toxic, or dangerous to the environment in any way?  

The refrigerants are indeed pretty impactful to the climate if released into the environment uncontrolled manner (which is against EPA regulations). HVAC professionals go through a lot of training and have strict regulations about recovering refrigerants and then returning them to a facility that can recondition the refrigerants to be reused.

What is the difference between air-source, water-source, and geothermal heat pumps?

Air-source heat pumps, which can be ducted or ductless, transfer heat between environments, moving heat in and out of buildings to regulate the temperature. Ground or water source heat pumps, also called geothermal heat pumps, work the same way, but use the temperature differential from the Earth to heat or cool your home rather than the surrounding air. Air-source heat pumps are more common and have a lower upfront cost than geothermal heat pumps, however, geothermal heat pumps do have a lower operating cost. 

What about renters?  How could I discuss heat pump installation with a management company?

One way to encourage your landlord or management company to invest in a heat pump or heat pump hot water heater might be to point out that while there is an upfront cost, over time, they’ll be saving money on the property’s electric bill if they’re paying for utilities, and if you and other renters are paying for utilities, a lower heating and cooling bill makes a home more attractive to potential tenants. Another thing to consider is the incentives available to make it easier to electrify heating and cooling and hot water heaters.

Finding a contractor

How do I find a good contractor to install a heat pump system?

When talking to a contractor, it’s good to ask if they have installed a heat pump before, if they have a customer reference, and if they have knowledge of concepts like energy efficiency and air sealing. It’s also good to check their license and see how long they’ve been operating.

Here are some more resources with recommended heat pump installers for different regions.

Topics
Authors

Karli Eheart

Former Public Lands Campaign, Associate, Environment America Research & Policy Center

Matt Casale

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

Johanna Neumann

Senior Director, Campaign for 100% Renewable Energy, Environment America Research & Policy Center

Johanna directs strategy and staff for Environment America's energy campaigns at the local, state and national level. In her prior positions, she led the campaign to ban smoking in all Maryland workplaces, helped stop the construction of a new nuclear reactor on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay and helped build the support necessary to pass the EmPOWER Maryland Act, which set a goal of reducing the state’s per capita electricity use by 15 percent. She also currently serves on the board of Community Action Works. Johanna lives in Amherst, Massachusetts, with her family, where she enjoys growing dahlias, biking and the occasional game of goaltimate. 

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