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Heat naturally moves from warmer places to cooler places. Heat pumps use electricity to move heat in the opposite direction, from cooler places to warmer places, making the cool space cooler and the warm space warmer. Your refrigerator is a heat pump, moving heat from inside the refrigerated cabinet (cooler place) into your kitchen (warmer place). An air conditioner is a heat pump, moving heat from inside your home (cooler place) to the outside summer air (warmer place).
Heat pumps are also used to heat homes, taking advantage of the fact that in the spring, fall - and yes, even in the winter - there is some heat in the outdoor air. An air-source heat pump collects heat from the outdoor air, concentrates it via an outdoor compressor, and distributes it inside through an indoor room unit or a home’s ductwork. During the summer, a heat pump can operate in reverse, as an air conditioner, by moving heat from indoors to the outside air. Heat pumps require electricity to run, but can deliver more energy in the form of heat moved into a home than they use in electricity for operation.
Air-source heat pumps have been used for many years in nearly all parts of the United States, but until recently they have not been used in areas that experienced extended periods of subfreezing temperatures. However, in recent years, air-source heat pump technology has advanced so that it now offers a legitimate space heating alternative in colder regions. Over 300,000 heat pumps were sold in New England, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and Washington DC in 2015 alone.
The majority of people who install an air-source heat pump in their home do so to obtain an improved level of comfort. For example, they may wish to add air conditioning to a home, or to better heat or cool parts of their home that weren’t adequately heated or cooled before. And, popular ductless heat pumps installed throughout a home are zone-friendly – you heat or cool only the rooms you need to.
People who currently have conventional electric resistance or propane-fueled heating systems can save 50% - 70% on energy costs by heating with an air-source heat pump instead. At current fuel prices, oil heating households can save up to 30%. At current prices, natural gas-heating households won’t cut costs by using air source heat pumps.
Concordians also install heat pumps because the systems reduce household carbon emissions due to heating by 30 – 70%. This is a result of the combined high efficiency of the heat pump technology and the relatively lower carbon content of electricity, compared to other heating fuels. Most homeowners keep their existing heating system when they install heat pumps. On extremely cold days, the existing heating system supplements the heat provided by the heat pumps. The actual percentage of carbon reduction depends on the percentage of the home’s heating needs met by heat pumps, and the heating fuel being replaced.
Cold climate air-source heat pumps come in two varieties: ductless and ducted.
Ductless heat pumps, also known as mini-splits, have outdoor compressors and indoor wall, floor, or ceiling mounted units to distribute the warm or cool air. Because ductless heat pumps do not require the presence of air ducts, they can be installed in homes currently heated with a boiler or an electric baseboard heating system.
Outdoor and indoor components of a ductless ASHP system in Concord, MA
A central ducted heat pump can be installed in homes with air ducts. It looks and performs like a central air conditioning system, except that it can heat in winter as well as cool in summer.
Outdoor and indoor components of a ducted heat pump system in Carlisle, MA
Whether you choose ductless or ducted heat pumps depends on the characteristics of your home.
At current heating oil, propane and electricity prices, the cost savings from using heat pumps pay for the additional upfront cost more quickly in some circumstances than in others. The payback period depends on whether a home currently has central AC, and if so, whether a home’s heating system and/or central AC are at end of life and need to be replaced. See the summary table below.
At current prices, natural gas-heating households won’t cut costs by using air source heat pumps. Therefore, there are no cost savings to offset the additional upfront cost of replacing natural gas-fired heating equipment with heat pumps rather than with conventional equipment.
Payback Period: Energy savings will offset the higher upfront cost of heat pumps compared to conventional equipment over time*
Current Heating Fuel
Need to replace Heating System + Central A/C
Need to replace Heating System *OR* Central A/C
4 - 10 yrs
≥ 20 yrs
No current central A/C: ≥ 20 yrs
1 - 6 yrs
Need to replace heating system + want to replace window A/C: 5 - 6 yrs
Heating and central AC systems in good shape: 10 - 11 yrs
Heating system in good shape; no current central AC: 10 – 11 yrs
4 - 8 yrs (depends on central vs window A/C and condition of these)
ETS (Electric Thermal Storage)
CMLP recommends you replace with heat pumps at end of system life
*The estimated payback periods assume current fuel and electricity prices.
The economics of investing in heat pumps will vary based on your specific circumstances, and payback periods may or may not fall within the estimated ranges listed above. Keep in mind that many people invest in heat pumps for quality of life benefits as well as cost savings. These may include adding AC to your home, replacing inconvenient window AC units, or having more control over temperature in individual rooms. Others also invest in heat pumps for their environmental value.
CMLP can put you in touch with Concord residents who have already installed heat pumps in their homes, and who would be happy to share information about their experience buying and using a heat pump. Contact Energy Specialist Pamela Cady at firstname.lastname@example.org or 978-318-3149 for referrals.
We suggest soliciting proposals from at least three heat pump installers. Before soliciting proposals, consider talking with Concord residents who have already installed heat pumps in their homes. CMLP’s Energy Specialist, Pamela Cady (email@example.com or 978-318-3149), can put you in touch with Concord residents who would be happy to share information about their experience buying and using a heat pump.
CMLP strongly suggests that you seek proposals from HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) contractors who can provide a letter or certificate from the manufacturer verifying that the installer has successfully completed at least 4 hours of manufacturer training within the last 5 years for the type of products (i.e. ductless or ducted) that they install. The manufacturer training need not have been provided by the manufacturer of the same equipment brand that is being installed in your home, but it must be provided by a manufacturer of the same equipment type (i.e. ductless training if ductless equipment is installed; ducted training if ducted equipment is installed.) CMLP highly recommends that you request the installer submit this documentation to you with their proposal. The documentation will be required if you wish to apply for a CMLP rebate for your heat pump.
The following HVAC contractors have installed air conditioning and/or heat pump systems for Concord residents who have received energy efficiency rebates from CMLP in the past. CMLP does not have any knowledge of customer experiences with these vendors, and we do not endorse, nor have we pre-qualified these companies in any way. When requesting a proposal from a contractor, CMLP recommends asking for the documentation of the manufacturer training described above.
Consider asking potential installers the following questions: