January 21, 2019
Heat Pump System Diagram

By Brian Gray

If you do a Google search for the phrases “How much does a heat pump cost?” or “Will I save money with a heat pump?” you’ll probably get a long list of links from companies you never heard of asking you to fill out a contact form.

Bottom line is, the short answer to both of those Google search questions is, “It depends.”
Let’s start with a few quick facts:

  • There are three types of heat pumps: air-to-air, watersource, and geothermal. They collect heat from the air, water or ground outside your home and concentrate it for use inside. The most common type of heat pump is the air-source heat pump, which transfers heat between your house and the outside air.The air sourced heat pump is what we are discussing here.
  • Installing a heat pump is one of the best ways to cut your household’s fossil fuel use and reduce your carbon footprint. Heat pumps are super-efficient and use the ambient air and electricity to generate heating and cooling for your home. If the electricity used to power the heat pump is generated by solar, wind, hydro or any other method of renewable energy than you have offset the use of fossil fuels. 
  • When you install a heat pump, your fossil fuel use (and cost) will go down but your electricity use (and cost) will go up.
  • One heat pump will both heat and cool the area it covers in your home.
  • Heat pumps are also called "air sourced heat pumps", “cold-climate heat pumps” and “mini-splits”
  • Heat pump technology has improved significantly over the past 10 years. They are now capable of operation down to -13 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Saving money with a heat pump largely depends on the fuel you are currently using to heat your home. If you heat with propane, fuel oil or kerosene, the savings can be significant. If you are currently heating your home with natural gas or wood a heat pump may not lower your overall heating bills. (But you’ll still reduce your carbon footprint.)

Another way to analyze your savings is to compare costs per MMBtu of different fuels. This chart shows the cost per MMBtu of various fuels in Vermont as of December 2018.

Heat Pump Fuel Cost Comparisons

Based on the above fuel costs, the cost to operate a heat pump per mmbtu is 30% less than heating oil, 39% less than kerosene and 41% less than propane.

Fluctuations in fossil fuels prices are a variable factor in how much you can expect to save. If fuel prices go very low, you may not actually save money when you install a heat pump. Another variable is how much fossil fuel you can offset using a heat pump. Homes with open floor plans can maximize the output of heat pump much better than a home walled off with many rooms. Many times open floor plans can achieve over 70% displacement of fossil fuels while homes with many rooms may only be able to displace 40%. But no matter what the savings, there a few other compelling reasons to install heat pumps:

  • To cut your fossil fuel use and reduce your carbon footprint.
  • To keep your home cool and comfortable all summer long.
  • To protect your family from future spikes in fossil fuel prices.
  • Paired with solar panels, a heat pump can help make your home more energy independent. 

CAN YOU AFFORD IT?

There’s no doubt that the initial installation cost of a heat pump ($3,000-$4,500) can be an obstacle for many homeowners. In Vermont, there are a variety of low-cost loans and rebates that may be able to help with that. Such as:

• Efficiency Vermont offers up to a $400 rebate on the Mitsubishi heat pumps installed by the Energy Co-op. https://www.efficiencyvermont.com/rebates/list/heat-pump-heating-cooling...

• Burlington Electric offers up to $950 in rebates for Burlington residents who are displacing propane or fuel oil. https://www.burlingtonelectric.com/cchp

• Vermont Electric Co-op members also qualify for an additional $300 on-bill credit for installing a heat pump as part of the “Transformation” program. https://www.vermontelectric.coop/programs-services/energy-transformation...

• If you finance the cost of your heat pump with a Heat Saver Loan from the Opportunities Credit Union, you may find that your low monthly payments will be more than offset by the fuel cost savings of using a heat pump. https://www.oppsvt.org/heat-saver-loan/

NOT FOR EVERYONE

Heat pumps are not a good investment for all homeowners. If you have a house with many smaller rooms, one unit may not efficiently heat or cool a large enough area to make it worthwhile.If you have not weatherized air leaks around windows, doors and poorly insulated walls and attics, adding a more efficient heat pump will not overcome those deficiencies.

WE CAN HELP

Need some advice? With a few short questions about your home, the Energy Co-op can tell if you should consider scheduling a site visit to get a formal quotation. Our cost estimates are always without obligation, so the only thing you have to lose is some fossil fuel and your hard-earned dollars! Click here to request a follow up. 

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