How to heat your home for less – Heat pumps

20 years ago, heat pumps were considered only marginally valuable here in Michiana.

In Tennessee, where it rarely gets below freezing, they did much better.

But all that is changing though, as heat pumps become more efficient.

In part two of our "heating your home for less" series... We take a look at heat pumps, and how efficient they might be here in Michiana.

Dean Riggs and his family already have a very energy efficient home. It is fairly new, with good insulation in the walls and ceiling, a 93% efficient gas furnace, and an automatic set back thermostat. But the air conditioner was show, so Dean looked at either just replacing it, or upgrading to a heat pump.

"After doing the research, we looked at the heat pump and said the technology has come along so much, it was a natural decision for us," Dean explained.

In the Great Lakes region, a heat pump cannot do all the heating though, because it just gets too cold.

"The heat pump works down to about freezing temperatures…at 34 degrees it would quit doing it's thing and then the back up furnace would continue down to below zero temperatures," Dean added.

But how does a heat pump work? There is not gas flame or hot coils.

Every house has a refrigerator and if you think about it, it is sort of like a mini heat pump…it takes heat out of the inside, leaving the cold in, sending the heat out into your home. Usually it comes out of the bottom like this one, or the back side…actually sending heat out.

A refrigerant similar to Freon goes through a heat exchanger and takes on the outdoor temperature. When it's compressed it becomes hot and is sent inside. Another heat exchanger transfers that heat to the inside air which is blown into the home. The now cooled refrigerant is then allowed to expand again and it becomes extremely cold. The whole process then starts over again.

The pump puts out cold air when it needs to heat the house. So it is essentially air conditioning the outside, and heating the inside. The opposite is true when it needs to cool the interior.

The potential savings are hard to figure in this case. Using temperature data, we can estimate that they will save 55% of their natural gas bill, or $493. However, we are also guessing that they will spend an extra $100 this winter on their electric bill, for a total savings of $393. While an air conditioner alone would have cost over $4500, another $2100 was to upgrade to a heat pump. So, we are estimating that this upgrade cost will be paid back in savings in about 5.4 years.

Of course, only time will tell how the heat pump works, when the gas and electric bill comes.

The savings will depend on the weather, and the cost of utilities, but we should get a good feel for the efficiency of heat pumps in this area.

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