According to the latest data from the US Energy Information Administration, space heating accounts for 42% of all residential energy usage. And although we don’t get extremely cold winters here in Chandler, AZ, heating costs are still significant. The biggest problem with that is the fact that most heating energy sources aren’t very environmentally friendly.
The most common fuel used for residential heating is natural gas, whose combustion releases massive quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere. The same is true of fuels like home heating oil and propane. Even electrically powered heating systems have sustainability issues since so much of our grid’s generation capacity still relies on fossil fuels. All of this means that finding more energy-efficient means of heating homes is a primary goal for local and national sustainability initiatives. And that’s where heat pumps come in. Most experts think they’re going to be the cornerstone of our sustainable energy future. Here’s why.
How Heat Pumps Work
Heat pumps, unlike other types of heating systems, don’t consume energy to generate heat. They only use electricity to run their main components, which include fans and a compressor. To provide heat, they rely on the refrigeration cycle, which allows them to harvest heat energy from the outside air. Read more about heat pumps here.
Although it may not seem obvious, even cold air still contains some amount of heat energy. That is true down to absolute zero, or -459.67 degrees Fahrenheit. A heat pump collects that heat energy by passing a low-pressure, super-cold gaseous refrigerant through an outdoor heat exchanger. Because heat energy naturally moves toward colder areas, the refrigerant absorbs it as it travels through the system.
Then, the warmed refrigerant goes through a compressor, which increases the pressure on the gas until it turns into a high-pressure vapor. In the process, the temperature of the refrigerant increases substantially. The now-hot refrigerant then travels inside the home, where it passes through another heat exchanger. At the same time, a blower fan circulates air from the home through the heat exchanger, warming it up.
If this process sounds familiar, it should. It’s the opposite of how a standard air conditioner works. In fact, heat pumps can also operate in reverse, providing efficient cooling for your home. In that role, heat pumps are among the most efficient options on the market. Here in Chandler, that makes them an even more important part of a sustainable future, since they offer year-round energy-efficient climate control.
The Energy Efficiency of Heat Pumps
Compared to conventional heating systems, the heat pump refrigeration cycle is extraordinarily energy efficient. Under optimal conditions, an air-source heat pump can achieve energy efficiencies approaching 400%. That means they’ll provide a home with four units of heat for every unit of energy consumed.
Gas furnaces, on the other hand, while popular, widespread, and efficient, don’t come close to the efficiency of a heat pump. The most efficient gas furnace on the market today has an efficiency of 98.5%. That means a heat pump can operate up to four times as efficiently as the best gas furnace you can buy. On average, that can translate into an energy savings of 40% for the average home. That savings is critical because it nearly halves the energy required to heat your home. Plus, it dramatically lowers your home’s carbon footprint without negatively affecting your comfort.
It’s also worth pointing out that recent advances in heat pump technology have improved their performance considerably. Older heat pumps once suffered from poor performance in extremely cold weather. In many cases, this would make them less efficient than a conventional gas furnace at temperatures of 25 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Worse still, older heat pumps would need to use an electric resistance heater at very low temperatures to provide adequate heat to the homes they served.
Many of today’s heat pumps, by comparison, operate just fine at temperatures as low as -15 degrees Fahrenheit. While they may not operate at peak efficiency, they will provide adequate heat while still beating most other heating systems by a fair margin.
How Heat Pumps Improve Sustainability
On their own, heat pumps cut energy consumption due to their efficiency, but that alone doesn’t make them sustainable. For that, some additional technologies come into play. For example, renewable electricity sources like wind and solar can drop the carbon footprint of a home using a heat pump to near zero. So, a homeowner today looking to do their part to achieve sustainability need only to purchase their power from a generation company that uses those renewable sources.
Or, they can install a rooftop solar power system to reduce or eliminate their reliance on grid power completely. This is a crucial step in moving homes toward full electrification and eliminating fossil fuels from the residential sector. The impact of that switch can’t be overstated. According to the US EPA, the adoption of heat pumps by all homes in the US would eliminate 160 million metric tonnes of emissions annually by 2032. And even that assumes that heat pumps won’t continue to advance and that all homes purchase heat pumps that meet the current minimum efficiency standards.
Heat pumps also make use of the latest refrigerants to minimize their impact on the environment. This is important because it wasn’t long ago that the world’s most-used refrigerant—Freon—turned out to be a key culprit in the depletion of Earth’s critical atmospheric ozone layer. In the years since, advances in refrigerant performance and environmental friendliness have reduced that threat.
For example, many of today’s heat pumps use a refrigerant known as R-32. It isn’t a threat to the Earth’s ozone layer and does much less damage to our environment when released than earlier refrigerants. According to Daikin, the company that invented it, R-32 has less than a third of the global warming potential of the main refrigerant it’s replacing, R-410A. There are even heat pumps that use CO2 as a refrigerant, which, believe it or not, is less harmful to the environment than many of the chemical refrigerants in use today.
Your Local Heat Pump Experts
For over 26 years, Emergency Air Heating Cooling & Plumbing has offered quality HVAC services and solutions to homes and businesses in and around Chandler. We specialize in the latest in heat pump technology from industry-leading manufacturers. We also offer ductless mini-split heat pumps so more homes and businesses can take advantage of everything heat pumps have to offer. Plus, we can also handle all of your plumbing needs, as well as your indoor air quality and AC deep cleaning needs. And if you need help fitting a new heat pump into your budget, we offer financing on approved credit. You can also count on getting what you pay for when you work with us since we’re Better Business Bureau accredited with an A+ rating.
If you want to make a heat pump part of your Chandler home’s sustainable heating future, call our team at Emergency Air Heating Cooling & Plumbing today.