Heat pumps are not a new invention, but they are gaining popularity as a greener and cheaper alternative to traditional heating systems. But what are heat pumps, how do they work, and why are they so efficient and eco-friendly?
Heat pumps are devices that transfer heat from a low-temperature source to a high-temperature one, using electricity or another energy source. They can provide heating, cooling, and hot water for buildings, and can also be used for industrial processes and refrigeration. Unlike oil, gas, or electric heaters, which generate heat by burning fuel or using resistance, heat pumps move existing heat from one place to another, using less energy and emitting less greenhouse gases.
Heat pumps can work well in cold climates, as long as they are properly sized, installed, and maintained. They can also be combined with other heating sources, such as solar panels or biomass boilers, to increase their performance and reliability. Contrary to some common myths and misconceptions, heat pumps do not require costly installation, consume too much electricity, or fail to work in old buildings.
Heat pumps are widely used in Nordic countries, such as Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Denmark, where they have proven to keep millions of homes warm every winter. They are also supported by government policies and incentives that promote their adoption. “Heat pumps are the most important technology for reducing emissions in the building sector,” said Svend Pedersen, head of the Danish Heat Pump Association.
The U.S., however, is lagging behind on heat pump adoption. According to a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, only about 5% of American homes use heat pumps for space heating, compared to more than 60% in Sweden. The report also found that switching to heat pumps could save American households up to $458 per year on average on their energy bills, while reducing their carbon footprint by 46%.
“The U.S. is way behind on heat pump adoption. We have a lot of catching up to do,” said Samantha Houston, a senior analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists. She added that there are several barriers to overcome, such as lack of awareness, high upfront costs, limited availability of contractors and installers, and outdated building codes and standards.
“Heat pumps can handle cold weather — you just need to get the right one for your home,” said Chris Briley, a Maine-based architect and green-building expert. He advised homeowners to consult with professionals before choosing a heat pump model, and to look for high-efficiency ratings and low-temperature performance.
“Heat pumps are not a silver bullet. They are part of a larger solution that includes improving the energy efficiency of buildings, increasing the share of renewable electricity, and reducing the demand for heating and cooling,” said Pekka Tuominen, a senior scientist at the Finnish Environment Institute.
“Heat pumps are not only good for the environment, but also good for your wallet. They can save you money on your energy bills in the long run,” said John Siegenthaler, a mechanical engineer and hydronic heating expert. He also suggested that homeowners should consider installing smart thermostats and controls to optimize their heat pump operation.
Heat pumps are not a futuristic technology. They are already here, and they have the potential to transform the way we heat our homes and buildings. By choosing heat pumps over fossil fuels or electric resistance heaters, we can not only keep ourselves warm and comfortable, but also help fight climate change and save money.
– Heat pumps can’t take the cold? Nordics debunk the myth, AFP, October 29, 2023
– Can Heat Pumps Actually Work in Cold Climates?, Consumer Reports, August 2, 2022
– Heat pumps do work in the cold — Americans just don’t know it yet, Grist, May 9, 2022
– Do heat pumps work in cold places? Here’s what you need to know., Yale Climate Connections, March 3, 2023