As Warmth Pumps Go Mainstream, a Massive Query: Can They Deal with Actual Chilly?

Line chart that exhibits annual items of warmth pumps and gasoline furnaces shipped, which is an approximation of gross sales, from 2002 by 2022. Warmth pumps surpassed gasoline furnaces in annual gross sales in 2022 by a wider margin than ever earlier than.

Warmth pumps outsold gasoline furnaces within the U.S. final yr.

Warmth pumps outsold gasoline furnaces within the U.S. final yr.

Over the previous decade, warmth pumps have been steadily making their manner into extra American properties. There was a serious milestone final yr after they surpassed gasoline furnaces in annual gross sales by a large margin.

However the blistering chilly climate descending on the Midwest this week has many householders questioning: Do warmth pumps nonetheless work in freezing temperatures?

Specialists and electrification advocates say that they do — and that even in chilly climate, they’ll nonetheless be extra environment friendly, and higher for the local weather, than furnaces and boilers that run on fossil fuels.

An electrical warmth pump is an all-in-one heating and cooling unit, primarily an air-conditioner that runs in two instructions. In the summertime, it capabilities like a standard A.C. unit, pumping warmth out of the house and circulating cooled air inside. Within the winter, it attracts warmth into the house. That may appear stunning, but it surely’s true. Even when it’s bitterly chilly outdoors, there’s nonetheless warmth obtainable. Because it will get colder, warmth pumps should work tougher, utilizing extra power, to extract that warmth.

However even in chilly climate, electrical warmth pumps are extra power environment friendly than the gasoline or oil furnaces that warmth many properties. These furnaces generate warmth by burning gas. In principle, for each one unit of power enter, they’ll solely produce one unit of power output. In actuality, even probably the most environment friendly gas-powered furnaces don’t convert 100% of their gas into warmth. Some is all the time misplaced within the conversion course of.

Warmth pumps, in distinction, don’t generate warmth. They switch it. That permits them to realize greater than 300 % effectivity in some instances. As a result of they’re extra environment friendly, utilizing warmth pumps to chill and warmth properties may help owners get monetary savings on their utility payments, stated Sam Calisch, head of particular tasks at Rewiring America, a nonprofit advocacy group.

A rectangular case with a large, round vent on the side mounted on a flat roof. A few tools lie on a sheet at the base. The sky is gray and a layer of ice covers most of the roof.

A warmth pump condenser in Denver. Even in chilly climate, electrical warmth pumps are extra power environment friendly than the gasoline or oil furnaces that warmth many properties.

David Zalubowski/Related Press

In Maine, the place warmth pump adoption is rising, however the place a majority of properties nonetheless burn oil, owners can save hundreds of {dollars} in annual power prices by making the swap, in line with an analysis from Efficiency Maine, an unbiased administrator that runs the state’s energy-saving packages.

Many warmth pumps which can be constructed for chilly climates do have hefty upfront value tags. To melt the blow, a federal tax credit score from final yr’s local weather and tax regulation can cowl 30 % of the prices of buy and set up, as much as $2,000.

As they’ve grown in recognition, warmth pumps have more and more been the topic of false impression and, at occasions, misinformation. Fossil-fuel trade teams have been the origin of many exaggerated and misleading claims, together with the assertion that they don’t work in areas with chilly climates and are more likely to fail in freezing climate.

Whereas warmth pumps do turn into much less environment friendly in subzero temperatures, many fashions nonetheless function near usually in temperatures down to minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 24 Celsius. A few of the newest fashions are much more environment friendly, and lots of “chilly” international locations, like Norway, Sweden and Finland, are more and more embracing heat pumps.

“We’re beginning to see proof that the parable has been stored alive by individuals with an entrenched curiosity in avoiding the adoption of warmth pumps,” Dr. Calisch stated.

There are extra steps owners can take to profit from their warmth pumps, like sealing air leaks and drafts and enhancing insulation, stated Troy Moon, the sustainability director for the town of Portland, Maine. Householders can even hold their current furnaces as backup for the coldest days of the yr, he stated.