10 questions to ask if you want to get a heat pump (2024)

Some contractors reluctantly offer heat pumps but price them higher, such that gas furnaces look like the obvious better deal. Others will sell aheat pump, but with agas furnace as backup” for the extra cold days. You could end up buying aredundant system that you never really need.

If you don’t already have acontractor, reach out to your network and be very specific: Does anyone have acontractor recommendation for heat pumps?” Tan advised.

Consult lists of heat pump-savvy contractors, such as those who have completed Nate The House Whisperer’s” HVAC 2.0 course. Some states fund programs for heat-pump and efficiency upgrades, and they maintain lists of contractors who participate. Your electric utility may be able to help you find someone too.

Expect to make at least afew calls before you find the right contractor. And as you would for any major purchase, shop around. Get quotes from multiple businesses and compare pricing and system sizes.

Lastly, you can also look to asmall but growing cadre of national companies dedicated to heat-pump installation. Startups like Sealed and BlocPower launched with amission to electrify buildings; they offer no-money-down financing and then connect customers with vetted local contractors to do the installation. If one of those companies operates in your area, you can trust that they won’t try to sidetrack you with lingering fossil-fuel preferences.

6. Will you need to overhaul your home electrical panel to add aheat pump?

Home electrical panels are areal pain to replace. Adding major electrical appliances such as heat pumps, induction stovetops and electric-vehicle chargers can necessitate panel upgrades to make your home capable of supplying greater flows of electricity. Panel upgrades can cost thousands of dollars and may require coordination with your utility to expand the flow of power from the grid to yourhouse.

Absolutely ask your contractor whether your home’s electrical service can handle aheat pump. You don’t want to get caught unawares with that kind of upgrade bill.

Major service upgrades are more likely to be necessary for older houses that haven’t upgraded their wiring in years and now can’t handle an influx of electrical demand. But it depends on the house: If you were running inefficient electric resistance heating, aheat pump will suck up less power to keep you cozy, said GreenSavers founder Robert Hamerly. If the heat pump replaces gas, you’ll need to carve out additional space on your electrical panel.

If your wiring isn’t up to code, you’ll be making your home safer by fixing it. But that doesn’t make the process easier — or cheaper. Luckily, the Inflation Reduction Act created atax credit for panel upgrades triggered by electrification projects, so now you can leverage some federal support to help cover thosecosts.

10 questions to ask if you want to get a heat pump (1)

7. Can you claim tax incentives for your heatpump?

Yes, you can claim potentially thousands of dollars of tax incentives for heat pumps and home electrification, thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act that President Biden signed lastyear.

Here’s ahigh-level overview of the tax credits and upfront discounts for heat-pump installation and other home electrification efforts that are available (Check out Canary Media’s run-through of the many home energy incentives for amore detailed look):

The Energy Efficient Home Improvement Credit offers 30 percent tax credits for heat pumps up to acap of $2,000. It also includes up to $600 for electric panel upgrades and $1,200 for weatherization and insulation. There are some terms and conditions, but the credits do not have an income cap. That said, these being tax credits, they benefit people who have atax burden to offset, and require waiting to file your taxes and having them processed by the IRS to actually feel the benefit.

A separate part of the law offers more immediate gratification. The High-Efficiency Electric Home Rebate Act, once fully enacted, will pay upfront incentives for low- and moderate-income households that want to electrify, including:

  • Up to $8,000 for heatpumps
  • Up to $1,600 for weatherization
  • Up to $4,000 for electrical panel upgrades
  • Up to $2,500 for electrical wiring

Households are capped at $14,000in discounts from this program, but moderate-income families only get half the value of each discount. Advocacy group Rewiring America noted that customers also will be able to claim tax credits for eligible investments supported by these upfront discounts.

Another program funded by the Inflation Reduction Act, Hope for Homes, pays arebate for home-efficiency upgrades based on how much they reduce energy consumption.

Are you overwhelmed by all these numbers? That’s totally understandable, because the Inflation Reduction Act created so many ways to save money on climate-friendly home upgrades. Luckily for you, it’s the job of the sales reps to parse all the options and guide you to the most favorable deal. Ask about these programs, plus any local or state incentives. If the contractor stares blankly in response, consider finding someone else.

8. Will aheat pump save you money on heating and cooling?

The cost-savings argument for heat pumps is abit more complicated than for, say, rooftop solar or community solar, which should absolutely lower your power bill. Heat-pump savings depend on what you’re switching from, how much your electricity costs and what incentives you can access. And you’ll need to factor in upfront price as well as long-term operating costs.

Heat pumps typically cost more than acomparable furnace or air conditioner, so they’re abetter deal if you need to replace both units at once. If you recently replaced both appliances with newer versions, it’ll make for some messy accounting to rip them out and buy anew heat pump. That said, all the incentives in the previous section bring down the sticker price.

Then there are the operating costs: That’s how much you’ll pay to use the heat pump over theyears.

If you’re switching from old resistance heating to heat pumps, you should end up using alot less electricity to heat your home, which yields monthly savings. And heat-pump vendors are giddy to compete with dirty and expensive fuel oil in the Northeast.

If you’re switching from cheap fossil gas to expensive electricity, the operational savings get trickier. It just so happens that many states pushing home electrification policies also have relatively pricey electricity — see California, New York, Massachusetts.

You’re not going to sell this stuff on just the internal rate of return,” said Hamerly. You are connecting with the individual’s heart that this is better for their house, better for their lifestyle, better for their community.”

Consumer financing also affects the pocketbook impact. Areasonably priced loan spreads out the payments; if the payments line up favorably with monthly energy bill savings, all the better.

9. Will aheat pump be noisy and annoying?

Sometimes heat pumps are noisy and annoying! Irecently stayed at ahouse with aheat pump installed right outside the bedroom Iwas sleeping in, and it would crash and bang periodically throughout the night, shaking the wall and vibrating thebed.

It turns out that particular machine was part of the old guard of heat pumps, known as single speed. They cycle between off and on, which requires asurge of energy to swing back into action, hence the jarring sound. This also means they operate less efficiently.

Newer, better variable-speed” heat pumps operate differently: they’re always on, but their design lets them dynamically adjust to the heating or cooling needs of the household in any given moment. That means they use just as much energy as is needed and run extremely quietly.

The takeaway: Not all heat pumps are created equal. Ask about noise and efficiency, and specify that you want variable-speed heat pumps — also known as heat pumps with inverter-driven compressors — and not the clunky, old-fashioned kind.

The differential advantages of going to the higher-end products are definitely worth it,” Aaker said. They’re uniformly quieter, they vibrate less, they’re always easier to livewith.”

10. How will aheat pump make youfeel?

This sounds subjective, but there are tangible ways that heat-pump heating feels different from furnace heating. Advocates and installers attest that it feels demonstrably better, but it’s important to know what to expect.

Furnaces don’t heat evenly. They cycle on, blast hot air for afew minutes, then turn off until the indoor temperature drops to the point that it triggers another cycle. The resulting temperature isn’t exactly what you set the thermostat at; it’s more of asine curve, swinging above and below the desired level ofheat.

Heat pumps, by contrast, can maintain aconstant flow of tightly calibrated heat into your home. That means the air blowing into the room may well feel cooler than you are accustomed to — it’s not as hot as furnace heat. But it’s more constant, which produces auseful physical effect: Heat pumps coat internal walls in alayer of hot air that keeps out the external chill that would otherwise seep in through the building envelope.

Heat pumps also lend themselves to more tailored heating and cooling in individual rooms, which conventional heating and cooling have trouble providing.

Canary Media’s Home of the Future series is supported by Sense.

Consumers need better tools to make their homes more efficient and to foster electrification. Sense technology is built on asimple, proven premise: Customers need real-time information to engage. With the first-of-its-kind Sense app, consumers can see exactly where and how to save energy in their homes. Sense works for utilities, for consumers and for the grid. Leading meter manufacturers are partnering with Sense to create consumer-ready smart meters that take home-energy management to the next level. Learn more.

10 questions to ask if you want to get a heat pump (2024)
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