How to Select a Heat Pump for Your Home

The best heat pump for your home will depend on factors like local climate and incentive programs, but you’ll need to find a contractor familiar with the equipment. Start looking early, before your current system fails. Ask friends, neighbors, and social media groups for recommendations, and get multiple quotes before making any decisions.

Heat Pump uses electricity to transfer thermal energy from a cool space to a warm one, utilizing the same refrigeration cycle that cools your home in summer and provides warmth in winter. They are typically used in combination with other heating systems, such as natural gas boilers. They can also provide sanitary hot water and add flexibility to hydronic (radiator) systems.

Unlike most conventional furnaces, which burn fossil fuels to produce heat, a heat pump extracts heat from the air or ground outside and moves it into your home. Because of this, it requires far less supplementary fuel than a conventional gas or oil-powered furnace. Heat pumps are also among the quietest and most comfortable options available for home heating.

The efficiency of a heat pump is determined by the coefficient of performance, or COP—a measure of how many times the system’s output of heat exceeds its electrical input. Modern heat pumps achieve a COP of 4 or more, meaning that for every unit of electrical energy they use to run, they deliver four units of usable heat. That’s why they’re so efficient, and also so much more environmentally friendly than other heating systems.

However, because they rely on electricity to operate, heat pumps do have a carbon footprint, and the specifics of that footprint will vary depending on how your electric utility produces its power. That’s why it’s important to carefully consider your options if you want to minimize your carbon footprint.

A heat pump’s operation is based on the laws of thermodynamics: just as water flows from higher to lower places, heat naturally flows from colder areas to warmer ones. It’s this principle that allows heat pumps to move thermal energy from the air into a home, and then distribute it to rooms as needed.

Heat pumps are sized to match your home’s heating and cooling needs, and are measured in terms of their capacity in British thermal units (Btus). The experts we interviewed agreed that you should select a heat pump that’s capable of providing 30 Btu per square foot of floor area, or roughly one ton for every 500 square feet.

A heat pump works most efficiently when it’s sized correctly for your home, and the best time to install one is in the shoulder months of spring or fall. That’s when you won’t be competing with emergency AC customers in the summer or frantic heating-system owners in the winter, and the prices for electricity are lowest. It’s a great way to upgrade your home while cutting your energy bills, and improving the environment. In fact, studies have shown that installing a heat pump can raise your home value by as much as 10%.