heat pump faqs

Frequently asked questions about air source heat pumps

Air source heat pumps are an efficient and effective electric heating and cooling system for your home or business. They can be adapted to work with a pre-existing ducted heating system but don’t require ducts, and ductless systems are easily installed in almost all buildings. They can also be integrated into smart home systems and can even help new construction avoid needing a natural gas line. In this article, we’ll outline some key questions to ask to help you determine if air source heat pumps are right for you! 


Key takeaways


  • Air source heat pumps are a cost-effective and energy-efficient heating and cooling system.
  • Heat pumps are compatible with a wide range of homes and businesses and can be tailored to fit your building’s physical and aesthetic needs.
  • Heat pumps are a great addition to a solar project and can help you save even more long term – visit the EnergySage Marketplace to compare quotes from local solar installers. 

What’s in this article?

What are air source heat pumps?

An air source heat pump, to put it simply, moves air from one location to the other, heating or cooling the air to regulate the temperature in a building. Unlike traditional styles of heating that generate hot air and circulate it throughout the home, such as natural gas furnaces or electric baseboard heat, air source heat pumps work more efficiently to produce the same result. 

Are you a good fit for air source heat pumps? 

There are a few things to consider when deciding whether an air source heat pump system is right for your home or business: climate, cost, and current system are the key factors to think about.

Air source heat pumps work well in a wide range of temperatures, but their efficiency varies with the climate. Newer systems are designed to be compatible with sustained temperatures below freezing, so be sure to do your research before deciding which system best meets your needs.

How do air source heat pumps work?

While it may seem technical, the basics of air source heat pumps are actually pretty simple. To heat your home or business, air source heat pumps first extract heat from the air outside your building. The air then passes through a heat exchanger and over a tube with refrigerant coolant liquid being pumped through it; because the cool refrigerant is colder than the outside air, this process passes heat from the air to the liquid. 

As the liquid heats, it evaporates, and the vapor is compressed to concentrate the heat and transfer it into your home. The hot vapor then passes through a second heat exchanger and is transferred into the air inside your building, warming its air temperature. 

When the air source heat pump is being used to cool a building, the process is reversed: the refrigerant coolant liquid absorbs the heat inside the building and transfers it out, controlling the temperature inside.

What type of air source heat pump should you choose?

Whether you’re looking to retrofit air source heat pumps into an existing building or incorporate them into a new building, a major benefit of air source heat pumps is their compatibility with most types of buildings. We’ll explain the primary two system setups you’ll need to choose between:

Ducted

Ducted air source heat pump systems can be built into new homes, or, if your home already has ducted heating and cooling, air source heat pumps can be installed to take advantage of your existing system. These systems will rely on the existing air ducts installed within your home’s walls: the outdoor unit will be connected to an indoor air handler that will fan the warm or cool air through your ducts and around your building. 

Ductless

Ductless, or “mini-split”, systems are installed in individual areas of the home using wall-mounted units and allow for refined temperature control through a decentralized system. The number of units required depends on the layout of your home and the number of rooms that require an individual unit. These units, or “heads,” will be visible in your living space, so if you’re concerned about the aesthetics, you’ll likely want to go with a ducted system.

For more information, read our in-depth breakdown of different air source heat pump setups.

Do air source heat pumps work in cold climates? 

Short answer? Yes! However, if you live in a cold climate, you may want to consider keeping your previous system in addition to your new heat pump system. Some models of air source heat pumps lose effectiveness at temperatures below freezing, and it can be helpful to have a backup for colder days. Heat pump technology has improved significantly in recent years, but it is important to consider how cold it gets in your area during the winter when picking a heat pump system. 

A properly installed air-source heat pump can perform in temperatures down to around -10 degrees Fahrenheit in a well-insulated home. If you live in a climate that regularly dips below that, you’ll probably need to plan on using supplemental heat.

It’s important to look at your heat pump system’s ratings – newer cold-climate air source heat pumps, while more expensive upfront, may be the solution you are looking for. Our guide to comparing air source heat pump options can help you understand the ratings that the system you’re considering has received.

How much do air source heat pumps cost?

Ductless air source heat pump installation can cost anywhere between $3,500 and $5,200 per indoor unit installed – the end cost will primarily depend on how many units you need. On the other hand, ducted systems will typically cost between $12,000 and $22,000. When installing your system, make sure to look into opportunities for tax credits and rebates unique to your area. 

Factors such as system size and complexity, equipment quality, and type of system will all impact the final cost of your heat pump system. Check out this article to learn more about the factors that affect the cost of your air source heat pump system. 

Will air source heat pumps save you money?

Depending on the heating system you currently have in your home, air source heat pumps can actually contribute to significant savings over time. While the upfront cost of installing an air source heat pump system can seem daunting, in many cases, it will eventually be offset by your long term savings on heating and air conditioning bills due to the high efficiency of the system: most people who install them see operating costs that are lower than traditional climate control systems that run on oil, gas, or other fuels. 

Type of heating systemAverage annual energy savings (kWh equivalent)Average annual cost savings with an air source heat pump
Electric resistance heaters (i.e. furnaces, baseboard heating)3,000 kWh$459
Oil heatings systems (i.e. furnaces, boilers)6,200 kWh$948
Displaced oil systems (oil system remains as back up, operates less frequently)3,000 kWh$300

Source: Department of Energy

With ductless air source heat pumps, refined temperature regulation also allows you to heat or cool different zones of a building, targeting areas in use at different times of the day. For example, a bedroom can be kept cooler than the rest of the house at night during the warmer months, or office space can be kept warmer during the day in the winter. Targeted heating and cooling uses energy more efficiently, leading to significant savings. These savings can vary depending on your current heating and cooling setup but typically add up to hundreds of dollars each year, which will only continue to improve as the technology becomes more efficient.

Are air source heat pumps good for the environment?

In addition to the cost-effectiveness of air source heat pumps, they’re also highly energy-efficient and can lessen the environmental impact of heating and cooling your home. Air source heat pumps use less fuel to produce the same effect as traditional heating and cooling methods, which results in fewer fossil fuels being processed at power plants. The environmental benefit is even more significant when you power them with solar energy!

Run your air source heat pumps on solar energy

Installing solar panels allows you to power your entire home, including your air source heat pumps, with renewable, zero-emissions electricity. Head to the EnergySage Marketplace to receive quotes from local solar installers. Have some additional questions about going solar? When you receive quotes, you’ll be connected with an energy advisor who can answer your questions (free of charge!).


2 thoughts on “Frequently asked questions about air source heat pumps

  1. Doug Porter

    Good layman article. Would have liked to see you introduce the SEER ratings for heat pumps and ranges of values. Also just an overall comment on the ability of heat pumps to be more than 100% efficient, and a note that direct resistant heating is 100% efficient, NG furnaces and water heaters 80-95% And we should not forget about evaporative cooling efficiency which beats them all in efficiency to cool

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