An air source heat pump outside a home

Heat pumps are an extremely efficient way to heat and cool your home. There are several types of heat pumps that you can use, and picking one is like selecting any other appliance—it will come down to your budget, needs, and location.

There are three main types of heat pumps appropriate for your home: water source heat pump, air-source heat pump, and ground source heat pump.

Each type reaches maximum efficiency in slightly different situations. For example, a ground source heat pump can remain efficient in colder temperatures, whereas an air source is most efficient in milder or warm climates. 

This article will give you a background on heat pumps, what they heat, and help you decide which heat pump is best for your home. 

What are Heat Pumps? 

Heat pumps are taking the sustainable home design world by storm. As they continue to develop and improve, homeowners around the country are installing them.

Heat pumps use the ambient air, water, or ground temperature to heat your home. Using the environment as the primary heat source reduces the need for gas or electricity to heat an entire house. 

Standard heaters rely solely on non-renewable thermal energy to heat a home. While heat pumps use some electricity or gas as a heat source, most heat comes from the ambient ground, water, or air.

As a result, each type of heat pump works well in different climates and locations. 

Types of Heat Pumps

Each of the three most common heat pumps has its benefits and can be highly efficient in a suitable climate and setting. They pull heat from the water, air, or ground to help heat or cool your home in an energy-efficient way. 

Water Source Heat Pump

Water source heat pumps have the most specific requirements of the three.

While they can be highly efficient, they require you to live near some source of water. A well or pond are both options for this heat pump. 

To install a water source heat pump, contractors will place pipes at the bottom of the selected body of water. A pump then transports the water through the lines and extracts the heat. 

A water source heat pump outside a home
if you need a consistent temperature input, water source heat pumps are your best options.

But, of course, this also works in reverse. The pipes pump the heat out of your home and put it into the water source to cool your home. 

One of the major pros of a water source heat pump is that the input temperature is relatively consistent, meaning this type of pump can thrive in various climates. Additionally, they cost less to install and operate than their counterparts. 

Homes, multi-unit residences, offices, hotels, and schools are great applications for water source heat pumps.

Also, a pump servicing a single-family dwelling can quickly expand from a single-family residence to larger applications. 

Air Source Heat Pump

Air source heat pumps are also called air-to-air pumps because they utilize external air to heat your home. These heat pumps are simple to install and relatively small compared to other styles.

Air source heat pumps increase energy efficiency for heating by up to 50%, a significant bonus for most homeowners. 

There are two main types of air source heat pumps:

Ducted Air Pumps

They are the most common and have many benefits, including reducing and maintaining humidity in a home. They are very efficient at reducing humidity and even surpass standard air conditioners’ effectiveness.

Ductless Air Pumps

Also called mini-split heat pumps, they are ideal for homes without ducts. These are also great for supplementing a structure that already has a heating and cooling system in place.

They are also ideal for individual or multiple rooms in a home, making customized heating simple. However, multiple mini-split pumps may be needed to cover the entire home’s heating needs for whole-home systems.  

Because air source heat pumps utilize outdoor air, they are most efficient in milder climates. They lose efficiency in colder climates— a home may need a secondary heat source if it is used.

Ground Source Heat Pump 

Ground source heat pumps are also called geothermal heat pumps. These heat pumps use energy from the ground to heat your home.

a diagram showing how a ground source heat pump works
A geothermal pump sources heat from the ground and cycles it through a home, then expelling cold air. Courtesy of Rinnai

They are efficient because the ground tends to hold a much more constant temperature than air. Geothermal heat pumps can reduce energy from heating by 30% to 60%. 

While the efficiency of ground source heat pumps is very high, they are costly to install. Installation includes excavating and installing plastic tubing under your home’s foundation, which is relatively cumbersome and can be very expensive. 

On the other hand, ground source heat pumps thrive in a wide range of climates. In addition, the consistency of ground temperature means geothermal heat pumps are efficient in colder climates, unlike an air source heat pump. 

Sub-Types of Heat Pumps

There are a variety of sub-types of heat pump systems. These typically are not installed on their own but in conjunction with one of the main types of pumps.

For example, one sub-type is the solar powered heat pump. It is typically used with either a geothermal or an air pump to provide power to the respective pump and the home itself.  

Another sub-type is a hybrid heat pump that combines multiple pump types or utilizes a gas or oil boiler in conjunction with a pump.

Hybrids are commonly used in homes that already have a boiler system installed or for areas with a wide range of temperatures throughout the year. 

The two main types of hybrid heat pumps include:

  1. Heat pump and oil boiler/gas combo are ideal for homes with existing boiler systems. The advantage of these pumps is that they facilitate a simultaneous operation that results in higher efficiency and consistent warm air indoors.  
  2. Air source and ground heat pump combos work based on the prevailing outdoor temperature conditions. While the air source system works mainly during the day when the outdoor temperature is warm, the ground heat source takes over when temperatures drop.

Finally, there is also the absorption heat pump (AHP) among the sub-types. According to the Department of Energy, AHPs work based on an ammonia-water absorption cycle. The cycle is responsible for heating and cooling by condensing ammonia (refrigerant) to release heat.

When the pressure within an absorption heat pump’s coils reduces, the refrigerant evaporates, absorbing heat in the process and causing a cooling effect indoors.

In most cases, AHPs are powered by either solar-heated water, natural gas, propane, or geothermal-heated water.  

What is Being Heated?

Heat pumps not only heat and cool your home but also help power other appliances in your home.

To have a maximally efficient house, utilizing these in conjunction with other appliances is critical. The most considerable use of the heat would be the rooms in your home. 

Heat Pump HVAC Unit

The primary usage for a heat pump is for the heating and cooling of your home, which is key to having an energy-efficient structure.

Most pumps can utilize the existing ductwork or ventilation within your home. 

Because a heat pump can both heat and cool, it can replace a furnace and air conditioner. The only exception would be mini-split pumps. These are ductless heat pumps that require a specific zone or room application. 

Heat Pump Water Heaters 

Heat pump water heaters can thrive in an environment that is heated by a larger heat pump. These water heaters utilize the ambient interior air to heat water within a home. 

If the air is heated efficiently from the above heat pumps, it will maximize the water heater’s efficiency.

However, heat pump water heaters can lose efficiency in winter because a furnace is required first to heat the air. 

In the case of a heat pump, though, the air is being heated efficiently.

The condenser unit of a mini-split outside a home to the right of a central AC unit
These contraptions can set you back up to $10,000.

What Is the Cost of Heat Pumps?

To this point, you know that heat pumps are the most efficient and eco-friendly way to heat your home. However, how much will these systems cost? Will you have to break your bank account to own one?

Let’s find out!

The cost of installing a heat pump in the US ranges between $2,000 and $10,000+, depending on its type, size, and efficiency.

From the above cost range, it’s evident that heat pumps require a high upfront investment. However, you’ll recoup your investment faster because these pumps are highly energy efficient and generate more heat (usually over three times) than their traditional counterparts.

To put the cost of heat pump installation into perspective, let’s discuss the essential factors you must consider when it comes to price:

The Type of Heat Pump

We’ve discussed the three main types of heat pumps:

  • Water-source
  • Air-source
  • Ground-source

It’s worth noting that these types of heat pumps have different price points, as discussed below:

  • Air-source heat pumps are the most common types because they are cost-effective. Their prices range between $3,000 and $7,500. This variation in cost is based on the brand and efficiency.
  • Ductless mini split heat pumps are mostly used in homes without ductwork systems, hyper-energy-efficient homes, or room additions. These are also common among many households. They have an average cost of between $2,000 and $5,000. However, larger models can cost as much as $14,500.
  • Geothermal heat pumps are the most expensive option due to their excellent efficiency. Installing ground-source heat pumps in the US will cost you over $10,000.

The Size of Heat Pump

The capacity of a heat pump depends on its British Thermal Units (BTUs), which also dictates its weight.

For instance, an 18,000-BTU heat pump system weighs approximately 1.5 tons. On the other hand, most 60,000-BTU heat pump systems weigh about 5 tons.

An essential point worth noting is that heat pump systems require between 15 and 30 BTUs to heat or cool a square foot of space. Therefore, the larger the size of your home, the more BTUs you’ll need and, consequently, the larger the heat pump.

The table below summarizes the cost of heat pump installation based on their sizes:

Heat Pump Size in TonsAverage Cost Range in US Dollars
Table 1: Heat pump costs based on size. Source: American Society of Home Inspectors.

The Efficiency of the Heat Pump

The heat pump’s efficiency is another crucial factor that determines how much it costs.

In most cases, HVAC manufacturers disclose the efficiency ratings of their heat pumps to help homeowners make the most informed decision. The efficiency of heat pumps is denoted in two ways:

  • Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) denotes the heat pump’s cooling efficiency. The rating is usually between 14 and 24.
  • Heating Seasonal Performance Ratio (HSPF) indicates the heat pump’s heating efficiency. It ranges between 8.2 and 13.

Therefore, based on your region’s weather, you can determine whether to base your analysis on the SEER or HSPF heat pump efficiency. 

For example, you can go for a heat pump with a higher SEER than the HSPF rating if you live in a hotter region that needs constant cooling. On the contrary, a higher HSPF will come in handy in cold climates.

That said, the higher the heat pump’s efficiency in terms of SEER and HSPF rating, the more expensive it is, and vice versa.

A serviceman installing a heat pump water heater
Regular checks and maintenance are needed for your pumps to be as efficient as possible.

How to Reduce the Cost of a Heat Pump

We understand that the cost of living is at an all-time high. Consequently, we all want to save the extra dollar for other uses. 

So, how can you save money on your heat pump installation?

Here are some practical tips to help you reduce the cost of heat pump installation and save some money:

  • Make use of heat pump tax credits: These are federal incentives to encourage Americans to invest in energy-efficient HVAC systems. Simply complete Form 5695 to apply.
  • Be careful about sizing: A correct heat pump size will eliminate the need for extensive home remodels that add to the installation cost.
  • Go for an affordable brand: While looking for an affordable heat pump brand, research the available options to ensure you’re going for efficiency.

Up-and-Coming Technologies

Heat pump appliances are gaining a lot of traction because they are efficient, can utilize the existing framework, and save a lot of money in the long term. 

One of the significant appliances gaining a lot of popularity is heat pump washers and dryers. While they are not very common in the United States yet, many manufacturers such as GE, Electrolux, and LG are starting to design and sell them.

Additionally, a newer appliance beginning to hit the market is the heat pump dishwasher. As these technologies continue to develop and will likely have federal and state rebates and incentives attached, they will become more affordable. 

The Pros and Cons of Heat Pumps

The table below summarizes the pros and cons of heat pumps to be aware of:

Lower operating costsHigh upfront cost
Less maintenanceDifficult to install
Are saferRequires home remodels
Low carbon emissionsAre susceptible to cold weather
Longer lifespansThey may require installation permits
Table 2: The pros and cons of heat pumps.

Still on the fence about heat pumps? Our articles on Are Heat Pump Dryers More Energy-Efficient Than Vented and Heat Pump Tumble Dryers Vs. Condenser Dryers may just give you the final push you need!

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