Unlike all other HVAC equipment types, heat pumps can both heat and cool homes. This attribute along with impressively high levels of efficiency has made them a popular choice throughout the nation. While they aren’t suitable for every environment and household, they outperform their alternatives in many settings. With relatively moderate winter temperatures and extensive, summertime cooling needs, San Antonio, TX is the ideal location for a heat pump. However, before committing to this upgrade, it’s important to consider both the benefits and drawbacks of doing so.
Say Goodbye to Combustion-Related Emissions
Having a heat pump installed could help you sidestep the risk of dangerous carbon monoxide (CO) leaks. Fuel-burning appliances produce CO gas due to incomplete fuel combustion. Both odorless and colorless, carbon monoxide can enter homes without residents detecting it. To combat this, homes with fuel-combusting appliances have both code-compliant exhaust systems and multiple carbon monoxide detectors throughout. Having furnace exhausts and CO detectors inspected and maintained annually is key to ensuring consistently safe performance.
Comparatively, heat pumps don’t burn any fuel. As such, they don’t release carbon monoxide or other harmful emissions. Not only is this better for human health, but it’s also better for the natural environment.
However, heat pumps themselves aren’t without hazards. If their indoor or outdoor components are improperly installed, repaired, or maintained, they pose the risk of electrocution, fire, and soil and groundwater contamination. Even a single refrigerant leak can have a decades-long impact on soil and groundwater supplies.
Heat Pumps Can Serve as a First and Important Step in Home Electrification
Residential electrification is a top-of-mind issue in a growing number of states. Switching to electrically powered appliances from gas-fired or oil-fired options is believed to benefit the environment. No matter where you stand on this issue, the move to electric equipment is a widespread and fast-growing one. More importantly, it will eventually have an impact on the availability and selection of gas and oil-powered alternatives and the availability of sufficiently skilled technicians.
If you’re interested in electrifying your home, heat pumps provide a long-lasting and high-performing way to make your first step. Given that they serve as combined air conditioners and heaters, choosing a heat pump for HVAC electrification could free up indoor space, reduce your HVAC maintenance, and provide other benefits.
Limit Your HVAC System’s Impact on the Natural Environment
In ideal operating conditions, heat pumps can produce more heating and cooling energy than they consume in electric energy. This means that they have a very high performance factor. High-efficiency natural gas heaters have annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) ratings as high as 98.5% and they convert 98.5% of the gas they consume into heat energy. Electric furnaces have AFUE ratings of 100% and they convert all of the electricity they consume into heat energy. With efficiency levels of 300% or higher, heat pumps can produce three times as much heat energy as they consume in electricity.
Heat Pumps Cost More to Operate Than Gas-Fired Furnaces
Efficiency is only one measure of a heat pump’s worth. It’s also important to consider its operating costs. Year-round, electricity rates are significantly higher than gas prices. Thus, even though a heat pump will use a lot less energy to heat your home than a furnace will, you’ll probably wind up paying more for it overall. This remains true even when the performance factor of heat pumps is optimal.
Heat Pumps Are Responsible for a Lot of Gray Energy Use
Gray energy is another factor to consider when assessing the value of heat pumps. Using less energy for heating and cooling sounds good to most consumers until they realize that they’ll likely pay more for it. However, the environmental benefits of converting to an energy type that doesn’t result in the production of harmful emissions could still outweigh this drawback. That is, until gray energy gets weighed in.
Fossil fuels are often used in the production of electricity. While electricity itself is a cleaner fuel for the environment, the production of electricity can be just as harmful. To produce the amount of energy that’s needed to power a heat pump’s operations, it’s sometimes necessary to burn three times as much fossil fuel. However, as electricity is increasingly produced using wind power, solar power, and other renewable energy sources, the gray energy use of heat pumps could increasingly decline.
The Performance Factor of Heat Pumps Declines in Cold-Weather Conditions
In optimal operating conditions, the performance factor of a heat pump is 3:1 with three kWh produced for every 1kWh of energy consumed. During the winter months when heat pumps are used as heaters, air-source heat pumps struggle to source adequate heat from the outside air. This is especially true in regions with freezing or below-freezing winter temperatures. At 32 degrees Fahrenheit, many heats are already operating at less than 100% efficiency. Their performance factor is at 1:1 or lower, and they’re using more energy and running longer. Despite operating non-stop, some entry-level heat pumps can’t create residents’ preferred indoor temperatures at all.
In some areas, heat pumps only maintain a performance factor of 3:1 for less than half the year. At other times, these units are either under-performing or using far more electricity than normal. However, given that winter temperatures in San Antonio rarely dip below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, heat pumps throughout the region enjoy prime operating conditions nearly all of the time.
Heat Pump Installation Is Costly
Heat pump installation isn’t cheap. However, most electrification projects aren’t. In addition to higher upfront costs, heat pumps require many building and electrical system modifications. These costs increase when existing heating and cooling systems are complex or lack the infrastructure for supporting heat pumps. For instance, if you currently rely on a boiler for heating, you’ll have to swap out your radiators for air ducts. Along with ductwork retrofitting, this upgrade will include dramatic changes to your HVAC equipment storage area, the installation of a concrete or composite pad for your heat pump’s condenser, and more.
However, paying for heat pump installation can have its benefits. With consumers increasingly focusing on eco-conscious updates, this home improvement could add a fair amount of value to your home while increasing its marketability. This is a great way to bring a dated property up to current market standards while making it easier to find qualified and interested buyers should you ever choose to sell.
Heat Pumps Aren’t Suitable for Every Home
Not every home can support a heat pump. Moreover, for some households, heat pumps aren’t a cost-effective or suitable heating and cooling solution. Factors at both the interior and exterior of buildings can affect the feasibility of these installations. For instance, buildings lacking adequate insulation won’t get sufficient heat or cooling power from heat pumps. Adding insulation or upgrading to insulating materials with higher R-values is often a more cost-effective and energy-efficient upgrade. Lack of existing ductwork, lack of adequate space for ductwork retrofitting, and soft, marshy soils at the building exterior or other factors that could render properties unsuitable for heat pumps.
We’re committed to helping San Antonio, TX residents find the perfect HVAC equipment for their homes. We offer air conditioning, heating, duct cleaning, and indoor air quality services. We also provide VRF systems, sheet metal, and preventative maintenance plans. Give Beyer Air Conditioning & Heating a call today to find out more about heat pumps or schedule an appointment.