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Heat pumps: What are they, anyway?

Most homes in B.C. are heated by traditional gas furnaces or electric baseboard heaters, but there are other heat sources too. One that’s growing in popularity is an efficient heat pump.

For many homeowners, a heat pump can be an appealing way to make your heating and cooling more efficient, provide better air circulation, and cut back your greenhouse gas emissions.

But what is a heat pump, and how do they work? We break it down.

What is a heat pump?

A heat pump is an efficient way of heating and cooling your home, powered by electricity. It takes the heat from the air outside your home and moves it indoors. You might be thinking “but it’s cold out! The air from outside will only make my home colder.” Surprisingly, even at relatively low temperatures, there’s enough ambient heat in the outside air for your heat pump to work. If it does get too cold for your heat pump to work efficiently, a backup heating system will kick in, though it will decrease the efficiency significantly.

A significant underlying benefit of a heat pump is that they can also pump heat out of your home, just like an air conditioner, meaning they can maintain a comfortable temperature in your home year round.

Should I make the switch?

If you’re looking to improve your home’s comfort and want very efficient heating, a heat pump might be a good option. But consider a few things first:

  • You’ll want to think about your existing heating system. If you currently have a gas furnace, keep in mind that an electric heat pump will lower your gas bill, but your electricity bill will go up.

  • Depending on your current heating system, your home might require additional upgrades, such as ducting improvements, and installation costs will vary depending on the type of heat pump you choose and the size of your home.

What sort of heat pump should I choose?

There are two main types of heat pumps: air-source heat pumps and ground-source heat pumps. If considering an air-source heat pump, there are three types available: central heat pump, ductless or mini-split, or mini-ducted.

A contractor will help you determine the right system for your home. Keep these key considerations in mind:

  • What is your current heating type? Some types of heat pumps are better for homes with electric baseboard heating, which lack duct work, while others are best suited to homes with oil, gas, or electric furnaces that have existing ducts.

  • Budget. The more efficient your heat pump, the better. While this might mean a higher up front cost, it will also mean much better performance, better comfort and more savings in the long run, so be sure to check the efficiency ratings when you research.

  • What’s important to you in a heating system? Things like upfront costs, or being able to control the heat separately in each room can determine which type of heat pump is right for you.

Before you get a heat pump, view this list of questions to ensure you’re asking your contractor for the right information before your purchase. Then, check out the available rebates BC Hydro has to offer on heat pumps.

Rebates for heat pumps

You can get up to $2,000 in rebates when you purchase and install an eligible air-source heat pump. For eligibility and application details, learn more about home renovation rebates.

Ready to make the switch?