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Heat pumps: What are they, anyway?

An electric heat pump is a great energy-efficient heating and cooling option for many types of homes. Plus, in B.C. they're powered by water, which means if you make the switch from fossil fuel-based heating, you'll significantly cut back your home's environmental footprint.

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

What's a heat pump?

A heat pump is an efficient way of heating and cooling your home, powered by electricity. In fact, heat pumps can be up to 300% more efficient than electric baseboard heaters for heating your home. That's because they take the heat from the air outside your home and move 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 built-in 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.

How does a heat pump work?

Watch Dave explain how a heat pump works to heat your home in the winter, and keep it cool in the summer.

Ready to make the switch?

If you’re looking to improve your home’s comfort and want energy-efficient heating and cooling, a heat pump could be a great option if you live in a single-family home, mobile home or townhome. Here's what you need to know:

  • If you currently have a gas furnace, switching to an electric heat pump powered by clean electricity will lower your greenhouse gas emissions by around two tonnes per year. While your electricity costs may increase, you’ll lower or replace your gas bill.

  • You’ll get the added benefit of efficient home cooling, often at a lower cost than central air conditioning or running a portable air conditioner.

  • 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.

Learn more about available rebates and other benefits of installing a heat pump in your home with our heat pump incentive guide.

What sort of heat pump should I choose?

There are three main types of heat pumps: air-source, water-source and ground-source heat pumps. If - like most people - you choose an air-source heat pump, there are three types available: central heat pump, ductless - often called a mini-split, or mini-ducted.

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

  • What's your current heating type? Some types of heat pumps are better for homes with electric baseboard heating that 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 choose 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 for heat pumps from BC Hydro, CleanBC and the federal government.

Finding a qualified contractor

The best way to decide what type of heat pump is right for you is to talk it through with a registered contractor . They know all there is to know about installing heat pumps and ensuring your upgrades meet the Home Renovation Rebate Program requirements.

Review our list of registered contractors to find somebody in your area.

Rebates for heat pumps

You could be eligible for up to $11,000 in rebates from BC Hydro, CleanBC and the federal government for installing a heat pump. The amounts vary depending on the type of heat pump and your current heating source.

See available rebates.