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Heat pump mythbusters

You’ve probably heard about heat pumps and maybe even have friends or family who’ve installed one. Heat pump technology isn’t new (in fact, it’s the same used by an air conditioner), but it’s a relatively new heating and cooling option in B.C., where many people are used to gas furnaces or electric baseboards. And as with many new things, there are misconceptions and myths that pop up.

So we’re going to go through the biggest ones, pull them apart and explain the truth. We’ve arranged them into 3 themes: myths about cost, myths about practicality, and myths about efficiency.

Cost myths about heat pumps

Myth: “Heat pumps are too expensive.”

While the cost of purchasing and installing a heat pump can vary depending on the type and your home's characteristics from around $6,000 - $14,000 (and can increase from there the more indoor heads or other modifications added), rebates are available to help reduce that cost. Plus, if you currently rely on electric baseboards to heat your home, you’ll see significant savings in your electricity use - and even more if you currently have central or portable air conditioning as well.

Use our heat pump calculator to learn about available rebates, potential savings and other benefits of installing a heat pump in your home.

Myth: “Heat pumps need to run 24/7”

A heat pump works by taking the heat from the air outside your home and moving it indoors. They’re most efficient when they’re maintaining a consistent temperature, cycling on and off as they need to. So you’ll actually find it’s more efficient to set it and forget it. You should resist the temptation to turn your heat pump down at night, or if you’re away for up to 24 hours. And if you’re going to be away for longer, just turn it down when you leave and gradually increase the temperature in 2°C increments when you return.

Practicality myths about heat pumps

Myth: “Air source heat pumps are really noisy”

Early heat pump compressors were pretty loud. And even some of the cheapest ones available today can also be quite noisy. But many modern heat pumps running at full capacity operate at around just 60 decibels (dB). That’s pretty low - about the same level of noise as conversation in a restaurant. It’s also worth remembering that since heat pump compressors are located outside, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to hear one in your home.

If you’re buying a ductless heat pump, they’re generally very quiet, too. But you should check the sound rating of different indoor head units, especially if you're installing them near sleeping areas.

Myth: “Heat pumps need a lot of maintenance”

Every heating system requires regular maintenance to ensure it remains in peak working order. As a rough guide, you should plan to have the settings and the mounting checked 6 months after installation and then schedule maintenance every 1 or 2 years going forward. Be sure to check with your manufacturer for a specific schedule.

Myth: “Heat pumps can only be installed in new builds”

Heat pumps can be fitted to virtually any property. The amount of work needed to install one will depend on the existing heating system and what type of heat pump you choose.

The other factor to consider is how well insulated your home is. Make sure you seal any air leaks in your home and if possible, upgrade the insulation before your contractor does a heat-loss analysis to determine the size of the heat pump you need. It may even enable you to use a smaller, less expensive system.

Myth: “Heat pumps take up a lot of space”

The outdoor compressor for an average air source heat pump is not particularly big. Your contractor will recommend a suitable place to locate it - ideally along the side of your house or somewhere relatively out of sight.

If you choose a ductless system, then you’ll need an outdoor compressor and several ceiling-mounted indoor head units.

If your home already has ducting and you’re able to install a central heat pump, you'll also need an outdoor compressor. With a few modifications, it should work with your existing ducting and vents.

Efficiency myths about heat pumps

Myth: “Heat pumps can only be used for heating”

Don’t be fooled by the name ‘heat’ pump. It goes both ways - transferring heat into your home to warm it in the winter, and transferring heat out of your home to cool it in the summer. That’s because heat pumps have a reversing valve which can switch the flow of coolant. Find out more about how heat pumps work.

Myth: “Heat pumps only work in homes with plenty of insulation”

You can find a heat pump to work in pretty much any home. But like any other heating system, the more insulated your home is, the more efficient your heat pump will be. A program registered contractor will be able to help you determine the best option for your home.

Myth: “Heat pumps don’t work in cold climates”

We’ll squash this last one immediately - you can get heat pumps in B.C. that operate in temperatures as low as -25°C. These heat pumps have a higher HSPF (Heating Season Performance Factor) which is how heat pump efficiency is measured. So ask your contractor about more efficient options, especially units that are designed specifically to operate in colder climates. They may be more expensive. But their higher price will be offset by lower energy use if you’ve previously been using electric baseboards - and they’re more likely to qualify for utility or government rebates.