Air Source Heat Pumps
Electric, air source heat pumps are the latest, greatest, most sustainable thing in home heating technology. Just as at one point in the past, the majority of homes made the switch to “natural” gas for heating because it was a lot cleaner than heating by oil, now we have better, much more efficient technology that allows us to switch to a much cleaner fuel source – electricity – to heat our homes.
But wait, there’s more! Air source heat pumps essentially capture heat from the air outside our homes and transfer it inside. Even in cold weather this is possible, because the air outside still contains some heat that a heat pump can capture. The great thing is that a heat pump can also work in reverse in the summer – meaning it can take hot air from inside your home and transfer it outside. This means that a heat pump can replace both a natural gas furnace and your air conditioner, all at once!
- FUN FACT. Although heat pumps have been around for several decades, more recent developments have resulted in cold climate heat pump models that work in very low temperatures (as low as -30 C). These perform really well in Canadian winters, without any need for a backup gas furnace. They can be more expensive than other heat pumps, but the energy savings over time will reduce some of your investment, and you may qualify for a larger rebate. Plus, if you use an electric, cold climate heat pump for all your heating and cooling needs, you will drastically reduce your emissions (as our electricity grid in Ontario is about 94% emissions-free).
And there's still more... because heat pump technology is so efficient, it means that heating your home with electricity is no longer as expensive as it once was. Air source heat pumps are very affordable to use because they only need a small amount of electricity to capture heat from the air outside. They may cost a small amount more to run in winter, but if your heat pump is sized correctly, you will likely see savings at other times of the year that help balance these out. Other benefits include that heat pumps take up a lot less space than furnaces/boilers in your home, and heat pumps have fans that operate quietly and continuously, which means less noise compared to the traditional fans from a furnace.
The purchase price of a heat pump can vary, from $5,000 for a regular, ductless heat pump to $12,000 - $18,000 or more for a cold climate ducted model. However, rebate and loan programs are available, which can reduce your overall and upfront costs.
- Heat pumps are more advanced technology than gas furnaces. It’s important to get a heat pump that is sized right for your home (and definitely not over-sized). Heat pumps that are over-sized will not be nearly as efficient as they should be, so you won’t get the reductions in your overall energy use that you could have otherwise. We recommend working with a registered energy advisor who has a lot of expertise in heat pumps, and who can help you to figure out what your home needs and assist you in finding the most qualified installers. HVAC companies are starting to improve in this area, but many do not yet have sufficient familiarity with heat pumps to do the job properly for residential homes.
- If you plan to do future work to make your home more energy efficient (air sealing, insulation upgrades, etc.) it is important to have your heat pump sized for that future state, so that when you make those upgrades, it is sized correctly. Again, a good registered energy advisor can calculate your future energy needs based on your plans and advise on the ideal sizing for your heat pump that will work for those future needs. And if you are able to, it is great to air seal and insulate your home first before getting an air source heat pump.
It's important to learn how to use a heat pump properly. Heat pumps work best when you leave them on a constant temperature all the time. They are not like a furnace, where it's better to turn them down when you are away for a few hours or asleep overnight, and then back up when you need more heat again (or to have a "smart" thermostat to make these adjustments for you). Heat pumps work slower - it takes a longer time for them to get the temperature in your home up and down. The rule of thumb is, only adjust the temperature on your heat pump if you are going to be away for five or more days (like on a vacation) - then it makes sense. Otherwise, making constant temperature adjustments makes your heat pump work a lot harder than it needs to, and you lose most of the efficiency benefits of a heat pump - and also shorten the lifespan of your equipment. If you "set it and forget it," your heat pump will be at its best - which is a LOT more efficient than a furnace.
When is a good time to consider an air-source heat pump?
- When your air conditioning system or home heating system is getting older – you can switch to the new technology now before these break down, avoiding any hasty decisions and getting locked in to another 15 or 20 years on gas.
- When you renovate or are doing other green home improvements.
- When you want to make a major difference and get your home to net zero!
Why this is important?
Heating our homes with gas is one of the reasons why Canadians have one of the largest carbon footprints in the world per capita. For example, typical homes in The Pocket produce 6-8 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year, the majority of it from home heating. So switching from gas to much-cleaner electricity for home heating is one of the best things you can do to have a real, positive impact on our climate. It is also better for you and your family, as increasingly research is showing that burning gas in our homes (for heating or cooking) can cause negative health effects.
- Watch the recording of the Pocket Change Air Source Heat Pump Webinar from May 2022.
Everything you wanted to know about heat pumps but were afraid to ask! In this accessible primer, Erik Janssen, an analyst with the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority’s Sustainable Technologies Evaluation Program (STEP), shares his research on the basics of heat pumps and how they can make a major impact in reducing our residential green house gas emissions.
- Have a look at this webinar about heat pumps from our friends at the Harbord Village Residents Association. Featuring Trish Long of Switch Heat Pumps and Steve Cornelius of Mitsubishi Electric. HVRA also has an informative web page on Air Source Heat Pumps for heating and cooling.
- Many homeowners in The Pocket have already installed air source heat pumps. Check out the Retrofit Stories section of our website to read about their experiences.
- Check out our Funding and Financing page to get a sense of the rebates and loans that are available.
- Our partners at STEP have excellent heat pump case studies and other info on their heat pump page. See also their heat pump testimonial (in addition to the two featured above) here.
- BetterHomes.TO has a very helpful page on Air Source Heat Pumps.
- Even more detailed information about air source heat pumps is available from National Resources Canada.
Electrifying Ontario’s Gas-Heated Homes by Installing Air-Source Heat Pumps - report from the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, which compares the cost of installing a cold climate air source heat pump to replacing conventional heating and cooling equipment, finding that over the lifespan of the equipment, the average homeowner will save up to $10,000 or more.
Ontario Clean Air Alliance also has a Heat Pump page and webinar recording.
This video explainer provides a thorough technical explanation of how a heat pump actually works.
Credit, heat pump diagram: Natural Resources Canada
Top left image: Ontario Clean Air Alliance.
First and second videos: Toronto and Region Conservation Authority STEP program.