Electric 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 a better, much more efficient technology that allows us to switch to a much cleaner fuel source – electricity – to heat our homes.
- Heat Pump Calculator! Check out this fantastic calculator from the Canadian Climate Institute to get an estimate of the costs you may incur and the overall savings with heat pumps compared to the costs of gas heating and air conditioning. Good news – in Toronto, most electric heat pumps are less costly compared to alternatives ()
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 heat that a heat pump can capture. The great thing is that a heat pump can also work in reverse in the summer. 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 are a little more expensive than "regular" heat pumps, but the energy savings over time will really bring your overall costs down, 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 greenhouse gas emissions (as our electricity grid in Ontario is about 94% emissions-free).
And there's still more... because heat pump technology is so efficient (300-400% more efficient than the most efficient natural gas furnace), it means that heating your home with electricity is no longer an expensive endeavour, as it once was. Heat pumps are in fact very affordable to use because they only need a small amount of electricity to capture existing heat from the air outside (they are not using energy to create heat). Many homeowners save on their energy bills with a heat pump. Other benefits include that heat pumps take up 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 or an outdoor air conditioning unit.
The purchase price of a heat pump can vary, from $5,000 for a regular, ductless heat pump to $12,000 - $18,000 for a cold climate ducted model. However, rebate and loan programs are available, which can reduce your overall and upfront costs. The cost of a heat pump is now comparable (or more typically lower than) the cost of replacing your boiler/furnace and central air conditioner.
Recommendations. The Pocket Change Project does not recommend specific heat pump manufacturers, brands, or installers. But we have provided links to testimonials from other homeowners who have heat pumps so you can do some research and consider their model/brand/installer recommendations. Another helpful resource is our list of the major heat pump manufacturers. Many have lists of installers on their websites.
- You can find many articles/videos featuring homeowners sharing information about their heat pump brands/installers in the Retrofit Stories section of our website.
- The Ontario Clean Air Alliance offers a comprehensive list of homeowners on their website and testimonials/information about their heat pump experiences.
- And the Harbord Village Residents Association has a terrific list of heat pump owners along with the heat pump brands and installers they used. These heat pump owners have provided their emails for anyone who would like to contact them about their experiences.
Major Heat Pump Manufacturers:
- Midea, who manufacture MOOVAIR, Mits Air, KeepRite, and others
- Mitsubishi Electric
- Gree, who manufacture Bosch, KingHome and other brands
- 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 in finding the most qualified installers.
- If you plan to do future work to make your home more energy efficient (air sealing, insulation and/or window and exterior door upgrades, etc.) it is important to have your heat pump sized for that future state. 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.
- It's important 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 will lose most of its efficiency advantages - and also shorten the lifespan of your equipment. If you "set it and forget it," your heat pump will work at its best.
- "Do I need to back up my heat pump with another gas furnace, as I've been told?" In a word, no, you don't have to have a hybrid system and keep using gas in your home. If you get a cold climate heat pump, many of those now operate down to -30C. In Toronto, it is highly unlikely you'll need something that can operate at temperatures lower than that, but many cold climate heat pumps also come with an electric backup pre-installed, or give you the option to have one. If you go with no backup on a cold climate heat pump (as our Retrofit Coach has, with no issues so far after one full winter), or if you have an electric backup, then you will no longer need to burn fossil gas to keep a backup available to you. If you have no other gas appliances, you can also stop you gas service completely, saving a great deal in distribution and other charges each month - and giving you the satisfaction of knowing that your home is now "fossil fuel free."
- Do you have a new gas furnace, but want to switch to electric heating? A solution is now available! Cold climate heat pump systems can be installed on many new furnaces. It can be installed in the same way as (or as a replacement for) your central air conditioning, providing cooling in the summer and heat in the winter. You may never need to burn gas for heat again, but your furnace will continue to provide air circulation. These coil-to-coil systems cost more than a central air conditioner, but are less expensive than a stand-alone heat pump system. Just make sure that the system you get is a cold climate system (which today work down to -30C).
- Heat pumps for hydronic (radiator) heating systems: Many homeowners with radiators would like to replace their boilers with a heat pump. Heat pump-driven hot water heating is very common in Europe. But these pre-packaged air-to-water heat pumps are still on the path to being approved, included in rebate programs, and readily-available in Canada. Most contractors here are not yet offering a heat pump replacement for a boiler that will allow you to keep your radiators. However, some homes with radiators have made the switch - our very own Pocket Change Retrofit Coach's home is one of them, allowing him to disconnect his gas service! For more information please email him.
- "Will I need to upgrade my home's electric service if I get a heat pump?" Many heat pump contractors routinely tell homeowners they need to upgrade their 100 amp electric service to 200 amps before installing a cold climate heat pump. This can add thousands of dollars to the cost of your heat pump. In our experience, it is often not necessary to upgrade - we have seen many homes with 100 amp service successfully equipped with cold climate heat pumps. Our very own Retrofit Coach's home is one of them, allowing him to run his heat pump, induction stove, heat pump dryer, and even charge his car, all on 100-amp service! For more information contact the Retrofit Coach. Of course, it depends on what other electric appliances you use in your home and when you use them. You may want to try installing the heat pump on your 100 amp service first - you can upgrade later if it is required, and if it is not you will have avoided a significant cost.
When is a good time to consider a heat pump?
- When your air conditioning system or home heating system is getting older (10 years or more) – 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, like asthma in children.
- Watch the recording of the Pocket Change Air Source Heat Pump Webinar from May 2022.
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.
- Check out our Funding and Financing page to get a sense of the rebates and loans that are available.
- Our partners at STEP have some more testimonial videos (in addition to the two featured above) here.
- BetterHomes.TO has a very helpful page on Heat Pumps.
- Even more detailed information about air source heat pumps is available from National Resources Canada.
Top left image: Ontario Clean Air Alliance.
First and second videos: Toronto and Region Conservation Authority STEP program.