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Is a Heat Pump Right for You?

In our ever-present quest to build one-device-suits-all-situations, the reversible heat pump looks to be a dream come true for heating and cooling in your home. A single system that heats and cools your home electrically without needing a gas line or regular refueling may seem too good to be true, but it isn’t. Reversible heat pumps are an effective measure for climate control in your home.

What Is a Heat Pump?

You may not know how to visualize a heat pump. Most pumps are used to move a liquid, but heat is energy, not fluid so how does a pump move heat from one place to another? By using a liquid to carry heat of course. See, a heat pump is identical in function to a standard air conditioner. Air conditioners regulate temperature using a heat exchange system. By running a fluid that’s colder than the surrounding air, it picks up heat to be deposited elsewhere. Changing the pressure of the fluid using a compressor changes its own temperature. This is how an air conditioner can pull heat from inside your home and deposit it outside during hot summer months.

In the winter, a reversible heat pump simply reverses this process. By exchanging the roles of condenser and exchanger on either end of your system, a heat pump can pull heat from the cold outside air and deposit it inside your home. To do this effectively, the refrigerant needs to be capable of reaching temperatures that are colder than the outside air. As cold as it may feel outside, there’s still heat energy there which can be used to warm up the refrigerant before it’s passed back inside the home.

The video below explains it well:

Climate Shapes Your Decision

A major player in how effective a heat pump is for your home is climate. Even in Illinois, refrigerants can get colder than our winters, allowing a heat pump to still heat your home. But as the outside temperature drops, so does the effectiveness of a heat pump. This is why you see more heat pumps further south, while we primarily use gas and oil furnaces.

To make up for the harsher cold climates of the north, heat pumps have an emergency heating element installed. When the outside temperature gets too cold for the standard compression cycle to cope with, an electric heating element activates, boosting your heat pump’s ability to generate heat. It works like an electric furnace and will keep your home warm.

Of course, supplementing that heating with a space heater or fireplace is never a bad idea. And zoned or controlled heating of your home are already effective methods of improving heating efficiency. Although with a heat pump you don’t have to worry about running out of fuel during winter a storm.

Monetary Costs

Calculating the difference between costs of a heat pump and a fuel-fired furnace is a little tricky. Efficiency and BTU output per dollar are calculated differently for each. The units listed for each are different, even between propane and natural gas, so getting a set comparison is difficult. Differences in home construction and how warm you like to keep your home can further complicate matters. Each home is different, and the price of gas in the US fluctuates from year to year. On average you will find that the difference in cost is minimal. The amount you’ll pay for a heat pump compared to a gas furnace on a monthly basis is not going to change greatly.

Essentially, you’ll need to do a cost per BTU analysis to see if electricity or gas is cheaper in your area or from your provider.

Home Design Factors

The last factor to consider is how your home is designed. Drafty and cold homes are not a good candidate for heat pumps because during the winter you want a strong heat source. A heat pump can keep your home warm, even if it is drafty, but as mentioned before, the colder it gets outside, the less effective a heat pump becomes. This is true of any heating device (the colder a room is, the harder a heater will have to work to warm the room up), but heat pumps have a slightly narrower margin than standard furnaces because of the way they heat a room.

Newer home designs incorporate excellent insulation and account for beneficial heat generated by sunlight and energy conservation techniques to help trap heat during the winter and shield against it during the winter. This can be as simple as placing trees nearby that shade the roof during the summer, but shed leaves to allow more sunlight to hit the roof during the winter, or as complicated as insulating separate rooms to control how heat is regulated.

Whichever you decide, heat pumps are becoming more effective every year. With higher efficiencies, greater cold tolerances, and increasingly accurate control systems and thermostats, an electric heat pump is a great way to control the climate in your home year-round without worries of fuel consumption.


If you need help detecting air leaks and other sources of inefficiencies in your home, call your home comfort experts at (217) 866-1596 for your Free Whole Home Inspection and Analysis. We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to answer any questions you might have.

We also offer an ongoing Home Maintenance Plan to help ensure you not only have regular heater/furnace maintenance and tune-up checks, but also saves your money!

Cassel Home Comfort Heating & Cooling, situated in the Champaign IL, is committed to being your best HVAC contractor choice in Central Illinois in both Value and Customer Service!

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