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As technology has advanced and energy costs have risen, high-efficiency heat pump systems, which combine heating and cooling into one unit, have become more popular and more affordable. From an energy-efficiency standpoint, they cannot be beat by anything other than going full-blown solar with a battery back-up system, and they’re less expensive upfront.

Switching may sound like a no-brainer, but there are critical pieces of information you must have before you make a purchase. Here are the questions you should be asking your HVAC professional before you decide.

Related Post: Is a Heat Pump Right for Your Home?

What Are Your Qualifications?

When making a major purchase, it’s always a good idea to check references and use some commonsense judgment on anyone you’re considering hiring to do the work. Get more than one estimate. Make sure the contractors are licensed to work in the area where you live. Ask about a certificate of insurance where you, the homeowner, is named as additional insured. If anything seems fishy, keep looking.

It’s also important that any HVAC professional you work with is well-versed in energy efficiency. This not only helps ensure that they can help you choose the right heat pump model, but also that they can provide you with an accurate assessment of your home’s current heating and cooling challenges (for example, gaps in your building shell), the feasibility and cost of reaching your goals with a heat pump, the kind of heat pump that might be best based on your local climate and space, and all the other variables that impact your home’s energy efficiency.

You can go an extra step and find out if the techs have any additional qualifications awarded by the equipment manufacturers they represent. “Ask if they’re a manufacturer-recommended contractor,” says Kevin Brenner, founder and president of Healthy Home Energy and Consulting. “Do they have certifications from that manufacturer?” Manufacturers are a reliable source of ongoing training for the techs installing their gear in the field.

What Are the Advantages to Switching to a Heat Pump?

There’s a simple answer to this question and then there’s the answer that’s specific to your home. We can give you the simple answer here. The more complex one should come from a qualified HVAC professional with a strong understanding of and experience in home energy efficiency. Be sure to get specific about the advantages of a heat pump to your particular home, with its specific layout, existing heating and cooling system, insulation and air sealing, air flow, ductwork, plus quirks of the local climate and the price of electricity and fuel.

For those who’d still like the simple answer to the question of the advantages of a heat pump: Heat pumps don’t use combustion to create heat. They don’t burn oil, gas, or propane. There are no exhaust gases to potentially escape into your home. They eliminate the need for window-unit air conditioners. And they’re very, very efficient.

For every unit of electricity you put into a heat pump, you get up to three units of heat out. Even the most efficient furnaces operate closer to one for one. What about electric furnaces and boilers? Ironically, they’re at the bottom of the pile when it comes to efficiency. “Based on energy efficiency, heat pumps are 300% more efficient than plain, old electric heating,” says Brenner.

Now, a caveat here: While heat pump efficiency is not in dispute, it’s important to differentiate between energy efficiency and energy cost. Whether or not replacing a gas or oil-based furnace or boiler with an electric heat pump saves actual energy costs for heating and cooling your home depends on several factors, including the price of electricity, the availability of fuels, and how well your home is insulated. Heat pumps follow the rule of paying more now to save later. “There is generally a greater upfront cost with a payback in about six to seven years,” says Brenner.

Related Post: Heat Pump Versus Furnace: How do they stack up?

Is My House Set up for a Heat Pump?

Here’s where all those variables related to your specific living environment come into play. When raising complex questions about heating and cooling systems, it’s important to consider the space being heated and cooled — especially when it comes to heat pumps. Do you have enough insulation and air sealing in place to keep the conditioned air in your home where it belongs? Are your windows and doors relatively new, certified for efficiency, and installed properly? Does the size of your home necessitate a larger pump than you anticipated? Is a cold-climate pump better for you based on average seasonal temperatures?

Brenner works primarily in the Northeast where many homes are heated by boilers and radiator systems — meaning no forced air. Blowing warm air from a heat pump into an old house with single-pane windows and thin insulation in the walls can result in the heat zipping into your home and then dashing right back outside.

“The house may require some modification if you have no insulation,” says Brenner. “It may require some envelope work. You should have envelope work done before you put in the heat pump. Heat pumps should not go into a house without a reasonable thermal envelope.”

If you live in a climate where the temperature plunges in the winter, you may have heard that heat pumps are not an option for you. For many years heat pumps have suffered from this stigma, and there was a reason for it. “In the old days, they weren’t great in cold climates,” says Brenner. “Nowadays, unless you live in inland Alaska, you don’t have to worry. If you have the appropriate thermal envelope, heat pumps will work in every house.”

Ask your contractor if he/she provides modeling so you can better understand what your energy costs and savings will be over time by switching. “If you hired the correct installer, that person should be able to give you some energy modeling so you can see what the energy savings would be post-improvements,” says Brenner.

What Type of Heat Pump Should I Be Considering?

Heat pumps come in three main varieties — ducted air-source; ductless air source, which are often called “mini-splits;” and geothermal, which are often referred to as “ground source.” Absorption heat pumps are a newcomer on the scene and are closer to traditional furnaces because they use combustion to create heat.

Matching a system to your home, budget, and location can be impacted by several factors. Ground source pumps generally require access to a backyard or underground water source. Air source pumps only need enough space outside for the compressor. Mini splits offer the most flexibility, especially for a home without existing ductwork. “Mini splits are the most controllable system where each unit is a zone,” says Brenner.

Are There Rebates or Tax Incentives for Installing a Heat Pump?

Rebates and tax incentives are great ways to reduce the upfront cost of a heat pump and get closer to a return on your investment more quickly.

Part of the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) includes federal government support for installing heat pumps; although some of the fine details are still being hashed out on a state-by-state basis. What we do know is that based on your income, you could be looking at tax credits of up to $2,000 and rebates of up to $8,000 for heat pump installation. Your contractor can help you parse through these savings, as well as any that might come from your utility or the manufacturer. Point is, make sure you cover all your bases when in conversation with your HVAC pro.

Ready to take the next step? Create a free Green Door account and search and connect with local, vetted HVAC professionals who can help you get answers to these questions and others. After installation, update your home’s profile in Green Door to earn Pearl Points toward a Pearl Certification, which captures the full value of your energy-efficient home.

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