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Home Heating and Cooling Insights: Heat Pump Myths Debunked

November 3, 2021

When it comes to what makes a house feel like a home, there are many systems running behind the scenes to ensure your comfort, health, and safety. But how much do you know about these workhorses of the house? For example: the heat pump. Offering an energy-efficient alternative to furnaces and air conditioners, heat pumps use the refrigeration cycle to move heat from the outside in, or the inside out, keeping your home at the perfect temperature.
We talked to experts Jeff Goss, Senior Manager for Residential Systems at Rheem, and Phil Oglesby, Manager of Education and Content Development, to answer homeowners’ questions and help sort through fact versus fiction when it comes to the unsung heroes of personal home comfort: the heat pump.

Myth 1: Heat pumps are only for making things hotter or colder; it can’t do both.
False. Designed for year-round comfort, a heat pump keeps you cool by drawing heat from your home on warm days and drawing heat from the outside air to keep you warm on cool days. For families seeking a versatile heating and cooling solution, a super-efficient heat pump is a great choice.
An energy-efficient heat pump, which uses the refrigeration cycle to send heat where it’s needed or remove it from where it’s not, offers a two-for-one benefit since they can provide both cooling and heating and fit in the same space as a traditional air conditioner outside the home.
“Energy efficiency is such an important factor,” says Jeff, “And an innovative modern heat pump will provide more bang for your buck, and for your energy usage.”

Myth 2: If heat pumps pull air from outside, they must not be efficient during cold winters.
False! While it seems like an easy enough idea—the system pulls air from outside to warm the home—many homeowners wonder how the science of that works. Wouldn’t it pull in cold air if it’s cold outside? Fortunately, the physics of a heat pump system, combined with the latest technology advancements, means that modern heat pump systems extract the energy in every air molecule to convert it to heat in the cold months and cooled air in the warmer months.
For areas with typically colder or more extreme temperatures, a dual fuel system—where a heat pump can be matched to a gas furnace—gives flexibility to a homeowner to run the pump and provide heating in all-electric mode, or switch to natural gas and run the gas furnace for heating.
“A gas furnace might be the preferred heating option in very cold temperatures. In that case, a dual fuel system, which connects a heat pump to an indoor coil on top of a gas furnace, gives you the flexibility to do both,” says Jeff, “And new system designs that are using high-efficiency compressors and inverter drives are properly sized for the application can still be very efficient at very cold temperatures.”

Myth 3: The costs to switch to an electric heat pump and air handler are expensive.
False. When you’re ready to replace your gas furnace with an electric air handler and heat pump system to heat and cool the home, the infrastructure of the home largely will not have to change. The upfront cost might be in upgrading the electrical panel, but the reduction in energy use reflected in your utility bills can outweigh the initial cost. “Plus, you’ve now future-proofed your house,” adds Jeff. Innovative and super-efficient, ENERGY STAR certified heat pumps such as the Prestige™ Series RP20 Residential Heat Pump, help homeowners see savings on their monthly utility bills too.
How exactly? The Prestige Series RP20 uses an inverter drive and highly efficient scroll compressor to deliver up to 21.95 SEER (a measure of the system’s efficiency during the cooling season) and 15.3 HSPF (a measure of the system’s efficiency during the heating season), in certain matched, AHRI-rated systems. The combination of inverter drive and high-efficiency compressor allows the system to match its operating speed to the heating or cooling needs of the home.
“This is more efficient and provides greater comfort when compared to traditional systems that are either in the 100% on or 100% off mode,” says Jeff. “In recent case studies conducted in Arkansas, homeowners saw a reduction in energy use of up to 52% using this technology.”
“Variable speed compressor technology allows us to maintain capacity in temperatures far colder than a standard heat pump,” adds Phil.

Myth 4: Building electrification is just a trend—there is no staying power!
Building electrification is gaining momentum as a lead source of energy. Some ways to think about electrification include:

  • Electrification is one of the most affordable and easiest methods to transition toward a healthy energy relationship. And the technology that is leading the way towards manageable sustainability is in heat pumps because it is a small change with a big impact.
  • State and local incentives and rebates. To help transition all buildings—new and retrofitted—for future living conditions and modern comforts, many states and local municipalities are offering financial rewards and incentives to help homeowners move toward electrification and away from fossil fuel-dependent solutions. “There are a lot of regulatory drivers that are going to make this a long-term trend,” says Phil, “And at the state and local level, those utility rebates can be very lucrative.”
  • The bigger picture. Every industry is impacted by growing climate concerns and environmental influence. Pursuing more sustainability is an important shift in how we think about, produce, consume, and manage energy. It is far from a trend; it’s preparation for our future.

Myth 5: Heat pumps require more maintenance.
False. Because heat pumps use a small amount of electricity to run overall,they are less expensive to operate and maintain than a natural gas furnace. Since the outdoor unit is running all year long, homeowners will still want to make sure it’s maintained, and the outdoor coil is clean.
“The benefit of the heat pump is that it’s much cheaper to heat your home, and depending on where you live, most of the time you’re only using the outdoor unit, so it’s almost always the more efficient option, especially when compared to using only electric heat strips,” says Phil. “I think regular maintenance is sufficient—at least twice a year, just like an air conditioner and furnace.”

Myth 6: A new install for a heat pump and air handler will be a big home renovation project.
False. Just like every home is different, so is every project, and there’s no one-size-fits-all for a home’s comfort and functionality. “Typically, a homeowner would call an HVAC technician to come out and see what their current system is doing, how it is structured, and go over the options with the homeowner for upgrading or replacing their system,” says Phil.
When you’re ready to install your Rheem heat pump, or if you just have a question on which one to choose, look no further than a trustworthy, independent Rheem Pro that’s likely in your neighborhood.