Green Heating and Cooling with Heat Pumps
Did you know the Massachusetts 2050 Decarbonization Roadmap says that heat pumps are one of five critical systems transformations required to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050? To reach the Commonwealth’s net zero goals in 2050, the vast majority of buildings will need to use high-efficiency electric appliances for heating and cooling, including air source and ground source heat pumps. Electrifying your home heating system with a heat pump is one of the most effective ways to reduce your overall carbon footprint and make your home more comfortable. Heat pumps can efficiently heat your home in the winter and double as a cooling system in the summer - while lowering greenhouse gas emissions.
An ideal time to consider a heat pump is when you need to replace your existing heating or cooling system or when you want to add air conditioning. There are several different types of heat pumps, and factors to consider when choosing a heat pump include what kind of heating system you currently have, what types of fuel you use to currently heat your home, whether you currently have cooling, and the layout of your home. An experienced heat pump installer can help you find the right system for your home.
There are substantial incentives available to help you cover the cost of heat pumps. Incentives of up to $10,000 for air source heat pumps and $15,000 for ground source heat pumps are currently available through Mass Save, and there are also generous tax credits available from the Federal government through the Inflation Reduction Act. Keep in mind that incentives are likely to change in 2023, and possibly become more generous, as the Inflation Reduction Act takes full effect. To learn more, check the Deep Dive Tab.
In order to qualify for the MassSave incentives, you should first do everything you can to add the maximum insulation and reduce drafts significantly. Start by signing up for a no-cost Home Energy Assessment. Check that details on how to do this here.
Are you curious about how heat pumps work? Watch the mini-split videos on Mass Save here.
Ready to jump in?! Here are a few recommended steps you can take:
Heat pumps work best in well-insulated homes, so your first step should be to sign up to receive a free MassSave Home Energy Audit (you are entitled to a free audit every two years).
Explore your rebate and financing options. A good installer should automatically sign you up for any available rebates or savings, but it’s good to be aware of what the options are.
Contact a qualified installer to discuss what type of system is right for your home and to get a free estimate. It is recommended to get multiple quotes, because different installers may suggest different options for your home, and comparing them will give you a chance to assess the best system to meet your needs.
Let's take a deeper look...
Heat pumps work much the way your refrigerator does, by circulating a substance called a refrigerant through a cycle of evaporation and condensation. During the heating season, a heat pump moves heat from the outside air to your home. (Since the air outside always contains some heat, a heat pump can supply heat even on cold winter days.) During the summer, a heat pump cools just like an air conditioner, by transferring heat from inside to the outdoors.
Air source heat pumps have two parts: an outdoor condensing unit and one or more indoor air handling units, connected by a conduit through the wall. Some are ductless and some use ducts. Want to see it in animation? Watch the mini-split videos on Mass Save here: https://www.masssave.com/en/shop/equipment/electric-heating-and-cooling-systems.
I heard heat pumps don’t work in New England?
This used to be true, but now effective cold climate heat pumps are available and they can work very well in New England. The Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships (NEEP) maintains a list of Energy Star cold climate heat pumps. Be sure to work with a qualified installer to find a heat pump system that is properly sized and designed for your home.
Doesn’t it cost more to heat with electricity?
Maybe, depending on the type of fuel you use now. Heat pumps generally cost less to run than heating systems fueled by oil or propane, as well as traditional electric resistance heating, but heat pumps may cost more to run than gas systems. Oil, propane, gas and electricity prices are constantly changing so a comparison is always for one set point in time. Mass Save offers a Heating Comparison Calculator to help you compare the annual cost and carbon emissions savings from investing in a new heating and cooling system.
The Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships found that in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions air source heat pumps save around 3,000 kWh (or $459) when compared to electric resistance heaters, and 6,200 kWh (or $948) when compared to oil systems. When displacing oil (i.e., the oil system remains, but operates less frequently), the average annual savings are near 3,000 kWh (or about $300).
What incentives are available from the Inflation Reduction Act?
The Federal Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) passed in 2022 provides for higher incentives for heat pumps, but the incentives haven’t been fully implemented yet, and are expected to take place in 2023. The IRA increases the annual tax credit cap to $2,000 per year for efficient equipment including heat pumps. Low- to medium-income families may be eligible for as much as $14,000 per year in point-of-sale discounts for electrification projects—including up to $8,000 for a heat pump for space heating and cooling. However these programs will be run by states, and the details are still being worked out. We don’t yet know how the IRA will interact with Mass Save programs and incentives. More information on how state energy incentives will be delivered in Massachusetts should be available in 2023. In the meantime, Rewiring America offers a calculator to help assess what incentives your family may be eligible to receive as part of the IRA.
Do I have to replace my entire existing heating system to use heat pumps?
No. Heat pumps can work in combination with most heating systems, such as forced hot air, radiators, or radiant (floor) heat. Many people choose to install heat pumps on top of their legacy heating system, so that the old system kicks in only when temperatures get very cold.
If you have forced air heat, with ducts to carry the warm air to different rooms, it is easy to replace your furnace with an efficient heating system. If you have radiators, the typical approach is to install mini-split heat pumps in one or more rooms in a home. The specific approach depends on the layout of your home.
I heard there are different types, what are my options?
Yes, the different types of air source heat pumps are described below.
Ductless vs. Ducted vs. Short-Run Ducted
Ductless applications require minimal construction as only a three-inch hole through the wall is required to connect the outdoor condenser and the indoor heads. Ductless systems are often installed in additions.
Ducted systems simply use ductwork. If your home already has a ventilation system (e.g., if you have forced air heat) or the home will be a new construction, you might consider this system.
Short-run ducted is traditional large ductwork that only runs through a small section of the house. Short-run ducted is often complemented by other ductless units for the remainder of the house.
Split vs. Packaged
Most heat pumps are split-systems—that is, they have one coil inside and one outside. Supply and return ducts connect to the indoor central fan.
Packaged systems usually have both coils and the fan outdoors. Heated or cooled air is delivered to the interior from ductwork that passes through a wall or roof.
Multi-Zone vs. Single-Zone
Single-zone systems are designed for a single room with one outdoor condenser matched to one indoor head.
Multi-zone installations can have two or more indoor heads connected to one outdoor condenser. Multi-zone indoor heads vary by size and style and each creates its own "zone" of comfort, allowing you to heat or cool individual rooms, hallways, and open spaces. This distinction may also be referred to as "multi-head vs. single-head" and "multi-port vs. single-port."
How do I decide which kind of heat pump is right for my home?
A qualified installer is your best guide, and you can find a trained heat pump installer here. If you want to learn more now, check out this buying guide. If an independent second opinion would help you feel more confident with your installer’s recommendations, Abode offers a quote review service at a reasonable price.
I want to learn even more, where could I go?
https://heatsmartalliance.org/resources/ is a great place to find support and resources for your heat pump project.