Pros and Cons of Air-Source Heat Pumps
If you’ve been shopping around for a way to upgrade your HVAC system, you’ve probably stumbled across air-source heat pumps. While these alternatives to traditional heating and cooling are widely praised for many reasons, they may or may not be the right fit for you.
After installing many custom HVAC systems across the Los Angeles area, we’ve found that heat pumps are becoming a common request, and with good reason for the most part. Every HVAC system has its pros and cons, but air-source heat pumps are often given the benefit of the doubt based on their numerous pros. But we’re here to break down how the pros and cons of heat pumps balance out.
Before we jump into the pros and cons of heat pumps, it’s important to note that we are covering air-source models specifically.
Air-source heat pumps rely on electricity and do not use gas or oil to produce heat. There are other types of heat pumps, like ground source and water source, but air-source heat pumps are far more popular and convenient in Los Angeles’ residential areas.
Before diving in, let’s get a broad overview of what air-source heat pumps do well and where they’re lacking.
The pros of a heat pump include:
- Two-in-one design
- Eliminates danger of combustion-based heating
- Easy multi-zone configuration
Meanwhile, the cons of a heat pump are:
- Cost to install
- Higher electricity bills
- Requires more maintenance
- Poor severe weather performance
We’ll sift through each pro and con to help paint a better picture of whether a heat pump is right for you.
Pros of Air-Source Heat Pumps
Energy bills are top of mind for any HVAC owner. With electricity rates rising 14% in 10 years, heat pumps provide an efficient option over traditional heating and cooling.
Because heat pumps transfer heat rather than create it, there’s less energy needed during the heating process. This design translates to about 50% less energy consumed when heating a home compared to standard electric heating systems.
But performance efficiency isn’t the only way heat pumps provide a more efficient option.
2. Two-in-One Design
While there are some larger heat pump designs, there are also many slimmer ones that can save you space and won’t be as big of an eyesore. You can also count on having to set aside less space overall since a heat pump houses both heating and cooling elements.
A heat pump can come in handy for homes that are tight on real estate. But aside from saving space, heat pumps provide another benefit over their traditional heating counterparts.
3. Eliminates the Danger of Combustion-Based Heating
Protecting your family is a top priority, and while many homeowners don’t often think of their traditional gas or oil-based furnace as a danger, the risks are inherent. Running a gas or oil-based furnace introduces several pitfalls.
For one, there is a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning in faulty units. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), carbon monoxide poisoning kills hundreds of people annually and leaves thousands more ill.
Air-source heat pumps also reduce the risk of fire or explosion, which adds another layer of protection for your family.
Aside from safeguarding your family, heat pumps also provide added comfort due to a specific design feature not found in traditional air conditioners and heaters.
4. Easy Multi-Zone Configuration
With a heat pump, you have the choice to run a ductless system. Opting for a ductless system gives you the freedom to heat and cool each room as you see fit, thanks to being a multi-zone system.
While you can achieve a multi-zone system using traditional components, the process may require adding an additional unit and multiple thermostats.
A heat pump makes things much easier with individual air handlers placed inside each room of your home. Each indoor air handler can is controllable to ensure your family can attain their ideal comfort.
If you have the space indoors, a ductless system is a win-win for everyone in the household.
But it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows when installing a heat pump. There are plenty of cons to consider while shopping around.
Cons of Air-Source Heat Pumps
1. Cost to Install
One of the biggest pitfalls of heat pumps is their cost to install. Heat pumps are, on average, 5% more expensive than traditional air conditioners. The cost to install is also higher.
The main reason for the price difference between traditional air conditioners and heat pumps is that heat pumps both heat and cool. Heat pumps pull double duty, and their price reflects as much.
It’s best to keep this in mind when shopping around for heat pumps to temper your expectations going forward.
2. Higher Electricity Bills
Because air-source heat pumps are electric, you can count on your electric bills going up quite a bit. Instead of running a gas furnace with its own separate tab, air-source heat pumps rely on electricity, meaning consistently higher electricity bills.
On the plus side, you won’t have to worry about any dangers that come with a gas furnace, so there’s a bit of give-and-take there.
3. Requires More Maintenance
This one is a bit tricky. Heat pumps may require more maintenance than a standard air conditioner, but this is because they have more moving parts. The complexity of heat pumps comes from the two-in-one design that allows them to heat and cool.
Think of it this way; you’ll have to schedule yearly maintenance for traditional air conditioners and furnaces anyway. But with the heat pump, that maintenance schedule is mashed together since they pull double duty.
While it isn’t the most significant downside, the difference in maintenance is something to note so you can build a realistic idea of what to expect as a heat pump owner.
4. Poor Severe Weather Performance
Here’s a big downside for anyone in a colder climate. Because heat pumps don’t generate heat and instead pull heat from the outside, they’re not star players in severe weather. Heat pumps can struggle to pull in heat in anything below 25 degrees Fahrenheit.
Heat pumps thrive when the temperature is above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything below 40 degrees will cause the heat pump's efficiency to slip, and it will need to consume more power to do its job.
This is a big one to weigh for anyone who lives in a region with harsh winters. If you’re concerned about this pitfall, then you might consider it a non-starter.
So, is a Heat Pump Right for You?
We’ve broken down the pros and cons of heat pumps to help you decide whether you should consider adding one to your home. Not only do you have a better idea of what heat pumps do and don’t do well, but now you’ll be able to shop around with a more critical eye to ensure you find the right solution for your family.
At Monkey Wrench, we’ve seen the uptick in heat pumps around Los Angeles County, and we have to say that it’s with good reason. If you’re interested in pursuing a heat pump and live in the Los Angeles area, give us a call at (310) 853- 8690 or visit our HVAC services page to book an appointment with a technician.
If you’re ready to begin the next phase of shopping for a heat pump, you’ll need to get a better idea of the best brands on the market so you know what to request from your servicer.
If you install a new system, chances are that you’ll need a new thermostat too. Get acquainted with the best smart thermostats of 2022 to save yourself some time.