Heat pumps have gained so much attention over the years, partly because of the environmental benefits it offers. But many homeowners are still unaware of what heat pumps can do for the environment. So, do heat pumps really help, or are these claims just part of a hype?
The most significant environmental benefit of heat pumps is they help reduce carbon emissions. A 1,500 sq. ft. house that switches from burning oil and gas to heat pumps reduces its carbon emissions from 17,000 to 4,500 lbs every year. They also do less environmental damage and have zero risks with carbon monoxide.
These benefits are more than enough for many people to consider switching to heat pumps. However, there are still a lot of things that you need to know about them. Stick around because, by the end of this article, you’ll have a very different perspective on heat pumps.
How Heat Pumps Work
A heat pump isn’t a new technology; we’ve been using it for years in our houses. There are also many advancements in this industry, making it even more viable and affordable for homeowners. The most basic example of a heat pump is your fridge; it pumps the heat inside and pushes it out to regulate temperature.
Heat pumps constantly work with electricity to warm up one space by cooling down another. It’s why the back of any fridge is warm. It’s also similar to an air conditioner, but heat pumps can work in reverse. If your house is too cold, it can suck heat from an outside source to warm up the air; if it’s too hot, it can suck out the heat inside your house and push it outside.
If we’re talking about geothermal heat pumps, the “outside” source is underground. It has a fairly constant temperature that can be anywhere from 45 to 75ºF (7.2 to 23.9ºC). It may change depending on where you live, but it’s mostly unaffected by the temperature on the surface. This stable temperature is what heat pumps use to cool your home.
It uses renewable energy and a fraction of electricity to power up the machine. Since it uses underground heat, it doesn’t require fossil fuel burning, effectively reducing carbon emissions. It’s also considerably more energy-efficient than other space conditioning systems. In fact, throughout the lifetime of a heat pump, its installation and operational costs will be several times cheaper than oil and gas.
Due to the several advantages that homeowners can get from heat pumps, there’s been a lot of improvement in the industry, making it even more energy-efficient and environment-friendly. There are also some developments where the compressor uses carbon dioxide instead of hydrofluorocarbon gases, making it an even more eco-friendly option.
Below are the most significant environmental benefits that you can get from switching to heat pumps.
Less Environmental Damage
Most of the space conditioning systems that we use cause a lot of damage to the environment. Some would say that natural gas is a clean option, which may be true if you compare it with fossil fuel. But it’s non-renewable and geothermal heat that naturally occurs underground is still a much cleaner option. We discussed whether natural gas was renewable in our post “Is LPG Gas Renewable or Non-Renewable?“
Heat pumps alone are still far from being the perfect space conditioning solution for our homes because most of the electricity we use in the grid still comes from fossil fuels. But if you compare the efficiency of all the space conditioning systems available to us, we can say that geothermal heat pumps cause less environmental damage.
It’ll be even more efficient over time due to all the research and advancements in this technology. And, when coupled with renewable energies such as solar panels, it becomes the best solution we currently have available for a clean, renewable, and efficient heating system.
Lower Carbon Emission
Geothermal heat pumps produce 75% to 85% lower carbon emissions than other space conditioning systems. To put that into perspective, a 1,500 sq. ft. house needs at least 750 gallons of oil every year, which produces at least 17,000 lbs. of carbon dioxide. If the same house converts its space conditioning systems to geothermal heat pumps, the carbon emission instantly goes down from 17,000 to 4,500 lbs, sometimes even less than that.
12,500 lbs. of carbon dioxide is the same amount that a car produces in a year! Right now, only a minority of households in the U.S. use geothermal heat pumps. It already resulted in a reduction in carbon emission, but there’s still a lot of room for development.
It’s a significant environmental benefit that we can get because, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), residential and commercial buildings take up at least 39% of all the energy in the U.S. (21% in residential and 18% in commercial sectors). Since most of the country’s carbon emissions come from cooling, heating, and hot water systems, geothermal heat pumps as a replacement will be a massive environmental benefit.
Zero Carbon Monoxide Risk
A combustion furnace may be cheap to operate and safe, but it poses a huge risk for carbon monoxide leaks. Carbon monoxide may be odorless, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is responsible for hundreds of deaths and thousands of illnesses every year.
Aside from the risk of leaks, it also contributes to acid rain formation and increases the risk of developing various heart and lung diseases. So, even though it’s highly efficient, there are risks involved in using furnace combustion systems.
Heat pumps don’t produce the same gas, and it’s a much cleaner option than any space conditioning systems that you can use. So, even if it seems that you’re spending more to install it, you can be sure that it’s a much better option, and the savings you get from it will pay for the cost of installation.
These 3 environmental benefits are some of the reasons why heat pumps gained so much traction and development over the years. Sure, there’s still a lot of room for improvement, such as the use of hydrofluorocarbon gases. But there are already studies and applications where heat pumps use carbon dioxide to make it an even more environment-friendly option for households.
Should You Switch To Heat Pumps?
With all the benefits you can get from heat pumps—environmental and financial—homeowners often ask if they should switch to using heat pumps immediately. There’s no short answer to it because installing heat pumps will be quite costly.
If you can afford to switch right away, it’s one of the best investments you can make. It seems expensive at first, but it’ll be several times cheaper than using oil and gas throughout its lifetime. However, if you have an existing space conditioning system that still works efficiently, it may be better to wait for a few more years. It’s often wiser to invest it in other options that also allow you to reduce your carbon emissions than take down what you have.
Heat pumps are better than any space conditioning systems that you can find, but it’s not advisable to tear down what you have to install geothermal heat pumps. It’s better to wait for your current system to wear down because the longer you wait, the better the heat pumps you can have for your house. So, everyone should think of switching to heat pumps, but only as an upgrade for their current system.
If you want to learn a bit more about this, you can check our post “Is Geothermal Heating Cheaper than Natural Gas?“.
Heat pumps are beneficial for the environment because they can effectively reduce our carbon emissions without compromises. It’s still far from being the perfect solution for households, but it’s already far better than what we’ve used in the past.
With all the advancements underway for this technology, we can only expect it to get better and even be more environment-friendly. It may even be so affordable that other space conditioning systems may no longer be a practical solution.
- Dandelion Energy: Geothermal Environmental Benefits
- CDC: Carbon Monoxide – Furnace Safety Fact Sheet
- Europa: Heat Pumps – Technology and Environmental Impact
- Heat Pumping Technologies: Environmental Benefits of Heat Pumps
- Isoenergy: Environmental Benefits of Using a Heat Pump
- Geothermal Heat Pumps: Environmental Benefits and Efficiency
- IEEE: Heat Pumps Could Shrink the Carbon Footprint of Buildings
- EPA.gov: Carbon Footprint Calculator | Climate Change
- Popsci: How Heat Pumps Can Help Fight Global Warming
- National Geographic: 10 Myths About Geothermal Heating and Cooling
- Arronco: What Impact Does a Geothermal Heat Pump Have on the Environment?
- EESI: Buildings & Built Infrastructure
- Eia: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) – US Energy Information Administration