Heat Pumps Save Money Without Sacrificing Comfort

July 13, 2015
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Installing a heat pump can be a great energy efficient option when replacing an HVAC system and can save you money when combined with incentives. Read about one Silver Spring resident’s decision to purchase a heat pump and learn how it’s saving him money.

Savings made easy

Joe Halpin has a head for numbers. Want proof? Just ask him about his heat pump.

The numbers on “tonnage increments” and “SEER ratios” (an indicator of equipment energy efficiency) issue forth without hesitation. A physicist by training, Halpin is admittedly a “research-oriented” person.

But you don’t have to be a rocket scientist (or a physicist) to save energy and money by installing a heat pump, especially now that it’s so easy for Montgomery County residents to get money back for that purchase.


Joe Halpin points to his smart thermostat

Joe points to the smart thermostat that controls his heat pump. This thermostat allows him to control his heating and cooling settings over the Internet.


Tracking incentives

“We were looking at money savings, but we were also still interested in being able to save energy,” Halpin said.

Halpin, who lives with his wife in the Leisure World retirement community in Silver Spring, paid $6,100 for his heat pump unit—a cost that was mitigated by some savvy decision-making, and will go down even further after he receives his $500 rebate from Pepco and a $250 tax credit made possible through the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection.

On top of that, Halpin estimates that his system will save him $462 dollars per year, thanks to energy savings associated with the upgrade. He achieved all this, too, without sacrificing comfort or convenience to do so—quite the opposite, in fact.

Keeping up with demand

Halpin’s chosen energy heat pump unit is extra efficient because it is a two-stage model. This means that the system can run at a lower setting when the demand for heating or cooling is low; and a higher setting when the need is greater. This kind of model keeps temperature more consistent while lowering the demand on the system, thereby reducing energy consumption.


Heat pump indoor unit

The indoor unit of the heat pump fits nicely on a shelf inside the laundry closet.


The two-stage feature is built into the compressor design, the fan, and the electric-resistance heater for the heat cycle. The electric- resistance heater is invoked when the demand to heat the home cannot be met with the compressor alone.

“As cold as it was this past winter, I was impressed that the system performed very well,” Halpin recalls. “Once the set temperature was reached, even on the coldest days the resistance heat usually did not come on.”


A diagram of a split system heat pump cooling cycle.

This diagram from the Department of Energy demonstrates how a heat pump operates during the cooling cycle.


Anyone can become a smart consumer when it comes to heat pumps. Doing homework online and seeking multiple estimates are a key to any such effort, Joe advises. The time of year when you purchase can also make a big difference.

“If you wait until the summer or the depth of the winter, there is a lot of demand,” Halpin advises. “Fall and spring are the slack seasons. We did this in the fall and we got $1,000 extra off from the manufacturer.”


An image of the outdoor unit of the heat pump system

The external unit for Joe’s heat pump (left), next to a traditional HVAC unit (right).


Setting the record straight

If you also have a head for numbers, you can learn more about determining a unit’s energy efficiency ratios and heat seasonal performance factor—two important ways of figuring out how efficient a heating or cooling system really is—see EPA’s ENERGY STAR for heating and cooling information. (You can also go there to find out more about heat pumps and ENERGY STAR-certified cooling units in general.)

Concerns have been raised that heat pumps don’t generate as much heat as their traditional counterparts. Not so, said Halpin. But don’t trust him; trust the numbers he generated when he measured the vent temperature in his home 20 feet away from the unit-107 degrees Fahrenheit. When the electric resistance heat came on, the temperature rose to a toasty 125 degrees.

Hear about Joe’s temperature test in his own words:

With comfort, rebates, and energy savings, heat pumps are one of many energy efficiency projects you can do to improve your own home’s heating and cooling. Interested in learning more about rebates? Pepco’s HVAC Efficiency Program site offers plenty of information on rebates. Find out more about the county’s tax credit offerings here.


By Scott Harris, Freelance Writer. Read Scott’s other posts on the benefits of environmental peer pressurebirds and climate change, eco-friendly ice rinks, residential solar, and congregational rain gardens.


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