Heat Pumps Now So Hot They’re Cool

June 17, 2022


As climate change makes heat increasingly common and intense, more people are looking at how to cool their homes. And a number are turning to the poorly named but nevertheless magical heat pump, an electric method for heating and cooling buildings that can take the place of both conventional AC and fossil-fuel heating. Policies are lining up to help the nation make that transition, which could save an estimated 142 million metric tons of carbon pollution annually, but that shouldn’t stop the tech industry from playing a major role in making heat pumps mainstream. 

Joe Biden wants you to get a heat pump. The president used the Defense Production Act to compel companies to speed up heat pump production, though there’s not much cash behind the effort (yet). 

  • The Defense Production Act can work in a few ways. One that could be effective with heat pumps, according to Michael Thomas, the founder of electrification research group Carbon Switch, is by guaranteeing sales.
  • That’s similar to what Stripe and other companies have done by teeing up hundreds of millions for carbon dioxide removal, green steel and more speculative technologies. “What the government is trying to do is kick off some of these flywheels, if you will, and really just get the market for mass scale heat pump adoption going,” Thomas said.
  • The difference: Heat pumps are here, ready to be tossed in people’s basements.


report on the 2021 Pacific Northwest heatwave by RMI found that a Seattle home equipped with a heat pump would save $228 annually compared to conventional cooling and heating systems and reduce the building’s carbon dioxide emissions by about 25%.

“While more and more people in the United States and around the world look to add cooling to their homes, it’s important to ensure that cooling equipment has minimal climate impact,” the report stated.

Equipment and installation costs typically run from $4,000 to $12,000 for an air-source heat pump, depending on the size of the pump, the brand, and whether you use a ductless system. The price of a conventional air conditioning system ranges from $3,800 to $7,500 while a gas furnace costs $2,000 to $6,000. In other words, installing a heat pump to cool and heat your home costs roughly the same as buying a separate air conditioner and furnace. 

Popular Science:

But to understand the benefits of heat pumps, it’s crucial to know how they work. According to sustainability research group Carbon Switch, the process is quite simple—an evaporator scoops up heat from inside your home and pumps it back into the outdoors. The system is made up of an outdoor and indoor unit, as well as a compressor which moves the refrigerant through the system, and two valves that can pressurize the refrigerant or reverse its flow to switch from heating to cooling.

This happens thanks to a very simple concept in physics: Heat is always trying to move toward cold air, which is more or less how ACs and fridges work. But a heat pump can reverse that process in the winter. Colder temperatures put pressure on the system’s refrigerant. The heat pump then absorbs any warmth it can find outdoors to turn liquid into gas. The energy generated from this process is used to keep the inside of people’s homes cozy in the most frigid climates. In fact, icy places like Norway and Finland have the highest heat pump-per-household rate in Europe; Maine beats them both out with its per-capita use.

Installing a few heat pumps might not seem like a big deal. But research released by the appliance-efficiency nonprofit Clasp shows that bumping the market share for the technology from 10 percent to 44 percent by 2032 could save Americans around $27 billion on energy bills. It could also provide $80 billion in “additional social benefits,” stop 888 air-quality related premature deaths a year, and drop carbon dioxide emissions by 49 million tons. 


2 Responses to “Heat Pumps Now So Hot They’re Cool”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    There are several potential limiting factors (aka “bottlenecks”): Number of units produced, number of technicians available to make accelerated changes to lots of heating appliances (as opposed to waiting for the old ones to die a natural death), up-front money to make the change.

    When I got rid of my gas water heaters and furnace in 2021, I paid the extra cost to have the combustion vents removed from my roof.

  2. indy222 Says:

    Now let’s see a cost analysis. Cost is what will determine adoption, not climate help.

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