Updated: November 29, 2018
As the cooler months set in, you may be thinking about something that doesn’t often cross the minds of Southwest Florida homeowners: heating your home. Now, it’s obvious that we need to heat our homes far less often than people in northern regions do. But we do see some chilly days here in the Sunshine State. (And although we don’t like to admit it to our northern friends, we’re probably more sensitive to cold weather.)
So, choosing the right heating system remains an important decision. Although there is rarely a “one size fits all solution”, a heat pump is the best choice for most Southwest Florida homes. Here are three reasons why.
Reason #1: A heat pump is more efficient than other popular heating systems.
Popular Heating Systems in Florida
First, let’s take a look at what heating systems are popular in our state. In Florida, the most common heating systems use electricity. 81% of Florida residents have either an electric resistance heating system or a heat pump. By contrast, propane and natural gas heating systems take only a tiny piece of the proverbial pie.
Resistance heaters include electric furnaces and straight cool systems (i.e. central air conditioner) with a heat strip.
How Efficient is Resistance Heating?
Technically speaking, resistance heating is 100% efficient, because 100% of the electricity is used to generate heat. One kilowatt of electricity will result in one kilowatt of heat. (Although, many resistance heaters do not reach peak efficiency.)
This sounds good on the surface. But what if I told you that a properly-installed heat pump is actually 150% to 300% efficient? It’s true. This means that for every one kilowatt of electricity, the result will be 1.5 to 3 kilowatts of heat.
So, resistance heating is considered inefficient. In fact, heating with resistance heat is up to 3 times more expensive than cooling. If you rely on resistance heat during a cold snap, heating costs quickly add up. Eventually they’ll account for a bigger chunk of your electric bill than cooling costs do in the summer. This can be an “ouch” – especially since summer cooling costs make up around 50% of your electric bill.
Resistance Heater vs. Heat Pump: What’s the Difference?
The main difference between a heat pump and a resistance heater is simple. An air source heat pump transfers heat, while a resistance heater creates heat. The reason that heat pumps are more efficient? Transferring heat is more energy efficient than creating heat.
What Do You Mean by Heat Transfer?
Even though you may not feel it, temperatures over absolute zero (0 Kelvin or -460 degrees Fahrenheit) contain heat. This means that even though it may feel cold outside, there is still heat present. A heat pump basically functions by extracting heat from the outside and transferring it into your home (see a more detailed explanation below). By using this “recycled” heat, the heat pump expends much less electricity than if it were to create the same amount of heat on its own.
The result is about a 50% reduction in electricity usage compared to electric resistance heating. The average Florida homeowner can expect to save about $75/year in heating costs with a heat pump vs. a resistance heater.
Reason #2: A heat pump is an air conditioner, too.
During the cooling season, a heat pump and an air conditioner are indistinguishable. Both appliances are equally capable of keeping your home cool in the summer.
Cooling Efficiency Comparison
There is no inherent difference in energy efficiency between an air conditioner and a heat pump when it comes to cooling. Like an air conditioner, a heat pump’s cooling efficiency level depends on factors like installation quality and SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) rating. It doesn’t depend on the type of appliance, itself.
A heat pump’s primary advantage is its ability to provide both cooling and heating in an energy efficient manner.
So, how does a heat pump differ from an air conditioner?
I’m glad you asked. It’s not until you turn on the heat that the differences between the two appliances become clear. This is when your heat pump flexes its superpower – the ability to provide heat by running like an air conditioner, only backwards.
Here’s a simple way to understand how this works. When cooling your home, the heat pump (like an air conditioner) transfers heat to the outside from the inside of your home. To heat your home, the cycle runs in reverse: the heat pump pulls heat to the inside from the outside. This means that the heat pump’s condenser starts acting like an evaporator and the evaporator starts acting like a condenser.
The condenser (a.k.a. compressor), puts the refrigerant liquid (e.g. R-410A) under high pressure, inducing condensation. When something condenses, it gives off heat.
The evaporator puts the refrigerant liquid under low pressure, inducing boiling or rather evaporation. When something evaporates, it pulls heat from any heat source around it and makes things cold.
So, when your heat pump heats your home, the condenser is logically inside and the evaporator is outside. When it cools your home (like a regular air conditioner), the condenser is outside and the evaporator is inside. This switch is possible via the heat pump system’s extra reversible valve. The switching process takes place automatically without you noticing anything.
Air conditioners, also called “straight cool systems”, don’t heat by default. But, you can have a resistance heating element, called a heat strip, installed inside the air handler. A heat strip consists of wires, or coils, heated with electricity. These heated coils in turn heat the air that flows over them. Kind of like a toaster or a blow dryer. As discussed above, this is good for providing temporary heat but quickly becomes costly.
Reason #3: A heat pump will almost always function at peak efficiency in the Florida climate.
You may have heard that a heat pumps function best in mild climates. This is partly true, but newer models are also a solid choice for heating in cold climates. The fact is that heat pumps are only able to operate at peak efficiency until temperatures drop to somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Any colder, and they begin to rely on a backup heat source like a heat strip or a gas furnace if available.
While I could talk about how this actually affects a heat pump’s energy efficiency, I want to focus on the fact that we hardly ever experience temperatures below 30 degrees in Florida. Meaning, a heat pump will almost always function at its peak efficiency when heating your home. And even if we experience a frigid night where the backup heat strip has to kick in, the heat pump will still beat the cost of resistance heating alone.
Besides the 3 reasons above, here are some other benefits:
Better Air Quality
A heat pump can improve indoor air quality when compared with an electric furnace. If you have an electric furnace or heat strip, I’m sure you’ve already noticed the odor when you turn on the heat for the first time in a year. It’s the smell of dust burning off the coils. Because a heat pump does not rely on heating coils, which collect dust, you won’t have that nasty smell any more. Additionally, heat pumps don’t burn indoor oxygen, like electric furnaces do.
No burning-hot parts are required for a heat pump’s heating process. This makes it safer to operate than resistance heating methods.
Improved Humidity Control
Heat pumps also do a better job at removing humidity than regular central air conditioners.
Sounds almost too good to be true. Are there any disadvantages?
Alas, yes. As we mentioned earlier, a heat pump is not right for everyone. Here are a couple things you should consider before upgrading your air conditioner or furnace to a heat pump:
Heat Pumps Need Backup.
As stated above in reason #3, heat pumps do a great job of heating your home efficiently when the outside temperature is over 30 degrees Fahrenheit. When the temperatures hit the 20’s or lower, they sometimes have to rely on a supplemental heat source.
To guarantee dependable heating in the Englewood FL area, heat pumps can be equipped with secondary heat source like a heat strip.
The supplemental heat will also kick in if there is too much demand for heat all at once. A good tip is to raise the thermostat temperature gradually to avoid jumping to more costly resistance heat.
But even with the need for backup heat, heat pumps are still more energy efficient than other electric heating systems.
Installation Cost is Higher.
The cost of a heat pump (including installation) is higher than the cost of a regular central air conditioner.
The initial investment will pay off over time, especially if you use the heat often. Also, there might be rebates available from the manufacturer, the federal government or your power company. If you live in the Sarasota County or Charlotte County area and need help financing your new heat pump installation, Kobie Complete also has convenient financing options available to qualified buyers.
OK, I want a heat pump. What should I look out for?
Like air conditioners, heat pumps have a SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) rating. But a heat pump’s efficiency is also rated in HSPF (Heating Season Performance Factor). Look for a heat pump with a high SEER and HSPF rating. This will save you money in the long run.
Currently, one of the most efficient heat pumps on the market is the Trane XV20i Heat Pump with up to 20 SEER and 10 HSPF. There are also many comparatively less-efficient but viable options in several price categories.
Are you looking to add heating to a room in your home with no ductwork (like a lanai or garage)? Or do you need a little extra warmth in one area of your home that’s always too cold? Consider a ductless mini-split or multi-split heat pump. Not only are these systems convenient to install, but they can be extremely efficient. In fact, Trane model, the 4MXW38, performs at up to 38 SEER and up to 15 HSPF! Read this blog post to learn more about whether a ductless system is right for you.
Geothermal Heat Pumps
We would be remiss if we failed to mention a type of heat pump that is gaining popularity in recent years. Whereas an air source heat pump (the subject of this article) extracts heat from the air, a geothermal heat pump transfers heat from a ground or a water source. Geothermal heat pumps are the most efficient type of heat pump available. But they cost much more to install than air source heat pumps, which makes them cost-prohibitive in many residential cases.
Get a free, no obligation quote on a new heat pump.
Are you interested in upgrading your home’s cooling and heating system with a heat pump? If you live in Sarasota County or Charlotte County, you can request a free estimate by filling out the form below or calling us at (941) 474-3691. We will be glad to answer all your questions and recommend you a heating option tailored to your needs.
We provide air conditioning and heating services in Englewood, North Port, Venice, Punta Gorda and the surrounding areas. As “Your Complete Comfort Specialists”, Kobie Complete Heating & Cooling keeps you comfortable in your home year-round.
Editor’s Note: This article is the revised expanded version of the article “Heat Pump – A Heater and Air Conditioner in One” published on October 31, 2012.