What’s Driving the Growing Popularity of Heat Pumps in the Northeast?

What’s Driving the Growing Popularity of Heat Pumps in the Northeast? 

Perhaps you have a friend or neighbor who recently installed a heat pump or are considering having one installed yourself. In the past couple years, heat pumps have gone from an obscure technology in the Northeast to one of the fastest growing installations for building upgrades in the region. What is behind this trend? We’ve put together a list of some of the key factors driving this growing popularity.  

Word is Getting Out 

One of the biggest factors driving the rapid growth in heat pump installations is that more people are learning about this heating and cooling option. As of 2018, an estimated 21,330 New England homes and businesses utilized efficiency incentive programs to install heat pumps each year. As we see more people around us installing heat pumps and hear how happy they are with their new unitsmore of us are considering the option. 

Technologies that Work in Cold Climates  

Heat pump technology has been popular in warm climates for a long time, but newer cold climate heat pumps provide efficient heating even in cold climates, as their name suggests. These high-performance models can operate at outdoor temperatures as low as negative 15 °FThe development of these hardier models has ushered in the opportunity for heat pump installations in regions with less moderate climatessuch as New England.  

Environmental Benefits and Reduced Heating Costs 

Rather than burning fuel to produce heat, air source heat pumps move heat pulled from the air between an indoor and outdoor unitBecause heat pumps employ the energy they use to capture and move heat rather than create it, they can be 40% to 70% more efficient than electric resistance heating, and they outperform fossil fuel heating systems. 

Heat pumps also have the potential to lower heating costs. Based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, approximately 42% of households in New England rely on delivered fuel, such as propane or oil, for heating, compared to 10% for the United States as a whole. Because the price of heating with delivered fuels can be high, the switch to an electric heat pump typically offers a chance for cost-savingsThe magnitude of savings depends on whether the heat pump is used to displace (offset a portion) or replace (substitute entirely) the existing heating system and the existing fuel type 

  • If a home or small business currently uses electric resistance heating, switching to a heat pump will notably lower energy usage and expenses, due to the latter’s much higher efficiency (40%-70% more efficient) 
  • If a home or small business currently uses delivered fuel, such as oil or propane, then savings depends on current fuel, the home’s insulation levels, and electricity prices. 2016 study by NEEP found that an average New England home could save $82 a year if they currently heat with oil or $801 if replacing a propane system.  
  • If a home or small business currently uses a natural gas heating system, the savings of switching to a heat pump tend to be smallebut are also dependent on the current gas and electric prices 

Installing a heat pump additionally offers a means to reduce environmental and emissions impacts, given the efficiency of the technology and New England’s clean electricity supply. Over 50% of the region’s electricity already comes from zero-carbon energy sources, including nuclear, hydro, and renewables, and all the New England states have targets to grow that percentage. Natural gas power plants currently provide most of the additional 50%leaving less than 1% that comes from coal and oil. The heat pump option is even greener for customers who participate in Cape Light Compact’s power supply program, which matches 100% of their electricity usage with Renewable Energy Certificates. 

Efficient Air Conditioning 

The use of air conditioning is growing in the Northeast, and heat pumps offer an added benefit of providing efficient coolingThey use the same process as they use for heating to cool a space, just in reverse; instead of capturing heat from the outside air and moving it inside, they can be switched to capture heat from the inside air and take it outside.  

Convenience of Installation  

There are a variety of heat pump types, making it easier to find a system that is compatible with your home or small business. Especially for those with ductwork already in place, a central heat pump – which relies on one outdoor unit and one indoor unit to generate heat transferred through ducts – may be the best solution. However, a ductless mini split – which uses one outdoor unit and multiple indoor units – offers a convenient alternative for those without existing ductwork. Ductless mini splits also offer flexibility to control temperature in individual rooms.  

Programs and Incentives  

On top of the savings delivered through the high efficiency of heat pumpsmany New England states have programs that provide rebates to reduce the upfront cost of purchasing a heat pump. In Massachusetts, Cape Light Compact and its fellow Mass Save® Sponsors offer rebates for qualifying models. In the last three-year program cycle (2016-2018), the Mass Save Program Sponsors issued more than 26,100 heat pump rebates across their residential and business customers.  

Will Popularity Continue to Grow?   

All signs point to “yes.” In fact, the Three-Year Energy Efficiency Plan (2019-2021) for Massachusetts includes heat pump installations as a fundamental pillar in helping customers achieve “energy optimization. 

There are some barriers to heat pump adoption, including the upfront costs of purchasing and installing the technology and a lack of familiarity – among customers, vendors, and installers alike – with this newer heating and cooling option. However, states are working to overcome these challenges through incentive programs, education and outreach to customers, and trainings for vendors and installers. For instance, Cape Light Compact and fellow Mass Save Sponsors offer measureQuick training to contractors to ensure they are up-to-date on proper ways to install heat pumps and air conditioning.  

To learn more about heat pump technology and its benefits, visit CapeLightCompact.org