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Are Heat Pumps Worth It In Canada?

Updated: Mar 27

Heat pumps are a hot topic right now as a low-carbon and energy-efficient technology for homeowners looking to electrify and decarbonize their homes. They offer so many benefits, from consistent comfort to cost savings.


While heat pumps may seem like a new innovation, they were actually developed in the 1850s by Austrian scientist Peter von Rittinger. Despite their long history and energy-efficient features, heat pumps are still not widely used in Canadian households. Surprisingly, only 7% of Canadian households reported using a heat pump in 2023.


Many homeowners are still unfamilliar with the technology and its benefits and wonder if investing in a heat pump is truly worthwhile for their home. So, what exactly are heat pumps? Are they worth the investment? And should you upgrade your existing heating system to one? Let's find out.


A heat pump on the outside wall of a home.

What Is A Heat Pump?


A heat pump is a combination heater and air conditioning system that moves heat into your home from renewable heat sources such as air, ground, and water. Heat pumps extract heat from their surroundings, compress it, and then transfer it into the home. It works similarly to an air conditioner and a fridge but can move heat in both directions. During winter, it brings warmth into your home; in summer, it extracts heat from the house, functioning as an air conditioning system. Since heat pumps run on electricity, they're an excellent option for replacing fossil-fuel heating systems and offer better efficiency and environmental benefits.


Heat pumps in Canada come in various types, including air-source heat pumps (ASHP) and ground-source heat pumps (GSHP). Air-source heat pumps extract warmth from the outdoor air, while ground-source heat pumps take heat from the ground.


In Canada, air-source heat pumps are the most common type of heat pump. ASHPs are more common due to their easier installation process and lower upfront costs compared to GSHPs. According to National Resources Canada, air-source heat pumps are 2.5 times more efficient than oil furnaces or boilers. This increased efficiency translates to significant cost savings on energy bills and a reduced environmental footprint due to lower energy consumption.

 

Do Air Source Heat Pumps Work In Canada?


If an air source heat pump moves heat from outside, how does it work in cold climates? The answer is simple: heat is always present in the air, even in freezing temperatures! 

Warmth is present in all air with a temperature higher than absolute zero (-273.15 °C). This means that regardless of the external temperature, there’s always heat in the air for the heat pump to extract and move into the home.


Heat is present in the air until absolute zero, or 0 Kelvin, which is -273.15 °C or 459.67°F. That’s a lot colder than your average Canadian winter…


While heat pump technology has yet to advance to functioning at absolute zero, it can effectively operate in very low temperatures. In fact, a cold-climate air-source heat pump (ccASHP) can function in temperatures as low as -30°C and provide cooling when temperatures exceed 40°C.

So, do air-source heat pumps work in Canada? Absolutely! Heat pumps are well-suited for diverse Canadian climates and, with their exceptional energy efficiency, can provide year-round comfort for Canadian homes.


Person holding a shovel of snow in a cold Canadian climate

What Are The Benefits Of Air Source Heat Pumps?


Energy Efficiency: Air-source heat pumps are highly energy efficient as they move existing heat instead of generating it, which results in lower energy consumption. They can reach energy efficiency rates of up to 425%, which leads to significant savings over the system's lifetime.


Cost Savings: Homeowners can expect lower utility bills compared to traditional heating systems due to reduced energy usage, making ASHPs a cost-effective option. On average, a well-maintained heat pump should last between 10 and 15 years.


Environmentally Friendly: Air-source heat pumps use the air around them as their heat source, making them a sustainable option with no carbon emissions. They don't burn fossil fuels and run on electricity.


Consistent Comfort: ASHPs provide consistent comfort by heating and cooling, making them a versatile solution for all seasons. The variable-speed compressor ensures even heat distribution throughout the day, and they operate quietly, for a peaceful home.

 

Are There Disadvantages To Air Source Heat Pumps?


Before you consider getting an air-source heat pump, you need to consider whether it's right for you and your home.


Investment cost: The upfront cost for an air-source heat pump can be high, ranging from 3k to 19k, depending on the chosen the model and capacity. While this cost may seem daunting, it’s crucial to consider the long-term benefits and savings that heat pumps offer. Heat pumps can convert electricity into three times as much heat, making them a cost-effective long-term option. In some cases, savings on utility bills can be over 50%, offsetting the initial investment in the heat pump.


Additional renovations: Optimal heat pump performance may require electrical upgrades and other renovations in the home. This could include installing a dedicated electrical circuit, upgrading the electrical panel, or enhancing insulation to ensure the house retains heat efficiently. These renovations can add to the overall cost and time required for the installation process.


Climate Zone Considerations: While ASHPs are effective in various climates, their performance may be impacted by extreme weather conditions. In regions with extremely cold temperatures, the efficiency of air-source heat pumps may decrease and could require supplemental heating like a hybrid heat pump system during cold periods.


Qualified HVAC technicians installing a heat pump.

When Should I Get An Air Source Heat Pump?


If you still use a gas heating system, it's time to upgrade to an electric, energy-efficient system. Waiting for your furnace to break down before replacing it is not the best approach. It's better to plan ahead when switching to a heat pump. Planning your upgrades well in advance will give you better deals and more time to seek advice and avoid headaches. There's no worse time to consider sustainable upgrades than when you are shivering in your home with a broken furnace. If you are ready to transition to a heat pump, it's essential to start planning early and take the time to choose the right contractor and manufacture.


Before you invest in a heat pump, contact a qualified HVAC technician to assess your needs and provide recommendations. Choosing the correct size of heat pump for your home is crucial to ensure optimal performance and energy efficiency. A heat pump that is too small will not provide sufficient heating or cooling, whereas a heat pump that is too large will waste both energy and money. To determine the right heat pump for your home, you should consider factors such as the size and age of your home, the number of windows and doors, and the climate in your area. A qualified HVAC technician can help you to determine the correct size for your home based on these factors.

 

Are Air Source Heat Pumps Worth It In Canada?


The answer to the question of whether air-source heat pumps are worth it in Canada is a resounding yes. With heating and cooling in one system, heat pumps are an excellent investment for Canadian homeowners looking to reduce their energy bills and environmental impact. Investing in an air-source heat pump can save money, provide year-round comfort, and numerous other benefits to your home. If you're planning a home renovation, or if you're looking for an efficient and eco-friendly HVAC system for your home, an air-source heat pump might be just what you need.


Explore our dedicated Heat Pump page for further information and resources on heat pumps.


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