What’s the story with heat pumps?

IMU breaks it down to help you decide if a heat pump is right for your home.

Heat pumps are an increasingly important option to consider for heating and cooling homes, thanks to their energy efficiency and versatility, and their ability to substantially lower energy costs for homeowners and renters alike. They work by transferring heat from one place to another, rather than generating heat through combustion or electrical resistance, which can make them much more efficient than traditional HVAC systems. Think of it like a refrigerator working reverse.

The big question

One of the first questions a Midwesterner might ask about heat pumps is whether one would even work for their home. In diverse climates like Iowa’s where we experience both hot and cold weather extremes, heat pumps have been slower to catch on because early models, especially the more affordable and easily retro-fitted air source types, didn’t handle extreme cold well. That’s no longer the case, and heat pumps are finally taking their place as important components of an efficient HVAC system from Canada to Mexico. In Europe, heat pumps have become wildly popular since the start of the Ukraine-Russia war because they eliminate the need for fossil fuels for heating and cooling.

How do heat pumps work?

One of the biggest advantages of heat pumps is that they can be used for both heating and cooling. In the winter, they extract heat from the outdoor air (even in very cold temperatures) and move it inside to warm the home. In the summer, they reverse the process, pulling heat out of the indoor air and releasing it outside to cool the home.

What are my options?

There are three main types of residential heat pumps: air-to-air, water source, and geothermal. They collect heat from the air, water, or ground outside your home and concentrate it for use inside. The most common and easiest to install type is air-to-air, or air source. It looks like a large AC unit attached to the side of your home.

Heat pumps can be used in combination with other heating and cooling systems, such as furnaces and air conditioners, to provide additional energy savings and comfort.

Why should I consider a heat pump?

Save money: Our research suggests that the average homeowner in Iowa can expect to pay $8,000 - $15,000, with the typical cost falling around $9,000, absent complicated ductwork or other unexpected factors. Federal tax credits up to $3,200 in 2023 will reduce the cost, and the state of Iowa offers an additional tax credit of up to 20 percent of your federal credit for geothermal heat pumps. Renting? Air source heat pumps are available as portable window units that can cost less than $500.

Save energy: Depending on the type of HVAC system you have, you’ll see savings of $100 - $1,300 per year, with up to a 30 percent reduction in power used to generate heating and cooling. A home with baseboard electric heat, for example, saves an average of $1,287 per year by adding a heat pump.

Reliable heating and cooling: While Iowa’s weather extremes merit keeping your furnace live as a backup heat source, most heat pumps manufactured today can heat against temps as low as -10 degrees and cool almost without limitation. In fact, if you don’t have central air now, a heat pump will bring welcome cooling relief to your home without the need for window units.