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Heat Pumps

Heat pumps are nothing new, but advances in technology have made them a viable alternative to traditional heating systems – even in New England.
Man with a remote control for a heat pump

Most of us are familiar with furnaces and boilers, which heat air or water and circulate throughout our homes to make them comfortable. Heat pumps, on the other hand, control the climate of our homes by transferring warm or cool air – rather than creating it. Let’s take a closer look at how heat pumps work.

There are two primary heat pump configurations: those with ducts, and those without. As the name implies, ducted heat pumps collect heat from the air, water, or earth outside your home, concentrate it for use indoors, and distribute it throughout your home by way of ducts.

Ductless heat pumps – commonly referred to as mini-splits – don’t require a new or existing ductwork infrastructure, making them a versatile alternative, particularly for those converting from a forced hot water heating system.

Air-source heat pumps, for example, take the hot air inside your home and move it outside by running it through a set of coils (one on the inside unit, another in the outside unit) which contain a refrigerant liquid. It changes the refrigerant from liquid to gas, then back again, to continually move warm air from the inside to the outside – cooling your home in the process. When heat is called for, it simply reverses the process.

Did You Know? A standard air conditioner operates at 60 decibels, but an energy-efficient air-source heat pump runs at 40 decibels.

Air-source heat pumps are the most common type of ducted heat pumps, and mini-splits work much the same way. They have been used for many years in more temperate climates, but advances in technology make them a suitable alternative for space heating even in colder regions. Some of the advantages of heat pumps include:

  • Up to a 50% reduction in operating costs compared to traditional heating systems.
  • Able to produce warm and cool air from the same unit.
  • Better dehumidification than standard central or portable air-conditioning units.
  • The ability to assign “zones” to different parts of your home for custom comfort.
  • Capable of using existing ductwork (in the case of a ducted heat pump).
  • Wall-mounted units, floor-mounted units, ceiling cassettes, and air handlers for multiple installation options.
  • Lower allergen disbursement compared to hot-air furnaces.
  • Compatible with multiple controllers, including handheld remotes and Bluetooth mobile devices
  • Quiet, safe, and efficient operation.
  • May be used in conjunction with solar panels for lower carbon emissions.
  • Rebates on qualifying heat pump purchases may be available through Unitil’s partnerships with Mass Save and NHSaves.

Heat pumps aren’t without their drawbacks, however. Here are some of the disadvantages of heat pump technology:

  • Depending on the number of units you require, heat pumps can be expensive to install, with higher up-front costs.
  • Less efficient in extreme weather, and may struggle with keeping your home comfortable during a cold snap. In some regions, a backup heat source may be required.
  • Heat pumps require more maintenance, as they have more moving parts.
  • Heat pumps powered by electricity can’t operate during a power outage.
  • Indoor heat pump components tend to be larger than those associated with forced hot water or air – but remember that a heat pump replaces your heating and air-conditioning units.

Heat pumps are a versatile way to keep your house comfortable while saving some money and sparing the planet from harmful carbon emissions. They can be used in conjunction with your existing heating system for peace of mind during extreme cold, or with solar panels to further decrease your carbon footprint.


Key Takeaways:

  • Heat pumps are an efficient, environmentally friendly alternative to traditional forced hot air and water heating systems.
  • Heat pumps provide air-conditioning in homes without existing ductwork.
  • Heat pumps are quieter, safer, and less likely to distribute allergens throughout your home.
  • Despite a higher up-front cost, heat pumps can pay for themselves with up to a 50% decrease in operating costs.