What Are The Differences Between a Heat Pump and Electric Heat?

What Are The Differences Between a Heat Pump and Electric Heat?
  • Opening Intro -

    Most methods of heating a home require burning some sort of fuel source. This can be coal, natural gas, propane, wood, or oil.

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These methods are effective, burning very hot, but they also require a flue or other ventilation source to safely vent away the dangerous byproducts of fuel combustion, such as carbon monoxide. Heating your home with natural gas or propane also requires access to a gas main, which can be costly to install if it’s not already connected when you purchase the home.

Due to these notable drawbacks, many homeowners are opting to heat their homes using methods that require nothing more than an electrical connection. Electric heat is popular in its own right, but nowadays, it faces stiff competition from a revolutionary new method of heating your home: the heat pump.

Heat pumps also require an electrical connection to operate, but the similarities to electric heating mostly end there.

How Electric Heating Works

As with any heating system, an electric heater requires a heating element to warm the air and a fan to distribute that air throughout the building. Unlike heaters that utilize combustible fuel sources, this heating element uses electricity to directly generate heat.

Electric heating is also known as resistance heating because its method of producing heat is to send an electrical current through a heating element. The heating element resists the electrical current. It’s this resistance that produces heat.

As you might expect, this is a somewhat inefficient way of doing it. Meaning that it requires hundreds of volts of electricity to get your house to a comfortable temperature. This can have the unfortunate result of driving your energy bill through the roof during especially cold winters.

How a Heat Pump Works

One of the major differences when comparing a heat pump vs. electric heat is that while heat pumps do need electricity to function, they don’t use it to generate the heat.

Actually, a heat pump utilizes heat directly from nature. By way of a system of refrigerant coils, it’s able to draw ambient heat energy from outside your home and transfer it into every room.

Most heat pumps are made up of two parts: a condenser, which sits outside the home, and an evaporator, which is inside. The condenser draws in the outside air.

A fan then blows that air across the refrigerant coils. Refrigerant has the unique property of absorbing ambient heat from the air. This causes it to compress and its temperature to greatly increase.

The now heated refrigerant is transferred to the evaporator inside the home; there, a fan blows air across it, heating that air. This heated air can then be distributed throughout the home as with any other heating method.

Heat Pumps Are More Versatile

One of the biggest differences between a heat pump and electric heat is in the versatility of the heat pump. While an electric heater has only one job, a heat pump can pull double duty and also serve as your air conditioner.

Think about it: if a heat pump works by drawing heat energy from outside, does it not also stand to reason that it could draw away heat energy from inside the house?

The refrigerant system of a heat pump works just fine in reverse, and as a result, your heat pump can not only heat your home, it can cool it as well. This can save you incredible amounts of money on your energy bill over the years, as you effectively need only one method for both heating and cooling.

Heat Pumps Are Much More Efficient

The primary cost incurred from heating a home is, not surprisingly, in generating the heat. This is true no matter what heating method you utilize. If you have natural gas heating, you’ll need to pay for natural gas.

If you have coal-based heating, you’ll need to pay for coal; and, of course, if you have electric heating, you will need to pay for electricity.

The primary benefit of a heat pump is that you don’t need to pay to generate the heat since the system is making use of heat that’s already there. And because it bypasses the most costly step in the process of heating a home, heat pumps are dramatically more efficient and can save you a great deal of money on your energy bill.

How much money you save depends on a number of factors. The climate in your area, for starters: the more cold days you experience, the more you’ll need some sort of heating for your home.

The size of your house is another major factor. Needless to say, it costs more money to heat a larger house. Of course, the general cost of utilities such as electricity also plays a role when comparing savings between heat pumps vs. electric heat.

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Because there are so many variables, it’s impossible to give a direct quote on the cost savings. However, the US Department of Energy estimates that you can reduce your energy usage by as much as 30 to 60 percent.

Installation Costs

Perhaps the only major downside of opting to use a heat pump over an electric heating source is the cost of installation. It can be a good deal more expensive to have a heat pump installed, if only because the technology is newer and most homes don’t yet have the infrastructure in place to easily install a heat pump.

There are ways to lessen these installation costs, however. The primary way to ensure you don’t overpay is to make sure you get it right the first time. If you’re going to lose money on your heat pump, it will probably be because it wasn’t installed correctly in the first place.

Before you have any new heating system installed, you should make sure you have a contractor who is experienced with that system.

For example, in the Portland area of Oregon, a company like Entek HVAC has experts in heat pumps and every other method of heating and cooling. They can help to ensure you don’t lose any money on a faulty installation and can therefore take advantage of your heat pump for years to come.

Image Credit: differences between a heat pump and electric heat by envato.com

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