Which Costs More, Electric Heat or Heat Pumps?
Here at TS Heat & Air, we often field questions about heat pumps that reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of how they work. For example, plenty of people ask us whether a heat pump costs more to operate than an electric furnace or other electric resistance heating system. Since electric furnaces are, by definition, 100% efficient, plenty of people don’t see how a heat pump can beat them. However, they can, and they do. Here’s an overview of how electric heat works compared to heat pumps and why the latter is the energy efficiency, and therefore operating cost, champion.
The Efficiency and Operational Costs of Electric Heat
It’s impossible to talk about the efficiency of electric heat without clearing a few things up first. The first thing is the matter of the efficiency of electric heat systems. To begin with, all electric furnaces and electric resistance heating systems are, in fact, 100% efficient. That number, however, is a bit misleading.
It’s based on the fact that such systems produce exactly one kilowatt-hour of heat for every kilowatt-hour of electricity consumed. However, in the case of electric furnaces, that doesn’t include losses in your ductwork or elsewhere. And it also ignores the fact that the electricity used to power them is itself often the result of inefficient fossil fuel-burning power generation processes.
Then, when it comes to operational costs, you must also consider that electricity is typically more expensive than natural gas or fuel oil here in the Oklahoma City area. So, even though they’re less efficient, heating systems powered by those fuel sources are almost always cheaper to operate. For any kind of electrically-powered heating system to beat them, it would have to be far more than 100% efficient. That’s just what you’ll get from a heat pump.
The Efficiency and Operational Costs of Heat Pumps
Here’s where most homeowners’ confusion comes from. Although heat pumps do rely on electricity to operate, they don’t use it to produce heat. Actually, heat pumps don’t produce heat at all. Instead, they capture available heat energy from the outside air and carry it indoors to heat your home. The electricity is what powers the process, but that’s all.
As a result of that critical difference, a heat pump can operate at previously unheard-of efficiency levels. Under optimal conditions, an air-source heat pump can achieve up to 400% efficiency. That means it provides four units of heat for every unit of electricity consumed. At that efficiency level, heat pumps beat electric heaters handily in terms of operating costs. The one caveat is that a heat pump won’t always be operating under optimal conditions.
When outdoor temperatures drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, heat pumps start to lose efficiency. With less heat energy in the air, they must work harder to harvest enough heat for your home. To compensate, many heat pump systems include small electric resistance heaters to provide supplemental heat when the outside temperature drops too low. When those backup heaters engage, a heat pump’s efficiency drops significantly.
So Which Is the Cheaper Heating Solution?
The truth is that heat pumps cost far less to operate than electric-powered heating systems. Ironically, their biggest efficiency weakness occurs when the temperature gets too low. That’s when they have to turn on an electric resistance heater to guarantee your home stays warm. However, in all but the most extreme conditions, a heat pump will operate well above 100% efficiency the vast majority of the time.
That translates into significant savings on operating costs throughout the year. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a heat pump can save you up to 50% on electricity costs compared to electric resistance heating systems. If that number isn’t enough to prove that heat pumps are the clear winner on operating costs here, we don’t think anything will.
Consult Oklahoma City’s Heat Pump Experts
Now that you know how much more efficient heat pumps are than electric heating systems, perhaps you’d like to know if a heat pump’s a good choice for your home. The expert team here at TS Heat & Air would be happy to help you figure that out. We’ve served the Oklahoma City area since 1983, offering a complete array of HVAC installation, maintenance, and repair services to homeowners. We also offer emergency services and indoor air quality services to keep your home’s environment comfortable and safe at all times.
So, if you think a heat pump would make a great addition to your home, contact TS Heat & Air today and we’ll help you choose the perfect system for your home’s needs.