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Traditional heating and cooling systems rely on a furnace or boiler, a central air conditioning unit, and ductwork to distribute warm and cool air throughout a home and regulate its temperature. Known as forced air systems, they are the most commonly utilized in North American homes. Heat pumps, however, which transfer heat from area to another, can heat and cool your home with greater efficiency without the need for two separate units. In this buying guide you'll learn more about the main types of heat pumps in addition to how much heat pumps cost.
Air Source Heat Pumps vs. Geothermal Heat Pumps
As mentioned above, heat pumps work by moving heat from one place to another. In colder weather, heat is extracted from the outdoor air and pumped into your home, while in warmer weather, the process works in reverse, as heat is removed from indoor air and delivered outdoors.
While this is the basic mechanism of all heat pumps, how they differ lies in the medium of exchange (in other words, where the outdoor air comes from). When an air source heat pump (also known as an air to air heat pump) is installed, outdoor air is exchanged for indoor air and vice versa. A geothermal heat pump, by contrast, exchanges air several feet below the ground for indoor air (more about air source and geothermal heat pumps can be found at the Department of Energy website).
Things to Keep in Mind When Shopping for a Heat Pump System
It's important to understand the following before you install a heat pump system:
- Heat pump installation is feasible in any climate, although the units work best in areas that experience relatively mild weather. If you live in an area that regularly has sub-freezing weather, you'll want to have a supplemental heater to help with warming on frigid days.
- Most heat pumps provide heating and cooling, although it's possible to install a model that provides heating alone. Some units can additionally heat your water and newer heat pumps can even gather warm and cool air during off-peak hours for use during peak hours.
- To reduce your heat pump installation cost, consider combining elements of an air source heat pump system with a geothermal system.
- Heat pumps—especially geothermal models—are an energy-efficient alternative to traditional forced-air HVAC systems. They also offer less-intense heating than furnace-driven systems and provide better air circulation. Depending on which model you have installed, you may qualify for an EnergyStar tax credit.
Heat Pump Average Costs
The actual cost of a heat pump depends on the size of your home, the efficiency of the system, the complexity of the installation, and other factors.
- An air source heat pump costs $2,500 to $7,500 installed in a home with existing ductwork. If ductwork needs to be added, the cost will be significantly higher.
- A geothermal heat pump costs $4,000 to $8,000, while installation, which involves excavation and the laying of underground pipe, can bring the total cost to $10,000 to $30,000 or more.
- Note that the cost of heat pumps are usually offset in time through energy savings.