To achieve our climate targets, we must reduce the use of fossil fuels to heat our homes. Heat pumps offer an efficient and cost-effective way for Ontario homes to transition from fossil fuels to electricity. This is because while natural gas is cheaper than electricity, heat pumps are much more efficient than furnaces. This helps to offset the costs of fuel switching from natural gas to electricity. Since heat pumps can both heat and cool your home, there are cost savings that result from having a single combined heating and cooling system in your home. While the use of heat pumps is growing steadily in North America, they are relatively common in northern European countries. Another example of how North America lags Europe in climate leadership.
There are three types of heat pumps that can help your fossil fuel diet:
Air Source Heat Pumps (ASHP) use electricity to transfer heat from the outside or inside to provide heating and cooling for your home. They provide both your heating and cooling needs using a single piece of equipment, even in cold weather climates up to -25 degrees Celsius. This means that your ASHP will provide for all your needs for the majority of days each year. Many homes use supplemental electrical heating or rely on their natural gas furnace to serve as a backup.
Electric/Gas Hybrid Heat Pump
In a hybrid system, the air-source heat pump uses a gas furnace for auxiliary or backup heating. When outside temperatures plummet, the natural gas furnace kicks in. These systems mean the home still emits GHGs and the homeowner will still receive both natural gas and electricity bills.
Ground Source Heat Pumps
Ground Source Heat Pumps (GSHPs) use the ground or a water body to ensure a consistent temperature source – see blog # 1 for more information on the different possible sources. GSHPs use electricity and are not a direct source of GHGs (GHG reductions will differ based on how much fossil fuel is used to generate the electricity in your region) and do not lose efficiency in colder temperatures like ASHPs do. However, GSHPs require drilling/digging to lay the necessary pipes, which can be more expensive.
If your home is heated by propane, oil or electricity then heat pumps provide significant efficiency and cost-saving opportunities, especially if you invest in increasing the efficiency of your building envelope through insulation, door, and window upgrades.
So, it’s not a one size fits all decision – there is the need to take local circumstances into account to determine the best solution from a climate, technological and cost perspective. When their mechanical systems (such as AC or furnaces) are approaching the end of their life, homeowners should do their research to determine how best a heat pump can help to make your home a climate champion.
The federal government is launching their Greener Homes initiative that will include loans and grants to help Canadians reduce fossil fuel use in their homes. You can also learn more about opportunities for your home to go on a climate diet at BetterHomesTO.
By, Gabriella Kalapos, Executive Director, Clean Air Partnership and Juliet Rennick