Heat pumps offer incredible efficiency for both heating and cooling your home in Southern California. However, what you may not know is that you have a variety of options available for heat pumps. Use this guide to learn more about the kinds of heat pumps available, how much they cost, and ways to reduce the expense when you install a new unit.
Different Kinds of Heat Pumps
Let’s start by exploring the different types of heat pumps available. What most people think about when they hear heat pump is the air source central forced air system. This runs through a central air handler and the ducts in your home. You also have geothermal systems that use the earth’s heat and natural insulation to both heat and cool your home.
Aside from the central air system, there is also the ductless mini-split system. Rather than running through a central air handler, a ductless system uses smaller air handlers throughout your home. Now, let’s dig further into each system and explore how they work, their benefits, and their costs.
Central Air Source Heat Pump
This is the most commonly installed heat pump and is also one of the least costly options. An air source heat pump is very similar to a central air conditioner. It uses refrigerant to absorb and expel heat. The difference between an air conditioner and a heat pump is the reversing valve that allows the system to pull double duty as both your air conditioner and a heater.
These are especially cost-effective if your home already has ducts installed. The average cost of a heat pump runs between $3,000 and $7,000, including both the cost of the unit and installation. If you have to install ducts with that, you’ll easily add $4,000 to $6,000 or more.
Ductless Mini-Split Heat Pump
Similar to the central heat pump is the ductless mini-split, which is usually also an air source system. These systems don’t use a central air handler and ducts but rather use smaller air handlers installed throughout your home. The most common are wall-mounted units that install on an exterior wall to allow the refrigerant lines to easily move directly through the wall.
Ductless mini-split systems are significantly more efficient central air systems because it divides your home into multiple zones. Each air handler runs only when that zone needs heating or cooling, rather than the system trying to condition the entire home every time it runs. These systems often cost $1,500 to over $5,000, depending on the size and how many air handlers you need.
Geothermal Heat Pumps
Geothermal systems use the heat and insulation from the earth rather than relying on the air outside your home. This is more reliable than the air-sourced models because the temperature in the ground stays fairly constant at between about 70 and 75 degrees. This means that it’s always the right temperature to receive and provide heat for your system.
There are a few different styles of geothermal systems. The ones that use the ground come in both a horizontal and vertical layout for the coils. The vertical systems are a little more expensive but require less land to run. Geothermal can also use a water source for the heat, which can either be closed or open loop. The open loop draws the water in from the source to run through the system, whereas the closed loop uses the water source in a similar fashion to a ground source system.
Geothermal systems are much more expensive but usually offer more consistent performance and efficiency regardless of the temperature outside. They start at around $13,000 and can run more than $30,000, depending on the type and the level of excavation needed for installation.
Getting the Right Size
Beyond deciding the best heat pump technology for your particular needs, you also need to consider the size. This is one of the largest factors affecting how much you’ll end up paying for your systems. Installing a unit that’s too small will cause the system to constantly run without ever achieving the temperature you desire. A heat pump that’s too large will short cycle, which causes excessive strain on the system due to constantly restarting. This is the hardest part of the cycle for a heat pump.
To get the right size, a technician will evaluate the size area that you’re treating, which is both the square feet and taking into account the ceiling heights. They also consider how many people are in your home, your home’s insulation, heat-generating appliances, how much shade your home receives, the number and size of windows and doors, and more.
Considering Efficiency Options
Within each of the different kinds of heat pumps are options in the efficiency rating. Heat pump efficiency is rated using SEER, or Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. This looks at the entire amount of energy used to cool your home for the season compared to the total cooling capacity offered. The minimum SEER rating for California as of 2023 is 15 SEER but can go as high as 40 SEER in some systems. Higher efficiency systems use a two-stage compressor and a variable-speed fan. This allows the system to run at a lower capacity most of the time, using considerably less energy. The more efficiently the system runs, the more you can expect to pay for it, so it’s a balance of cost and benefit.
Get More Efficient With Desuperheating
With the right system, you can even tie in heating your home’s water with your heat pump. Rather than taking the heat from inside your home over the summer and expelling it outside, a desuperheating system expels it into a special hot water tank. This makes your home much more energy efficient by transferring heat to other uses rather than wasting it. A desuperheater tank will add anywhere from about $1,500 to over $3,000 to your system’s cost.
Every heat pump requires maintenance to reduce the wear on the system and keep it running at its intended efficiency. The first part of maintenance is the air filter, regardless of the heat pump type. A central forced air system will use disposable filters that need periodic replacing. The common 1- and 2-inch filters will need replacing every 30 to 90 days, while larger filters may last several months or longer.
A mini-split system will have washable filters in each air handling unit. It’s recommended to wash the filters every two to four weeks. Regardless of the kind of heat pump you have, it also requires twice-annual maintenance, which is similar to AC and furnace maintenance.
Don’t Forget About Rebates and Credits
Finally, consider the rebates and tax credits available when you install. Many of these are tied to specific types of systems that improve your home’s energy efficiency, such as geothermal systems. These incentives make it more advantageous to get higher efficiency systems. Work with your HVAC installer and tax professional to identify all of the possible options for reducing your net cost as you evaluate your options.
For more than 20 years, people around Murrieta have turned to the award-winning team at We Care Plumbing, Heating and Air for their home service needs. Our experts provide heating and air conditioning installation, maintenance, and repair along with a wide range of plumbing services and indoor air quality solutions. Call to schedule your heat pump consultation with one of our NATE-certified technicians today.
Author Bio: Rusty Cochran
Rusty Cochran is the President of We Care Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning. We Care began humbly, operating in his family’s living room. Under Rusty’s strong leadership, We Care has grown from 2 employees to over 200 employees. We Care Plumbing, Heating and Air has gained recognition across the HVAC industry, receiving numerous awards and certifications, including being named the ACCA Contractor of the Year, The Map Presidential Award several times, Angie’s List Super Service Award, NATE certification, and multiple Dave Lennox Awards. LinkedIn Profile