Heat pumps have many uses in homes




Throughout your home, several appliances generate heat. There’s your heating system (often providing cooling as well), a second heater for hot water and a third to dry clothes. In some homes, electricity powers all of these machines, while in others natural gas fits into the mix.

“Looking at the future of energy efficiency, we continue to see a shift toward systems and appliances that serve more than one function,” said Matthew Babbitts, energy services project manager for Clark Public Utilities. “In the not-too-distant future, I imagine we’ll see more combination or multi-purposed appliances in the home.”

Although the science behind heat pumps goes back a couple of hundred years, you likely never heard about them until the 1990s. That’s when they gained the favor of Northwest utilities as a more efficient replacement of traditional furnaces and started appearing in homes. Fortunately, the Northwest presents us nearly an ideal temperate climate for adopting heat pump technology.

The concept of a heat pump is simple — it extracts outside air and transfers it inside your home when your system is set to heating. When it’s warm outside, it reverses directions and acts like an air conditioner, removing heat from your home and transferring it outdoors. Heat pumps move heat rather than generating heat, which is why they are very energy efficient.

Refrigerators use heat pump technology to create a cold space inside the appliance, which is why it’s important to keep the coils clear of dust and debris and allow the heat to vent properly. In heat pump water heaters, the heat is pulled into the appliance to warm up the water. Because heat pumps don’t produce heat, like a furnace, stove or conventional water heater, appliances using heat pump technology are two to three times more efficient than conventional models.

While we don’t often think about water heaters until the one we have isn’t working, this important appliance is a good place to find potential energy savings. In fact, your traditional water heater uses more energy than your refrigerator, dishwasher, dryer, and washing machine combined. A comparison chart on the hotwatersolutions.org website shows the estimated annual cost for running a 50-gallon water heater dropping from $359 to $142 when replaced with a heat pump water heater.

In the future, expect to see more combination and multi-use appliances incorporating heat pump technology. In Europe we’re already seeing heat pump clothes dryers and it’s likely at some point we may have the option of a single-unit for heating and cooling, water heating and clothes drying.

Today there are heat pumps that handle both your heating and cooling needs, as well as, warming up your water to 120 degrees.

“We’re not seeing these on the market in mainstream retailers, but there are models being piloted here in the U.S.,” said Babbitts. “Instead of two stand-alone units in a home, there’s a single mechanism performing all heating and cooling functions, which could greatly increase efficiency and lower the required amount of energy for these basic needs.”

With manufacturer rebates, regional buy-down programs and the Clark Public Utilities rebate, customers can buy a heat pump water heater for close to the cost of a standard unit. The increased efficiency, however, will yield energy savings for years to come.

“Right now, water heaters are the second-biggest consumer of electricity in a home, after heating and cooling,” Babbitts said.

“Replacing a conventional water heater with a heat pump water heater can make a big difference in a customer’s utility bill and cut the water heating part of the bill in half.”

The current heat pump water heater rebate in Clark County is $500 through Oct. 1. After that, the rebate will decrease to $300, so if you’ve been meaning to replace an aging electric water heater, now is a good time. Just make sure you check the utility’s website for requirements and select an installer from the utility’s Contractor Network.

“Customers with questions can always call an energy counselor at 360-992-3355 Monday-Friday during business hours,” said Babbitts. “We can help homeowners prioritize upgrades and make sure they’re up to date on current rebates and incentives.”

Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98688.