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MassCEC - About Heat Pumps

Heat pumps can provide cost-effective and energy-efficient heating, cooling and water heating for homes and businesses. While traditional systems burn fuel to create heat, a heat pump instead works by moving heat into or out of a building. Though they require electricity to operate, efficient heat pumps can provide the same amount of heating for a third of the electricity needed for traditional electric heating. Heat pumps circulate a liquid, called a refrigerant, between an indoor air-handling unit and an outdoor radiator. When heating a building, the heat pump heats the liquid by pressurizing it, pumps it from outdoors inside, and then circulates it through the home or building’s heating system. After the liquid transfers the heat into the building, it is depressurized and cooled. The liquid then travels to the outdoor radiator, where the ambient temperature warms the refrigerant, and the process begins again. Heat pumps can also be used to cool buildings through a similar process. In this case, the warm air inside a home or building is cooled by the liquid, which has been depressurized. The refrigerant is then sent outside and pressurized, which heats it up, and the ambient outdoor temperature cools it. Heat pumps can use the temperatures of either the outdoor air or the ground to heat or cool homes or buildings. Heat pumps that utilize outside air are known as air-source heat pumps. Heat pumps that use the nearly constant temperature underground are known as ground-source heat pumps. Air-Source Heat Pumps Advancements in technology over the past few years have made air-source heat pumps an efficient source of heating and cooling in cold climates like Massachusetts. Models on the market today can operate efficiently even when it is below zero Fahrenheit. Much like air conditioners, air-source heat pumps can be installed either as central units or split units. Central units utilize a building’s heat distribution system to heat and cool a building and can also be used for water heating. Split units typically provide heating and cooling to just one room of a building, reducing demand on the existing heating system. Ground-Source Heat Pumps Ground-source heat pumps use the nearly constant temperature underground to transfer heat and are the most efficient type of heat pump. Ground-source heat pumps require a trench or well to operate. Certain properties may not have sufficient space or geological conditions to support a ground-source heat pump. Ground-source heat pumps often utilize a ducted ventilation system for providing heating or cooling to a building, though some may utilize a hot water distribution system for heating purposes.  Economics & Incentives Efficient heat pumps can reduce heating costs when replacing or supplementing an oil, propane, or electric resistance heating system. In fact, air-source heat pumps can heat your home for one third the price of traditional electric heating.  MassCEC supports the installation of both air-source and ground-source heat pumps through its Commonwealth Home Heating and Cooling program, a partnership with the Department of Energy Resources. Heat pumps may also qualify for federal, state, and utility incentives. The incentives differ for ASHPs and GSHPs. Some incentives that may be available are outlined below: MassSave 0 Percent Interest HEAT Loan (0% Loan) MassSave Heat Pump Rebate (Heating and Cooling) (Air-source heat pumps only) MassSave Heat Pump Rebate (Domestic Water Heating) (Air-source heat pumps only) Federal 30 Percent Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit (Ground-source heat pumps only) Homeowners looking to install a heat pump should also consult MassCEC's Finding a Heat Pump Installer webpage for more helpful information.