Many Americans are turning to electric heat pumps to provide ultra-efficient heating and cooling in their homes. However, standard heat pumps tend to struggle to heat a home comfortably during extreme cold. That’s why many homeowners in cold-weather climates are considering adapting their heat pump to a dual fuel or hybrid heating system . They’re a practical option for homeowners living in areas where extreme cold occurs in the winter (and yes, Cincinnati qualifies).
The traditional residential set-up in cold-winter climates uses two technologies – a central air conditioner for cooling and a combustion (usually natural gas) furnace for heating. The two units share an air distribution system, and frequently the furnace blower will double as the air handler for the AC. While it’s more practical to use one system, an electric heat pump, to provide both heating and cooling (as is customary in southern climates), that can get expensive when the heat pump has to resort to an internal auxiliary (or “emergency”) electric heating coil to provide supplemental heat. (These work similar to an electric space heater, and as is the case with those units, consume ample electricity.)
Hybrid Heating Systems and Heat Pump Limitations
Heat pumps provide heat by extracting heat energy from the outside air, via refrigerant running through coils in an outside unit, and then transferring that heat inside. However, a key disadvantage of many electric heat pump systems is that they struggle to draw sufficient heat energy from the air when temperatures are extremely cold for an extended period. This may result in chilly indoor areas during cold days, with the system having a hard time achieving the thermostat setting.
A dual fuel heating system solves this problem by matching a gas furnace with the electric heat pump. When the temperature falls below a certain level, the furnace kicks on, providing supplemental heating. As stated, this is cheaper than the standard “emergency” or auxiliary heating contained in electric heat pumps. With electricity generally more expensive than natural gas, that can get expensive. These dual fuel heating systems also may offer the homeowner the option of choosing which type of fuel to use, depending on what fuel is cheaper to use in your area or personal preference. Some homeowners find that furnace heating feels more comfort than heat pump heating.
Dual Fuel Heating Offers Benefits
Using the best heating source for the current temperatures outside – whether electricity during moderate winter temperatures or gas when it gets colder – increases efficiency and reduces your winter heating bills.
Another benefit of a system using dual fuels is that when the weather turns warm, your air-source heat pump is ready to take on a new role, efficient home cooling.
If you’re uncertain about whether to switch to a dual fuel system, consider taking a Jansen Home Comfort Survey (offered by Jansen Heating and Cooling) that will identify the best system for your home. You’ll answer questions about home use, comfort requirements, health and safety requirements, and property and financial requirements of your home. Whatever service you need with your home’s heating and cooling system, it pays to work with a respected, locally owned Cincinnati HVAC contractor such as Jansen.
Don’t Forget Preventative Maintenance
Whatever system you choose for heating and cooling your home, it’s important that it be properly maintained. This means both simple homeowner maintenance (keeping air filters fresh, keeping vents and registers clean and clear of obstruction, etc.) and professional maintenance. Most HVAC experts recommend two maintenance visits per year, one for the heating system and another for the cooling system. It’s customary to schedule these visits for just before the high-use season for that system (fall for the heating system; spring for the cooling system). A well-maintained heating and cooling system will run more efficiently, provide better comfort, operate more safely, and experience fewer breakdowns. It also is likely to last much longer than a system that gets indifferent or no maintenance.