With all the buzz around ChatGPT right now, I decided to ask it to explain what a heat pump is, and it came back with “a heat pump is a device that acts like a magic box, moving warm or cool air to make your home comfortable, like a heater in the winter and an air conditioner in summer.”

Beyond the simple AI info, here are some compelling facts for using a heat pump. The “magic” lies in the fact that heat pumps are 300% more efficient than baseboard heaters and furnaces, and 50% more efficient than AC units. And, unlike most furnaces, they run on electricity, not gas (unless it’s a hybrid heat pump). Speaking of gas, a recent study found that heat pumps are more efficient than gas heating, even in cold weather. And here’s another consideration that could convince you to transition to a heat pump sooner than later: some parts of Canada have banned fossil-fuel heating systems in new homes.

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That said, despite their superior efficiency, heat pumps haven’t been adopted in Canada as readily as in other parts of the world. As of 2021, heat pumps were the primary source of space heating in only 6% of Canadian homes. That’s far lower than in Europe, where an estimated 16% of residential and commercial buildings used them as of 2022, says Natural Resources Canada (NRCan). And that gap could widen further with year-over-year heat pump sales growing by nearly 40% in Europe last year (including both air-heating and water-heating heat pumps), compared to 11% for the rest of the world, according to the International Energy Agency.

So, why aren’t Canadians jumping on board, recognizing the potential energy savings of heat pump solutions? “When discussing the differences between Canada and Europe, one of the main drivers that impacts the uptake of home heating electrification is energy prices,” says Robin Librach, the communications officer for NRCan. The cost of gas, electricity and natural gas have skyrocketed in many parts of Europe since Russia invaded Ukraine, so European consumers are understandably searching for more cost-efficient ways to heat and cool their homes.

Heat pump demand is heating up

Few Canadian households have a heat pump, but NRCan numbers suggest that the tide may finally be turning. Since the Canada Greener Homes initiative was launched in May 2021, more than 47,000 Canadian home owners have received grants for heat pumps. And heat pumps are the most frequent retrofit undertaken by those participating in the program, followed by windows and doors, home insulation, air sealing and solar panels.

Currently, the Canada Greener Homes Grant provides three levels of heat pump rebates, ranging from $2,500 to $5,000 depending on the type of heat pump as well as performance specifications. In Ontario, where the Canada Greener Homes Grant has been replaced by what’s known as the Home Efficiency Rebate Plus program, heat pump grants go up to $7,800.

How much does a heat pump cost in Canada?

FurnacePrices.ca cites quite a broad range of heat pump prices in Canada, from $3,500 to $15,000, “with a simple ductless mini-split air conditioner system sitting at the lower end of the price range while a geothermal or ground-source heat pump comes with a remarkably higher price.” (See below for more on different heat pumps.) Factors such as the size/type of home, type of system, local installation charges and the brand of product all factor into the final heat pump cost.

Photo by Mark Douglas Wessel

Types of heat pumps

NRCan’s website provides a comprehensive overview of heat pumps and explains the two main types of residential heat pumps: air source and ground source. Air-source heat pumps pull heat from the outside air during colder months and do the reverse, removing warm air from inside the house, during the hotter months. The main difference with ground-source heat pumps is the actual source. The earth, ground water or both heat your home in the winter and cool it in the summer.

Another key differentiator: how the air is exchanged. A central ducted heat pump solution works in tandem with the existing ductwork of your home. For homes without ductwork, owners can opt for mini split-system heat pumps, which consist of an outdoor compressor/condenser and one or more indoor handling units that are mounted on the wall—much like a room air conditioning unit.

Mark Douglas Wessel

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