Heat pumps are energy-efficient alternatives to ACs and furnaces, however, even these systems have their own disadvantages. Heat pumps have a high upfront cost, some types have a complicated installation process, and a lot of units become less efficient as the temperatures drop.
The great news is that the heating industry is constantly developing. Nowadays, we already have heat pumps that work on solar panels and units that operate just as efficiently even when it’s freezing cold outside.
With that being said, here are a few disadvantages that a homeowner who wants to get a heat pump installed would have to deal with at the moment.
What Are the Disadvantages of a Heat Pump?
High Upfront Cost
On average, homeowners pay a little over $5.500 to install a heat pump.
Mini-split systems are the ‘cheapest’ type. Those will cost you anywhere between $2.000 and $14.500, while the price of a geothermal or a solar heat pump can go up to $39.000.
The prices provided above include only the unit and the labor, the installation is going to cost more, in case you need to install ductwork.
Even though a heat pump might cost you a small fortune at the beginning, the system will help you save up to 50% on your energy bills in the future.
Moreover, the tax credit for the installation of geothermal heat pumps has been extended through 2023.
Reliance on Electricity
Heat pumps run on electricity. During a power outage, these systems won’t be able to function.
However, modern furnaces are equipped with electric igniters, so such units are electricity-dependent as well.
There is also one great advantage when it comes to heat pumps and electricity consumption. Even though the systems need electrical energy to function, they can transfer 3-4 times more energy (in the form of heat) than they consume.
A Complicated Installation Process
The complexity of the installation process will depend on the type of heat pump you decide to go for.
- Air-source heat pumps
The installation of these units is relatively simple as they can be either positioned on the ground or mounted onto the wall.
Both indoor and outdoor parts of the unit would require some space, but, apart from that, you shouldn’t face any difficulties.
- Ground-source heat pumps
Installing a ground-source unit is incredibly difficult and requires heavy equipment (diggers, for example).
In a nutshell, the experts would have to lay the pipes in the ground. If you have a large garden, then the pipe system can be positioned horizontally, but if the area is small, the pipes would have to be placed vertically, deep into the ground.
Before the actual installation, research must be conducted to find out more about local geology and the movement of heat.
Fact: talk to your local consul before making up your mind. Sometimes, you might need planning permission, in order to dig the ground.
Not Suitable for Every Home
If there is a lack of exterior space and the building has bad insulation, then installing a heat pump might not be worth it (or even possible).
Some houses would have to have their radiators replaced and the homeowners should bear in mind that the level of disruption during the installation can be extremely high.
These factors are definitely limiting, especially, if you live in an old house, in an apartment building, or in a house that does not have properly installed insulation.
Not Efficient When the Temperatures Drop
The efficiency of the unit declines as the temperature goes down.
A heat pump works at its best when the outside temperatures are above 40 F. When the temperatures drop, the units do not stop operating, but they become less efficient and require much more energy to work.
Moreover, at low temperatures, heat pumps can go into defrost mode quite often. During this cycle, the auxiliary heat takes center stage, and this reduces the overall efficiency by about 10%.
If you have an air-source heat pump and live in an area where the temperatures tend to drop below 40 F, it is recommended to think of a backup heating option. Usually, homeowners decide to go for gas furnaces.
Fortunately, heat pump technology is changing. Nowadays, manufacturers were able to create units that perform well even when temperatures drop below -10 F.
And we shouldn’t forget about ground-source heat pumps that use the ground’s heat (where temperatures stay pretty much the same throughout the whole year).
All heating units make noises when operating.
Ground-source heat pumps, however, are relatively quiet as they don’t have a fan unit. Of course, there are other components in the system that will be making some sounds, but the overall noise level rarely goes above 42 decibels.
Air-source heat pumps are typically noisier than ground-source units. The noise level of such a system can be between 40 and 60 decibels.
Do bear in mind that the outdoor parts of the unit are noisier than the indoor ones, so you certainly won’t be suffering from any noise pollution inside.
By the way, the system’s noise level fully depends on the type of the system, the quality of installation, and the quality of maintenance.
Are Heat Pumps Sustainable?
At the moment, a heat pump is not a zero-carbon heating alternative.
Heat pumps need electricity, in order to operate. The electricity, in its turn, comes from power plants that burn fossil fuels.
Thankfully, heat pumps can also work on the electricity that comes from renewable sources of energy (like the wind and the Sun, for example).
People can already invest in solar-assisted heat pumps. These units represent the integration of a heat pump and solar panels.
Unfortunately, right now, solar heat pumps are pricier than all the other types, so a large number of homeowners won’t be able to install such systems any time soon.
Even though heat pumps consume electricity, installing such a heating system will help drastically decrease the amount of carbon emissions as heat pumps have an efficiency of around 400%.
That means that for every unit of electricity used, the system is going to transfer 4 parts of heat. This is possible thanks to the fact that heat pumps do not generate heat, they simply transfer it from one place to the other.
What about auxiliary heat and defrost mode?
Auxiliary heat costs up to 50% more than heat transfer and, of course, requires more electricity.
Your heat pump will go in auxiliary heat when it becomes too cold outside. Thankfully, that shouldn’t happen too often.
Tip: a lot of units will go in auxiliary heat when the indoor temperature is 3 F colder than the thermostat setting. To avoid that, raise the thermostat gradually, in order to get to the desired temperature in a few steps rather than in one go.
Your unit will also use auxiliary heat when the heat pump is in defrost mode. While the actual system tries to melt the ice, your house’s temperature is going to depend on auxiliary heat.
What about the refrigerant fluid?
Modern heat pumps use refrigerant fluids that are relatively safe and the use of such substances is carefully regulated.
But older models had dangerous chemicals in them that could contribute to global warming around 100 times more than carbon dioxide in case of a leak.
What Goes Wrong with Heat Pumps?
We also wanted to mention a few common heat pump problems that homeowners should become aware of before investing in such a unit.
- Weird noises
If you hear rattling noises coming from your heat pump, it means that there are some loose parts inside the unit.
Squeaky noises indicate that there is something wrong with the actual system and that you should call an expert as soon as possible.
- Blowing cold air
A heat pump can deliver both heated and cooled air. The unit can accidentally get switched to AC mode and you’ll get to experience a blast of cold air on a freezing evening.
This problem might also occur if your unit has ice on it.
- Icing up
Heat pumps were built to withstand various weather conditions.
But if the outdoor unit gets covered with a sheet of ice and snow, the system will fail to work. In fact, it might not even be able to go into defrost mode and if the heat pump continues ‘trying’, it is going to damage itself.
Such systems can ice up in the summer months as well. This means that your unit, most likely, had a refrigerant leak, dirty coils, or a clogged filter.