Esposito: When temperatures plunged below zero, my heat pump kept my home at 70 |

Esposito: When temperatures plunged below zero, my heat pump kept my home at 70

Dan Esposito
Colorado Sun
The Colorado Sun

Advances in technology have created heat pumps that can withstand an Arctic blast, at less operating cost than natural gas

My electric heat pump kept my house warm on Denver’s coldest day in 60 years without burning natural gas. Ditching gas for electricity is also cutting my Xcel bill and fighting climate change.

Now, millions in funding through Denver’s relaunched Climate Action Rebate program and the federal government’s Inflation Reduction Act can do the same for you.

When my furnace died in March 2022, I replaced it with an efficient electric heat pump. However, several HVAC contractors tried to steer me back toward a new furnace, claiming heat pumps couldn’t handle Colorado winters.

Dec. 22 put this myth to rest. Despite a full day of negative temperatures, averaging -15°F, my heat pump kept my house a toasty 70°F.

Older heat pumps weren’t designed for this weather, and contractors who installed them in cold climates got burned, creating distrust among HVAC professionals. But, technology has made great leaps, and today’s models are fully capable.

Instead of burning polluting fossil fuels, heat pumps use electricity, and refrigerants to pull heat from outside air, making them more than three times as efficient as gas furnaces for most of the year. They also work seamlessly in reverse to cool your home.

Extremely cold temperatures can mean heat pumps temporarily lose their efficiency edge, when they work harder to pull warmth from freezing air, sometimes needing support from a secondary heat source installed inside the pump’s air handler. However, these days are rare, with Denver dropping below zero about five times annually.

Upgrading any HVAC system can be a hassle, but the switch can make your home more comfortable, save you money, and help halt climate change.

Installing my heat pump upgraded my home’s cooling system by removing my aging swamp coolers, which had high annual startup and winterization costs for poor temperature control. I now have just one system to maintain for both heating and cooling, and it requires less upkeep than either my swamp coolers or gas furnace on their own.

My heat pump also slashed my winter gas use 90%. My November-December energy bill was $50 less than I calculated I would have spent if I had heated only with gas, the price of which is skyrocketing. Heat pumps generally save cold-climate homeowners hundreds annually on energy bills.

Switching from gas to electric will help meet Denver’s goal of eliminating planet-heating emissions by 2040 and Colorado’s plan to cut these emissions 90% by 2050. Natural gas is a potent greenhouse gas that is contributing to dangerous climate change. Burning gas in our homes and buildings contributes a third of citywide emissions—not to mention harmful air pollution—and highly-efficient electric heat pumps are the best way to reduce these emissions.

Dan Esposito, of Denver, is a senior policy analyst at Energy Innovation, a nonpartisan climate and energy policy think tank.

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