The Future of Heating is Heat Pumps, Not Gas Forced Air

Here in Colorado, as in much of the country, the typical home heating system is gas forced air. A gas flame heats up a plenum across which a fan blows air through ductwork into the various rooms of a house.  For cooling, the same ductwork and fan are used, but instead of the flame heating that plenum, the air passes over a set of coils beyond the plenum with super-chilled fluid created by an outdoor compressor.

Gas forced air, however, is relatively inefficient and is only common in the United States because of our exceptionally low cost of natural gas and other fossil fuels.

Elsewhere in the world, heating is done using heat pumps. What is a heat pump? Your central air unit is a heat pump, but it operates in only one direction—extracting heat from indoor air and dissipating it outdoors. A heat pump heating system simply reverses that process, creating heat by extracting heat from outdoor air and dissipating it in your home, either through your existing ductwork or through wall-mounted “mini-split” units. Unlike gas, a heat pump moves heat instead of creating it.

How a heat pump works to heat and cool a home using wall-mounted mini-split units heated and cooled by an exterior compressor.

Rita and I replaced our gas furnace in 2012 with a hybrid system by Carrier. It heats our home using the heat pump unless the outdoor temperature falls below freezing, at which point a gas burner kicks in. With our solar panels providing the electricity for the heat pump, our highest mid-winter Xcel bill is under $50. Meanwhile, at Golden Real Estate’s office, as described in my Jan. 4, 2018, newspaper column, we got rid of our furnace and ductwork and installed a ductless mini-split system (like in the above diagram), also powered by solar panels. As a result, our Xcel bill is under $11/month year-round.