Switching from Gas or Propane to a Heat Pump

If your home is heated by a gas furnace or propane, switching to a heat pump will save you money and reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

If your home is heated by a gas furnace or propane, switching to a heat pump will save you money and reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

Home heating in the 21st century

Not everyone is in the market for a new house. There is a lot of existing housing stock that can simply be updated to reduce its energy consumption and to lower running cost for the occupants. Doing so will also help with our societal shift towards low carbon solutions for everything that we do.

The HVAC folks we know in the industry who’ve traditionally serviced the conventional or code-built housing market, tell us that their focus has been switching clearly to air source heat pumps.

The driving force isn’t altruism, although that’s a great motivator for some. It’s cost savings and being a part of necessary change.

An electrically operated air source heat pump will simply use much less energy to heat an older home than it takes to heat with propane, and it’s still a better choice than gas. If your furnace is ready for replacement (almost always by the 15-year mark), or you’ve been considering a switch, the change will ultimately pay for itself.

Heat pump basics

Both the US and Canadian governments are promoting heat pumps and providing programs with rebates to support retrofitting efforts as the writing is on the wall: electrically run heat pumps simply make economic sense, while also supporting goals to reduce fossil fuel reliance and address climate change mitigation.

Air source heat pumps handle both heating and cooling, so the cost savings in changing systems is clear from the outset: you can drop both air conditioning and your furnace/heating system when you switch to a heat pump.

Heat pumps need so little energy as they are only transferring heat, not generating it.

You’ll practically trip over articles on the internet these days about just how much more economical it is to operate a heat pump, and you’ll also encounter some enduring misinformation.

The biggest error in understanding is that heat pumps can’t handle very cold winters. Not true! The newer models come with built in frost protection and reheating cycles, making them very appropriate for northern latitudes.

Naturally, we’ve also written about air source heat pump systems for passive homes, our area of expertise.

Our first hand experience with heat pumps comes from our model passive home in Ottawa, Canada, which is also net zero, but we know that the right heat pump can also handle the heating requirement of a home with a less efficient energy envelope.

One limiting factor to be aware of is your home’s size and energy requirement. An air source heat pump can handily deal with a home requiring up to 60,000 BTU. Larger homes will likely exceed this limit, although supplemental heating through electric baseboard heating is an option. Having an HVAC firm who understands heat pumps assess your home’s requirements will be important. (Heat pumps are a no-brainer choice for passive homes or passive additions as they only require roughly 10,000 BTU.)

Switching from natural gas to a heat pump

If you do a cost per kilowatt hour analysis, you’ll find that heating with gas or electricity is very similar, particularly if the electrical source is an air source heat pump. Where the savings comes in with switching to an air source heat pump is the following:

  1. Rebates for energy retrofits can save money on the replacement cost of your heating system (no such grants are available for sticking with fossil fuels);
  2. Dropping the monthly utility connection fee for natural gas will accrue a not insignificant annual savings (roughly $600/year). Why retain both when electricity can handle your other household needs, as well as heating and cooling? In a power outage, your furnace’s electrical components won’t operate anyway.

Switching from propane to a heat pump

Making the leap from propane to an air source heat pump is far simpler when it comes to the math.

Propane is known for being an extremely costly way to heat a home or cottage, but it’s historically been the only reliable source for properties too distant from natural gas lines.

If your older property has been reliant on propane but can support the switch to a heat pump, you stand to cut your energy bills hugely (consider that a home heated with natural gas will tend to cost 1/6th of what it costs to heat with propane).

The energy rebates available to homeowners also support other measures to make your home’s envelope for more energy efficient, so it may also be smart to sequence these changes.

Key takeaways

There may well be savings to be had in switching your older home to an air source heat pump; do the research to find out what this change would mean for your property.

If you’re considering adding an extension or addition to your older home, we hope this post and related ones show you why you’d want to go passive.

Adding square footage to your home will make even more sense if that addition has an energy requirement that’s roughly 15% of the main home. The same is true if you’re considering adding a secondary dwelling to your property.

Do the math on going passive — it just makes sense!

EkoBuilt is the most affordable passive house supplier for Canada and the US. Get to know us and give us a shout!

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