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A guide to heat pumps: what are they and are they more efficient?

The technology isn’t new, yet few realise the power and efficiency of the humble heat pump.

Many Australians still rely on gas as an energy source. If you count yourself among that number, you may not realise there’s an energy-efficient alternative for heating your home or water – heat pumps.

The reverse-cycle air conditioner is a great example of heat pump technology. While you might be used to cranking the air-con in summer to stay cool, using it to heat your house in winter can potentially save you energy. And the same efficient technology can even be used to heat your water. 

What is a heat pump and how does it work?

For heating your home, heat pump technology gathers heat from outside and warms it to a higher temperature, then moves it from one place to another. It uses a compressor and liquid or gas refrigerant (the stuff that’s in your fridge) – a substance that absorbs heat from the environment – to concentrate heat and move it around to warm your home.

It can also be reversed to extract heat from inside your house and cool it in the process. That’s how your reverse cycle air conditioner keeps you cool in summer.

Heating water using a heat pump works on the same principle. The heat pump pulls the heat from the air around it and transfers it to the water tank to heat the water inside. 

How does a heat pump work in winter?

Heat pumps can even extract heat from the air during colder months – to explain it properly, we need a little help from science.

Air contains a high level of energy, dropping to its minimum only at Absolute Zero temperature (or minus 273 degrees celsius). As temperatures rarely drop below zero degrees celsius in Australia, the air still contains a lot of energy in the cooler months – in fact, almost as much as in summer.

Heat pumps harness this energy to heat the air or water and push it to where it needs to go in your home. y to heat the air and push it into your home.

Types of heat pumps

There are several types of heat pump technologies available.

Geothermal or ground source heat pumps: Because soil absorbs energy from the sun, the temperature underground stays consistent throughout the year. Geothermal heat pumps use the heat from under the soil to warm up your home, often by hydronic heating systems.

Air sourced heat pumps: These pumps take heat from the outside air to create warmth in your house in winter and reverse the process in summer to keep your house cool. This is typically how reverse-cycle air conditioning works. They also use the same principle to heat the water in your home. 

Husband and wife bathing their baby

Costs to install

Heat pump hot water systems are highly efficient. However, they are a significant investment, often costing between $2,000 and $7,600 (excluding installation costs). Installation costs can vary depending on the complexity of the installation (e.g. whether you’re replacing an existing system with an upgrade or changing the energy type and/or location of the system).

Split-system, reverse-cycle air conditioners may range from around $600 to around $5,500 (excluding installation) while ducted systems can easily cost over $9,000 with installation.

When it comes to picking your system, choose wisely. For example, a system might have lower upfront costs but higher running costs – the energy star sticker can help give an indication of what each system might cost to run.  

Search online for government schemes that could help you become more energy efficient and save on your energy bills.

Why should you consider making the switch?

Save energy compared to gas heaters or conventional electric water heaters

Because they use electricity to move hot air or water from one place to another rather than to generate it, heat pumps can deliver up to 10-15 times as much energy as they use. In fact, premium heat pumps can heat a room at 600% efficiency, while gas heaters are around 50% to 95%.

For heating water, heat pump systems use electricity but far less than conventional electric water heaters. There are also a number of other hot water systems that can help you be more energy efficient.

Save on your running costs

Because they use less energy to run, heat pumps could also help you save on your energy bills. And although they may be more expensive to install, energy bill savings could pay back your investment in the long run – this will depend on your existing electricity usage, prices and other factors, so speak to a qualified supplier before making your decision.

Two for one heating and cooling

Heat pumps not only provide warmth in winter, they can also keep your home cool in summer, so you get two functions in one system.

It’s worth exploring all your options to create a more energy-efficient home. When you take control of your energy usage, you could save money and reduce your impact on the environment. And it could even increase the value of your property.

Where to start and how much could you save by going electric?

Need help planning your electrification journey? Use our online tool, Electrify Now, to get your personalised estimates.

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