Clean Heating and Cooling
ENERGY STAR Home Upgrade includes switching to an ENERGY STAR certified heat pump. More efficient than furnaces or boilers, heat pumps serve double duty with heating and cooling, making this investment usable year-round. Combine this upgrade with other high impact energy-efficiency improvements to achieve significant energy and cost savings while transitioning from fossil fuels for a cleaner, healthier, and more comfortable home.
Is it Time to Replace My Home HVAC System?
In most cases, your HVAC equipment shows signs that it is underperforming well before you reach the point of needing an emergency replacement. Recognizing the symptoms early can help you plan for a replacement that will not only keep your home comfortable year-round but will save you money as well.
It May Be Time For A Replacement If:
- Your equipment is more than 10 years old or needs frequent repairs and your energy bills are going up. The age and condition of your heating or cooling equipment may have caused it to become less efficient. Oversized units tend to have shorter lives due to "short-cycle," or turning on and off rapidly, which inflicts excessive wear and tear on the compressor.
- Your central air conditioner needs replacement. In most cases, a central air conditioner can be replaced with a heat pump for a modest additional cost. This could allow you to eliminate or down-size your furnace.
- Some of your rooms are too hot or cold. This could also be due to inadequate air sealing, windows, or insulation.
- Your home has humidity problems, excessive dust or rooms that never seem to get comfortable. This could also be due to poorly insulated ductwork.
What Kind of Heat Pump Should I Choose?
If you currently have a furnace or boiler, upgrading to an ENERGY STAR certified heat pump can help you transition from fossil fuels for a cleaner, healthier home. Here are a few different types of heat pump systems you should consider as part of your ENERGY STAR Home Upgrade:
Types Of Heat Pump Systems
Ducted Air Source Heat Pumps
- Ducted air source heat pumps use your home's existing ductwork to deliver heating and cooling. In most homes, depending on factors like the climate zone, these units can be installed as a drop-in replacement for your central air conditioner or furnace. A contractor can help you determine if your home is a good fit for a 1:1 replacement.
- During the summer months, the heat pump serves as a central air conditioner and reduces cooling costs compared to conventional air conditioners. In the winter months, a heat pump can deliver up to three time more heat energy than the electrical energy it consumes, costing less to operate than traditional HVAC equipment such as furnaces, boilers, or electric resistance heat.
Ductless Heat Pumps
- Often referred to as a “mini split”, a ductless heat pump, is a good alternative to replace a window cooling unit (room AC), as well and as radiator or baseboard heating, meaning it can replace a traditional HVAC system while delivering savings year-round.
- A head unit, or multiple head units, are mounted on an interior wall or ceiling, with an accompanying unit outside. The outside unit extracts heat from the air, even when it's cold. Refrigerant carries the heat directly to the head(s) inside, which then delivers heated air to occupied space. In warmer months, the system works in reverse for quiet, efficient air conditioning.
- Mini splits are increasingly being used in these types of situations:
- Older homes with no existing ductwork (e.g., radiators or baseboard heat) that have never had central air conditioning before.
- Additions or outbuildings (e.g., shed, barn, garage) where extending ductwork or heating/cooling capacity is difficult.
- Spaces adjacent to unconditioned spaces where ductwork would be exposed to harsher temperatures (e.g., a guest room above a garage).
Geothermal Heat Pumps
- Geothermal heat pumps exchange heat with either a body of water or the ground, using a fluid that is pumped through a series of pipe loops, rather than exchanging heat with the outdoor air. These products can either condition your home by circulating air (like a furnace or air conditioner) or circulating water (like a boiler). They are also occasionally called ground source or water source heat pumps.
Visit Ask the Experts to learn more about how heat pumps work.
Ready to find the right system for your home? The ENERGY STAR Product Finder can help!
How Can I Make This Upgrade More Affordable?
Upgrading your HVAC system can be a major investment, even if it is an investment that leads to energy bill savings for years to come. Take advantage of available rebates, tax credits and other special financing to help reduce the upfront cost.
Rebates may be available through your local utility company. Visit the ENERGY STAR Rebate Finder and enter your zip code to see what incentives are available in your area.
Federal Tax Credits
ENERGY STAR certified heat pumps now qualify for a tax credit of 30% up to $2000. Learn more about this tax credit.
- The Department of Energy offers a Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) available for households that qualify for Supplemental Security Income, Aid to Families with Dependent Children, and other income eligibility criteria. This program includes a home energy assessment and help with weatherization upgrades, like fixing or replacing old windows or water heaters.
- The Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) offers help with home repairs and upgrades based on household size and income. For example, a 4-person household with an annual income of $39,750 would qualify for LIHEAP.
- Your local electric utility may offer energy efficiency upgrade support for low-income customers. When available, these programs typically include a home energy assessment accompanied by direct install of energy saving devices including ENERGY STAR certified smart thermostats. Like LIHEAP and WAP, eligibility is usually based on household size and income in relation to a percentage threshold above the Federal Poverty Level or Area Medium Income (AMI). Depending on where you live, these programs may be working with state agencies who provide low-income services more broadly. A small but growing number of utility companies are paying for ENERGY STAR Home Upgrade packages, which customers pay back over time via a charge on your utility bill. This method of payment for upgrades is tied to location and will not follow you or your credit if you move. Importantly, the energy savings from the upgrades should result in a lower bill overall. Ask your utility what programs they offer to help you with the ENERGY STAR Home Upgrade.*
Be sure to ask your contractor about any potential incentives or promotions that may apply to your purchase, as new options are regularly available.
Calculate Your Savings
- The average household spends more than $2,200 a year on energy bills, with nearly half going to heating and cooling. HVAC equipment that earns the ENERGY STAR label is independently certified to save energy, save money and help protect the climate.
Heat Pump Buying Guidance
Deciding what kind of heat pump is best for your home is the first step in this important element of an ENERGY STAR Home Upgrade. Here are a few additional things to consider before you purchase to help you get the most efficiency and savings out of your new system.
What To Consider Before You Purchase
- Installing properly sized HVAC equipment for your home is essential to getting the best performance and comfort. Bigger is not always better when buying new heating and cooling equipment. A conventional system that's too large may not keep your home comfortable because of frequent on/off cycling, causing humidity control problems and inefficient operation. Solutions involve proper system sizing and component matching for standard efficiency systems. Higher efficiency systems with variable capacity operation can automatically adjust system operation for optimal comfort and efficiency. Ask your HVAC contractor about high efficiency system options and ensure they use the latest design and installation standards (ACCA Manuals J & S, and Standard 5).
- Make sure your contractor verifies the proper size system for your home using a tool called "Manual J" – a calculation of the amount of heating and cooling your home requires to keep you warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Higher efficiency equipment with variable speed compressors does a better job of compensating for any over-sizing.
Cold Climate Considerations
- A cold climate heat pump is specifically designed to operate at low outdoor air temperatures, as they use advanced compressors and refrigerants that allow for improved low temperature performance. Sometimes called “extended capacity,” these units are intended to supply enough heat for your home without a furnace or other fossil fuel heating source.
- Currently, ductless cold climate heat pumps are more widely available than ducted models. Soon, ENERGY STAR certified cold climate heat pumps will excel at providing space heating even in the coldest of climates. If you live in climate zone where winter temperatures regularly dip below freezing, ask your contractor to help you choose an ENERGY STAR certified unit that is best suited to your home.
- If you have a relatively new furnace with an older central AC, or if you are planning to add a new central AC to the furnace, consider an ENERGY STAR certified heat pump. This creates a dual-fuel system for a modest extra cost over an AC system. Dual fuel systems allow for the flexibility of heating with a heat pump or with a more traditional gas or oil furnace and enables you to use each system optimally based on costs and environmental benefits.
Heat Pump Installation Guidance
Getting the best performance from your new heat pump requires more than just choosing the right equipment. Choose the right contractor to properly install your new equipment is key to its optimal performance and maximum efficiency. In fact, improper installation can reduce system efficiency by up to 30 percent - costing you more on utility bills and possibly shortening the equipment's life.
The right contractor should:
- Perform an onsite inspection of the work you want done and then provide a detailed bid in a timely manner.
- Evaluate and ensure that you have a well-sealed duct system (poorly sealed duct systems can result in up to 30% loss in efficiency) that is able to provide sufficient air flow throughout the living space.
- Demonstrate to you that the company is licensed and insured to repair and install heating and cooling equipment (many states require this).
- Have several years of experience as a business in your community.
- Clearly explain the benefits of regular maintenance and help you set up a schedule to keep your system operating at its best.
- Hold industry recognized HVAC system installation certification, from an organization such as North American Technician Excellence (NATE) or Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA).
Ready to find the right system for your home? The ENERGY STAR Product Finder can help!
HVAC System Maintenance and Usage Tips
Dirt and neglect are the top causes of heating and cooling system failure and inefficiency. Maintaining your equipment will keep your system operating at peak performance and prevent future problems and unwanted costs.
How to Keep Your System Operating Smoothly
- Get Annual Pre-Season Check-ups: Hire a professional contractor to perform routine maintenance of your equipment. Contractors get busy once summer and winter come, so it's best to schedule a checkup of the cooling system in the spring and the heating system in the fall. ENERGY STAR has a maintenance checklist of what you should expect your contractor to do during these visits.
- Inspect and Clean or Change Air Filters: A dirty air filter will cause your heating and cooling system to work harder to distribute air throughout your home. This can increase energy costs and damage your equipment, leading to early failure. Therefore, it’s important to check your air filter once a month in your central air conditioner, furnace, and/or heat pump. If it’s dirty either clean it if your system has a reusable filter or change it if your system requires a replacement.
- Keep indoor and outdoor units clean and clear of debris: No mater what technology you are utilizing, keeping your units clear of dust, snow, leaves, and other debris is vital for the best performance.
Visit Ask the Experts to learn how to maintain your HVAC system.