Thanks to advanced technology, central and ductless mini split heat pumps have outpaced the energy efficiency of oil furnaces. Although comparing the energy efficiency of heat pumps and oil furnaces is a bit like comparing apples and oranges, by every measure, heat pumps cost less to operate than oil furnaces.
A high-efficiency heat pump can be 300 to 500 percent efficient, while the most efficient oil furnace will only reach 95 to 98 percent efficient. Unlike combustion furnaces, heat pumps extract heat from the air, while combustion furnaces create it by using fuel. Since there’s no fuel to buy and burn for heat, the only costs associated with heat pumps comes from the electricity used to extract and compress the refrigerant and run the blower fan.
Heating Cost Comparisons
In 2011, the University of Wisconsin calculated the cost per Btu (British thermal unit) of various kinds of home heating systems and found that a 78 percent efficient fuel oil furnace cost $23.23 per million Btus to heat versus $16.12 for a minimally efficient heat pump. Were they to test the most efficient heat pump available today, the Btu cost would be substantially lower.
Their findings are born out by Efficiency Nova Scotia, a nonprofit organization overseen by the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board. This group calculated that it costs $1,737 to heat a 1,700 square foot home for a family four using an air-source heat pump, $1,435 using a ductless mini split heat pump, and $2,211 using a forced-air oil furnace with medium energy efficiency. An older, low-efficiency oil furnace costs $2,685 per heating season, almost twice what it costs using ductless heat pumps.
Heat Pump Options
• Heat pumps provide reliable heating in above-freezing weather, but their energy efficiency dictates how well they handle temperatures well below freezing. One of the viable options for this region is to use a hybrid heat pump that uses an oil burner as a backup heating system when the mercury plummets.
You’ll still save money over a forced-air oil furnace over the heating season by using oil infrequently instead of continuously. Depending on the age and condition of your current furnace, you may be able to add a heat pump to it.
• Ductless mini split heat pumps use less energy than central heat pumps because they blow air directly into the room without sending it through ducts that may have leaks or thermal losses. Ductless systems also save energy because each air handler has its own thermostat, which allows for individual temperature settings or shutting off the heat altogether in an unoccupied area.
• Another way to supplement heat pumps during frigid weather is with electric thermal storage (ETS) units that absorb heat using ceramic bricks and release it when you need it. They’re best used with time-of-day electricity plans.
Nova Scotia Power offers low-interest loans to finance heat pumps that will help you make the switch from high heating costs with oil to a clean and efficient heat pump you can use year-round. To learn more about making the switch from oil heating to a heat pump, request your complimentary risk-free in-home assessment, or give us a call today at (902) 461-0600.