For a long time, homeowners here in Downers Grove, IL, stayed away from heat pumps. The reason is that we routinely see low temperatures in the teens or lower every winter. In those conditions, heat pumps often struggle to provide sufficient heat. Then, they end up engaging electric heating strips to augment their heat production, sending their electricity usage skyrocketing. Today, however, hybrid heat pumps offer homeowners a near-perfect solution to that problem. Here’s what hybrid heat pumps are and why they’re gaining popularity here.

What Is a Hybrid Heat Pump?

A hybrid heat pump is a system that includes a conventional heat pump and a small gas furnace instead of electric resistance backup heating elements. They allow homeowners to switch to gas heat whenever their heat pump loses efficiency or the ability to provide sufficient heat in cold weather. This ensures the most cost-effective heating solution is always in use, regardless of the weather outside.

Why Do Heat Pumps Struggle in the Cold?

To understand why heat pumps struggle in the cold, you must understand a bit about how they work. In the winter, they don’t consume fuel or electricity to generate heat under normal circumstances. Instead, they use a small amount of electricity to run a compressor and some fans. Mechanically, they work almost identically to air conditioners, except that they operate in reverse.

In the winter, a heat pump uses the refrigeration cycle to collect heat energy from the outside air, amplify it, and use it to heat your home. That’s the secret to their unbelievable efficiency. It means that, under ideal conditions, a heat pump can provide up to four units of heat for every unit of electricity consumed. That’s over four times as efficient as the highest-efficiency gas furnace available today.

Unfortunately, the colder it gets outside, the harder it gets to capture heat energy. The ability to do so has to do with the differential in temperature between the heat pump’s refrigerant and the outdoor air. The bigger the gap, the more heat energy the heat pump collects, boosting its efficiency. As a result, though, conventional heat pumps begin losing efficiency when the temperature drops to about 40 degrees Fahrenheit outside. By the time it reaches about 25 degrees outside, the average gas furnace will be more efficient than a heat pump. If the temperature drops well below that, a heat pump will usually need its backup heating elements to provide sufficient heat for your home.

How Do Hybrid Heat Pumps Work?

Although different models of hybrid heat pumps will have different features, they all work similarly. Most contain sensors to detect how efficiently their heat pump components are at any given time. When the efficiency level drops below that of the built-in gas furnace, the system will switch over to it to save you money on your energy bills and ensure your comfort. Then, when the temperature rises again, the system will switch back to your heat pump, since it will again be the more efficient option.

Some hybrid heat pumps do all of this work for you, while others rely on a preset changeover temperature. With those systems, you pre-program a cutover temperature at which the hybrid heat pump will automatically switch to its gas furnace. That temperature is typically set using the manufacturer’s guidelines that spell out the temperature at which the heat pump loses efficiency.

Are There Other Options Besides Hybrid Heat Pumps?

It’s worth pointing out that there are specially designed cold-weather heat pumps that don’t suffer from performance issues at low temperatures. Many of those systems continue providing plentiful and efficient heat down to about -15 degrees Fahrenheit. The trouble is that they cost considerably more than conventional heat pumps. Plus, they cannot protect you from the possibility of losing heat during a power outage.

With a hybrid heat pump, you will always have the option of gas heat, and you can pair your system with a battery backup or generator to keep it running during a grid failure. Since a gas furnace requires very little electricity to operate, they’re far more suitable for power failure situations. A pure heat pump, by contrast, would require a much larger generator if you want to keep it running during a power outage.

Your Local Hybrid Heat Pump Experts

If you like the versatility and potential energy savings that a hybrid heat pump could offer for your Downers Grove home, Fire 'n' Ice Heating & Cooling, Inc. can help. We’ve served homeowners and businesses here since 1977, and we specialize in the latest hybrid heat pump systems. Plus, we offer comprehensive HVAC installation, repair, and maintenance services, along with indoor air quality solutions. All of our HVAC technicians are NATE-certified, and we are Better Business Bureau-accredited, with an A+ rating. So, if you want to learn more about how a hybrid heat pump can serve your Downers Grove home’s HVAC needs, contact the experts at Fire 'n' Ice Heating & Cooling, Inc. today!

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