How Does a Heat Pump Work in Winter? A NJ Tech Answers | Air Experts
do heat pumps work well in new jersey winters

Heat pumps are an energy-efficient alternative to gas-fired or electric heating systems for New Jersey’s early spring, fall, and winter months. They work well in New Jersey winters to about 30° or 35° Fahrenheit.

Below that, a heat pump on its own becomes too inefficient to be cost-effective—but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get one. In fact, our professional advice is to pair a heat pump with a gas-fired furnace. This system, called a “dual-fuel system”, is an incredibly efficient way to heat your home throughout the New Jersey winter.

We’ll go over why a dual-fuel heat pump works so well compared to other heating systems. But first, let’s take a closer look at how a heat pump works.

How does a heat pump work?

Heat pumps use electricity to transfer heat either into or out of your house to cool or heat it. They don’t create heat, they just move it—which is why they’re so efficient and cost-effective.
In the summer, the heat pump works just like a central air conditioner and:

  1. Absorbs heat from the warm air inside your home
  2. Dumps the warm air outside

In the winter, the heat pump:

  1. Absorbs heat from the cold air outside
  2. Brings the warm air into your home

Basically, in the winter, a heat pump works just like a central air conditioner in reverse. 

But are heat pumps efficient in super low temperatures?

Yes, heat pumps can still work extremely well, even in New Jersey’s extreme winters—but only when it’s paired with a gas furnace (i.e., a “dual-fuel” system).

You see, a heat pump can’t work alone to heat your home because at some point it will reach its “balance point”. The balance point is the point at which there’s simply not enough heat in the outside air for the heat pump to pull in and keep your home warm.

Now, every heat pump’s balance point varies depending on the climate and the heat pump model (some newer models can work down to 0° F). But most heat pumps lose their heating power once temperatures drop below 30° to 35° F.  

So what happens when a heat pump hits its balance point? Well, that depends.

If you have just a heat pump, the unit will automatically shut off and heat strips installed inside your air handler (the indoor unit) will heat your home. These backup heat strips, which use electric resistance heating, are significantly less efficient and more expensive than the heat pump alone, and will run up your home’s electric bill.

But if you have a dual-fuel system, a gas-fired furnace will automatically kick on. Let’s take a closer look at what exactly a dual-fuel heat pump is and why it’s the more efficient heating system.

What’s a dual-fuel heat pump?

A dual-fuel system uses a heat pump during mild winter temperatures and relies on a gas-fired furnace for super cold days. You see, unlike a heat pump, furnaces aren’t limited by the amount of heat that’s available in the outdoor air. That’s because gas furnaces create their own heat by burning gas, which means it can offer unlimited heating regardless of how cold the air is outside.

Let’s take a quick look at how efficient a dual-fuel system can be compared to other heating systems.

How do dual-fuel systems compare to other forms of heating?

Electric resistance heating vs dual-fuel:

Electric resistance heating is a lot more expensive than heat pump heating. In fact, claims that electric resistance heating is 50% more expensive than heat pump heating. Electric resistance heating refers to heating via electric furnaces, electric baseboard heating and electric wall heaters.

A standalone gas furnace vs dual-fuel:

Gas heating is typically more expensive than heat pump heating. You see, gas furnaces burn gas to create heat—and you have to pay for gas. Heat pumps, on the other hand, simply move hot air into your home (and hot air is free). So the less you run your gas furnace, the lower your heating costs. Think about it this way: according to average New Jersey winter temperatures, if you have a standalone gas furnace, you’d pay for roughly 210 days worth of gas heating vs only 90 days worth of gas heating with a dual-fuel system.

Note: These numbers aren’t exact, they’re just meant to give you an idea of how a dual-fuel system cuts down on the higher operational costs of gas-fired furnaces. These estimates are based on the average number of heating days in a New Jersey winter (210), the average number of days temperatures fall below 30° F (90) and assume a dual-fuel system that is designed to switch to gas heating when temperatures drop below 30° F. 

How much does a dual-fuel heat pump cost?

The cost of installing a dual-fuel heat pump depends most heavily on what you already have in place.

If you already have a furnace that’s working just fine, you can add a heat pump to your existing system to make it more efficient. You may not need a completely new system.

Installation costs depend on what you’d need installed:

  • Heat pump only: $5,300–$14,000 ($7,800 on average)
  • Heat pump and furnace with existing ductwork: $3,300–$7,500 ($5,800 on average)
  • Heat pump and furnace with brand new ductwork: $9,500–$25,000+ ($12,000 on average)

Dual-fuel heat pump installation costs also depend on:

  • Size of the heat pump/furnace
  • Heat pump/furnace efficiency ratings
  • Tax credits and manufacturer rebates

Additional costs:

  • If you don’t have ductwork or need to replace old ductwork, you can expect to pay about $62–$92 a foot in installation costs.
  • If you need gas lines to support a gas furnace, installing those cost about $600-$860, but can run higher depending on labor costs and the size and length of pipe you need installed.
  • Adding an electric heat pump to an older home might require updating the electric panel, which could cost another $1,600–$3,000.

Need a heat pump installation estimate in New Jersey?

Air Experts will help you find the right heat pump for your home. Contact us today find out more about heat pumps in New Jersey or to schedule a heat pump installation estimate.

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