Ductless Heat Pumps- Now Heating Homes Cheaper than Natural Gas?

New, very high efficiency heat pumps now promise a way to drastically reduce the use of natural gas for home and business heating in many instances.  New high-efficiency ductless heat pumps (DHP) may revolutionize the way people heat and cool their homes in the near future, dramatically reducing heating and cooling costs while driving down the use of fossil fuels.

Also called “mini-split heat pumps,” DHPs install easily (often in less than a day), and can both heat and cool homes, offering a big advantage over gas furnaces that are limited to heating only. With natural gas prices going up rapidly in some locales, DHPs are rapidly gaining consumers’ attention. So what kind of savings can they offer?

PG&E, the utility that serves a large part of northern CA including the San Francisco Bay Area, has announced new natural gas pricing that averages about $1.50 per therm for residential users. At this rate, early estimates indicate that the highest efficiency ductless heat pumps units are competitive with natural gas when electricity costs are about $.20 per kWH or less. Because ductless heat pumps can have an initial cost as much as 30 percent less than a new natural gas furnace in smaller homes, and with the added ability to cool the home at high efficiency, ductless heat pumps may rapidly move to replace old gas furnaces in residential homes and apartments up to about 1200 ft2 or even larger.

The recent introduction of Mitsubishi’s H2i MSZ-FH model line shows that certain mini split models can now heat a residence at 100 percent rated capacity down to a 5 deg F outside temperature, with effective operation down to 15 degrees below zero. This makes DHPs an ideal option in many locales such as the Pacific Northwest, Northern California, and other temperate climates. By keeping older natural gas systems as back-ups, DHPs may take a role as a primary workhorse, providing high efficiency heating and cooling for virtually every type of climate zone in the USA.

The ability to operate at very low temperatures makes DHPs performance in more temperate climate areas very impressive indeed. It leads some contractors who specialize in DHPs to recommend them for larger homes as well. Andrew Hiemstra, of Vanstra Contracting in Oregon, relates that “When customers with larger homes ask if they should install two heat pumps instead of one, I tell them to install one unit first and see if it can handle their needs by itself. These products are so efficient that one unit can often handle a customer’s larger home requirements in this climate.”

The State of Oregon, recognizing the advantages of new DHPs, has offered significant tax credits to stimulate DHP installation. Tax credits run up to $1050 per installed unit, with higher efficiency incentives already published for future products. Certain Oregon localities offer additional incentives of up to $500 per unit when they replace resistance coil electric heat in baseboards or ceilings. Other states are beginning to follow suit. The State of Maine has adopted similar incentives.

DHPs promise big reductions in natural gas use when they are combined with solar arrays and net metering schemes. Combining solar panels and DHPs offers the best of all worlds for consumers, since the net cost of powering the heat pumps plummets when solar energy is the source of their electric power demands. In this way, natural gas is completely displaced as the primary fuel for heating, as well as the feed stock for electrical power generation in power plants.

While DHPs are available in multi-headed units, where one outdoor compressor drives up to four indoor heating and cooling units, contractors are finding the best efficiencies in single head units (one outdoor compressor and one indoor unit). As a result, they believe that multiple single head units may offer superior performance to multi-headed ductless heat pumps.

This free informational site explains how you can purchase/invest in off-the-shelf, proven high efficiency technologies that wipe out your fossil fuel use.

“Net Zero” refers to a building generating as much or more energy than it uses. This site shows why reaching net zero can be easy to do and a good investment.

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Above is a screenshot of our recent utility bill. Previously we used about the same average amount of natural gas as other people in our typical California suburban house. But now, by adopting off-the-shelf technology, our natural gas use has dropped to nearly nothing. Last month, while other similar houses used sixty four therms of natural gas, we used three. Also, we previously drove two vehicles that got 18 and 24 mpg respectively. Now we have an EV and a plug In hybrid car. We get about 280 miles out of every gallon of gas we purchase (driving about 1500 miles/month). When other people follow this path (seems inevitable doesn’t it?), the fossil fuel companies will start making solar panels. Besides the four basic steps shown in the masthead illustration above that drastically reduce natural gas and other fossil fuel use, there are some other “minor” steps that drive your natural gas use down even further. The solution, in a nutshell, is to install as much solar as you can, then power your cars and all your home heating/cooling/appliances with electricity from the solar.  I talk about the readily available technology to do this in these pages. There are some simple and inexpensive ways to get big fossil fuel energy reductions. With solar panels, the panels themselves and all the appliances  should pay for themselves within eight to ten years. Where else can you get a 10-12 percent return on your investment that becomes a continous unhindered revenue stream within a decade?

Let me tell you what the result has been for us. I calculate that our total household energy consumption for all utilities (electricity and natural gas), and gasoline use for a total of 10,500 miles per year (electric car use), has been reduced to about 20 percent of the amount used by other households of our size that drive an equal distance as us each year. Note that an average household in our area that drives the same number of miles as us with a gas car uses nearly 36,000 kWH of energy from all sources whereas our current use is about 7000 kWH from all sources. This means that our  energy use, including driving our electric car (s), has been reduced by more than 75% by adopting the technologies I describe on this website. I don’t sell you anything here. I just provide free information about how to take advantage of this technology. I highlight a few great products like the “Instant Pot” but no one pays me anything to do this.

I’m still averaging the cost of operating our new plug in Prius against the cost of an average gas consuming car. I still haven’t averaged its gas consumption over the course of a year. But I’m confident that the total energy used by our household, including gasoline consumption, will be about 70 percent less than a typical household like ours that drives two average mileage cars .