There’s misinformation about electric air-source heat pumps out there that could separate you from your money.

We’ll do our best to debunk them.

Urban myth #1
Natural gas furnaces are cheaper than heat pumps.

Heat pumps are the lowest-cost option for heating and cooling most homes in Canada. This finding is based on two recent reports:

These findings are the result of low heat pump operating costs. Heat pumps are unbelievably efficient, typically producing 300%-400% as much energy as the electricity that powers them. In comparison, high-efficiency natural gas furnaces are just 90-99% efficient.

It’s difficult to compare the cost of a heat pump to just a natural gas furnace as the heat pump replaces two systems in your home – the furnace and also the air conditioner.

Using the FlexPlex® an example, the cold climate heat pump wins out over the air conditioner/high-efficiency natural gas furnace, according to the Canadian Climate Institute’s calculator:

Cold Climate Heat Pump Heating and Cooling:                         $1516

Air Conditioner & Gas Furnace:                                                  $1730

Visit www.heatpumpcalculator.ca to try it for yourself.[2]

Urban myth #2
It’s too cold for heat pumps in Ontario

Cold-climate air-source heat pumps work well in Southern Ontario. They work to at least -30 degrees C. The coldest Toronto temperature recorded since 1960 was -25 degrees C.  

Heat pumps provide high levels of indoor comfort and warmth.

Heat pump technology is improving by leaps and bounds so by the time you shop for a heat pump, they may very well work below -30 degrees C.  

If your house is highly insulated and air-tight, you won’t notice the difference in heat pump performance on cold days. In fact, the FlexPlex® heat pump system works so well that if the temperature is set above 18 C it can feel a tad too toasty.

Urban myth #3
You need natural gas backup if you have a heat pump
Air source heat pumps work well in Toronto's climatic conditions to provide high levels of indoor comfort in cold weather

Some heating and cooling companies push the idea you need natural gas as a backup for a heat pump (probably based on information from the gas company).  What they’re suggesting is effectively adding a heat pump to a natural gas furnace.

Instead, some back-up electric heat – like an electric coil in the ductwork, or a heat-throwing electric fireplace – can do the trick if you home is well-insulated.

It’s only in very cold climates like Edmonton or Saskatoon that a more substantial back-up heating system is advised. 

Urban myth #4
You’re worse off with heat pumps than natural gas during a blackout
We compare the performance of heat pumps and natural gas furnaces during a power blackout

In an electricity failure, neither natural gas furnaces nor heat pumps will work.

All gas furnaces rely on electrically driven components to work. They also have safety systems that also prevent them from operating in a blackout.

In the case of the Flexplex, this highly insulated building will retain heat for a very long time. We expect that the electricity will be back on long before the building is cold.   

*The information in this article is based on Greenbilt’s research and our operating experience with heat pumps in our Flexplex® showcase home.


References

[1] “Cold-Climate Air Source Heat Pumps: Assessing Cost Effectiveness, Energy Savings and Greenhouse Gas Emission Reductions in Canadian Homes

[2] We made some adjustments to the calculator to make the assumptions realistic for the FlexPlex.

Stairs can add to the sustainability and flexibility of a home

I’m twice over the moon.” 

Two heads are better than one.

Twins are double the fun.

Our language suggests that two are better than one.

We agreed, and that’s why we put double staircases in different model homes that Greenbilt Homes designed and built.

“Double, double, toil, and trouble,” you say! Is the extra cost and effort of a second staircase worth it?

FlexPlex® stairs

Toronto Star photo of exterior staircase of the FlexPlex

A photo of the FlexPlex exterior staircase was published in the Toronto Star in December, 2023

The answer is a resounding YES. A second staircase offered a huge improvement in functionality.

The most recent double staircase design is in the FlexPlex® home that Greenbilt designed and constructed at 19 Burlington Street, Toronto.  We knew that residents of a 55-foot-long building would appreciate having a rear external staircase.

But we thought the tenants would prefer the interior front staircase because it’s a climate-controlled, bright, and appealing.

We were wrong.  The rear staircase is used the most. It’s very handy as it’s adjacent to the kitchen and living areas.

In future, the addition of an exterior elevator down the centre of the stairscase can add to the home’s flexibility for tenants with mobility issues.

Greenbilt House stairs

Second staircase in a sustainable house

The green-certified Greenbilt House in Bronte Habour, Oakville also featured a flexible second staircase.

Greenbilt House was modelled on a mid-1800s farmhouse and featured a grand staircase in a front foyer with two-storey vaulted ceiling.  

In traditional homes, the rear staircase was a servants’ staircase.  In the case of Greenbilt House, the second staircase was located in a large mudroom/laundry with the garage entrance. It’s how goods came and went from house to garage.  It’s how clothes moved to the laundry room, and how people entered the backyard.

As you can imagine, that rear staircase was heavily used.

In future, if a secondary suite were added to the building, it would create a direct exterior entrance for the tenant.

Low-cost sustainability

The cost of adding a second, utilitarian staircase is fairly low.

The second stair represents flexibility. We believe it’s an important element of sustainability.

In the event of a fire, it provides safety.

Ying and yang

But, like most things, there’s ying and yang.

I can bet that at least one teenager has said: “OMG they’re home early. Quickly, out the back stairs.”

Everyone knows someone whose basement has been flooded out in the last few years, right? Climate change means water bodies warm up and produce Precipitation-laden clouds that rain on you and me. The Toronto Regional Conservation Authority says that expected higher precipitation will lead to “an increase in hazardous conditions placing people and property at risk.”

The tally from Florida’s Hurricane Ian last fall is pushing towards $100 billion. Some of the worst losses were uninsured as coastal areas have trouble getting flood insurance.

But it’s been hard to get the big picture on the incredible costs that climate Change-induced weather is imposing on society. Now, SwissRe, the giant global insurance company has just reported that last year’s insurance payout from damages caused by extreme weather was $120 billion. It’s a 50% increase over the previous decade’s average. And these are only the insured losses!

Greenbilt builds to weather the storm. Our new FlexPlex demonstration project has exterior AND interior weeping tile systems, TWO exterior sump pumps and a basement defense system I call the Concrete Boat Bottom. We use carefully install exterior building materials that won’t be blown away. When others are putting in claims and see their insurance costs rise, you’ll be financially ahead in a Greenbilt home.

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