Electric air-source heat pumps in Toronto are a lower cost alternative and more efficient alternative to natural gas furnaces

March 15, 2024

Catherine Marshall

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.

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