Heat pump explainer Guest Column by Rebecca Schillemat, Executive Officer of the Peterborough and the Kawarthas Home Builders Association
Heat pumps have gained substantial popularity across Canada due to their energy efficiency and versatility in providing heating and cooling solutions. These systems utilize a reversible refrigeration cycle to extract heat from the air, ground, or water sources, transferring it indoors during winter for heating and expelling it outside during summer for cooling. This article is about Air Source Heat Pumps (to be referred to as heat pumps). There are also geothermal, or ground source heat pumps available in Canada.
Heat pump technology was first demonstrated in 1748 and the first heat pump was built in 1857. Modern heat pumps are capable of heating comfortably when the outside temperature is as low as -20°C in a home with minimal air leakage. Heat pumps are energy efficient, with the definition of energy efficiency being to use less energy to get the same task done. Natural gas is 98% efficient at heating a space, while heat pumps can be 300-500% efficient because they are designed to put out more energy than they take in to run the system.
The Government of Canada has been researching energy efficiency home building and renovations options across Canada through the department of Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) in partnership with the Canadian Home Builders Association (CHBA). Together NRCan & CHBA have been researching Net Zero Home Building for over a decade, including the use of heat pumps. The case studies from across Canada inform guidelines for energy efficient building. The 2020 National Building Code is a 5-tier system, each being more energy efficient. Tier 5 is beyond a Net Zero Home, with Net Zero defined as homes that produce as much clean energy as they consume annually, using on-site renewable energy systems.
The cost of a heat pump is anywhere from $5,000-15,000 to purchase and have installed. Enbridge is offering up to $4,500 for the Clean Home Heating Initiative, and the Canadian Government is offering up to $5,000 with the Greener Homes Grant, to install heat pumps to residential homes.
Since heat pumps work by taking outside air and transferring that energy to the inside air, having a leaky home greatly reduces heating efficiency, for all heating/cooling systems. The first step in determining how efficient a heat pump is for your home is getting an energy audit by a certified energy advisor, including a blower door test. New homes with an Energy Star Rating have 2.5 Air Changes per hour (ACH), Net Zero homes are 1.5 ACH and the Passive House standard is 0.6 ACH. The air tightness requirement in the National Building Code dovetails to achieve maximum energy efficiency with a heat pump.
Overall, heat pumps offer an efficient and environmentally friendly solution for heating and cooling in Canadian climates. Their ability to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions makes them a compelling choice for residential buildings despite some limitations related to extreme weather conditions and upfront costs. Heat pumps with a back-up heating method are an excellent first step in renovating existing homes to be more energy efficient. Heat pumps are an excellent option for new homes to maximize the energy efficiency of new home construction.
The Peterborough and the Kawarthas Home Builders Association (PKHBA) is the voice of the residential construction industry in Peterborough City & County and City of Kawartha Lakes. PKHBA represents over 100 member companies including builders, developers, professional renovators, trade contractors and many others within the residential construction sector. PKHBA had the opportunity to host two education sessions through CHBA’s Local Energy Efficiency Partnerships (LEEP) Program in fall 2023 in Peterborough; one on Mechanical & HVAC systems including heat pumps, and one on the Building Envelope including windows & insulation.
The Peterborough and the Kawarthas Chamber of Commerce acts as a catalyst to enhance business growth, opportunity, innovation, partnerships and a diverse business community.