Are Heat Pumps Really More Environmentally Friendly?


If you’ve been doing any research into heat pumps, you’ve likely seen that one of their biggest selling points (aside from saving you money) is that they are better for the environment than any other common method of home heating.

This seems like common sense when you consider that heat pumps heat your home by using electricity instead of directly burning fossil fuels. It sounds like a win-win—you get a warm, comfortable house, and you don’t have to add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere to get it. But what if your home’s electricity comes from burning fossil fuels?

Electricity Isn’t Always Green

Here in Atlantic Canada, most of our electricity is still being generated by burning coal, oil, or natural gas. In Nova Scotia, for example, only 25% of electricity comes from renewable sources, while the other 75% comes from a mix of various hydrocarbons. That means that any electricity usage in Nova Scotia is contributing directly to carbon emissions and climate change, and the same is true in the other Atlantic provinces.

This fact naturally leads to the question of whether this means heat pumps aren’t as environmentally friendly as everyone claims. After all, if you’re still burning oil to heat your home, why not just burn that oil in a furnace in your home and cut out the middleman?

The good news is that thanks to the efficiency of heat pumps, they’re still excellent for the environment, even if all of your electricity is coming directly from burning fossil fuels.

Heat Pumps Simply Use Less Energy

Heat pump efficiency comes down to how they work on a basic level. You may remember from high school science class that energy can’t be created or destroyed, so the energy that heats your home needs to come from somewhere.

In the case of a gas or oil furnace, burning fuel transforms chemical energy into thermal energy (i.e. heat) which is distributed throughout your home to keep it warm. Electric baseboard heating works roughly the same way, where the electricity passing through heating coils experiences resistance and that electrical energy is changed into thermal energy. 

Whether using electricity or oil to heat your home, you can’t get out more energy than you put in, and much of the energy is actually lost. This means, in some cases, electric baseboard heating can actually be worse for the environment than an oil furnace, because baseboard heating is often less efficient than a modern, properly functioning furnace. 

Heat pumps, on the other hand, don’t directly turn one type of energy into another, like furnaces or electric heaters do. Instead, they use a relatively small amount of energy to move a much larger amount of thermal energy from one place to another

Most of the cost of home heating (both in terms of energy and financial cost) comes from warming up cold air. Where heat pumps don’t directly warm cold air, but instead just move heat from one place to another, they are able to warm your home without using nearly as much energy as other heating methods. In Atlantic Canada, this means that you can keep your home at the same comfortable temperature while also significantly reducing your carbon footprint.

The Best Heating Option for Atlantic Canadians

Heat pumps are ideal for our climate here in Atlantic Canada, and homeowners can rest easy that they’re not only saving money on their heating bills, but also helping to reduce carbon emissions. Find a dealer near you today to book an in-home assessment and find the best heating solution for your home.