Benefits of heat pumps for Southwest homes: New Mexico edition

June 20, 2022 | Neil Kolwey

Benefits of heat pumps for Southwest homes: New Mexico edition

Moved by fires, droughts, and other climate change-driven extreme weather, more and more New Mexicans are asking, “what can we do to reduce our carbon footprint?” A good place to start is switching to an efficient electric heat pump to heat and cool your home.

The Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP) just released an updated study of the benefits of heat pumps and heat pump water heaters (HPWHs) for Southwest homes, about 65% of which currently use gas for heating. Gas prices have increased significantly in the last six months, and as a result heat pumps and HPWHs are now much more cost-effective than they were one or two years ago. In addition, heat pump and HPWH performance and availability have continued to improve.

SWEEP’s study found that for new and existing homes in New Mexico, annual heating costs with a heat pump will be about 5-10% less than for homes heated with gas. Many New Mexican homeowners are considering switching to air conditioning (AC) from evaporative cooling, for improved comfort during very warm weather. Installing a heat pump rather than a new AC system will achieve the same goal during summer, while also reducing fuel use during cool weather. One practical option is to install a mini-split heat pump to help improve comfort for one or two rooms, or for a new addition, while also reducing heating costs and carbon emissions. 

SWEEP New Mexico Representative Tammy Fiebelkorn, who lives in Albuquerque, recently installed a mini-split heat pump in a one-room addition to her home, replacing a window AC unit and a small gas heater. Tammy explained that “the annual energy costs are about the same, but the comfort is much, much better.”  

To make the change from an AC system to a heat pump, utility incentives will cover some of the incremental costs. In addition, the new state Sustainable Building Tax Credit for existing homes will help reduce the costs of the heat pump. There is also the new Community Energy Efficiency Development block grant funding to help support weatherization and heat pumps in New Mexican low-income homes.

New Mexico’s Energy Transition Act requires the state’s investor-owned utilities to achieve 50% renewable generation by 2030 and 80% by 2040. Because of this requirement, switching to efficient electric heating reduces New Mexican homes’ carbon impacts by about 60%.

For new homes, by installing a heat pump system and all-electric appliances, there are additional benefits. Eliminating the gas piping to the home reduces initial costs; and with no fixed charges on monthly gas bills, annual energy costs are further reduced. In New Mexico, annual heating costs (including hot water) will be about 30% less than for the gas home. The net result is the all-electric home costs less to build and operate over a 15-year period than a typical home with gas appliances. In addition, electric cooking will improve the indoor air quality and safety of the home compared to gas cooking, which leaks methane and emits other harmful pollutants. 

With growing awareness of these efficient electric technologies and increasing support from utilities and local governments, New Mexico’s homes can become healthier and safer, with much lower carbon emissions.