Benefits of heat pumps for Southwest homes: Utah edition

June 20, 2022 | Neil Kolwey

Benefits of heat pumps for Southwest homes: Utah edition

If you are looking for a way to reduce your personal contributions to carbon emissions, a good place to start is switching to an efficient electric heat pump to heat and cool your home. For homes in Utah, this will have about the same impact as switching your car (or truck) to an electric vehicle.

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 the Salt Lake City region, annual heating costs with a heat pump will be about 10% less than for homes heated with gas. In addition, Rocky Mountain Power’s incentives will cover most of the incremental costs of installing the heat pump in place of the air-conditioner. 

Thomas Kessinger with Utah Clean Energy, who lives in Salt Lake City, installed a mini-split heat pump system in his 600-square foot music studio in his backyard, replacing the electric resistance heating and fan cooling. The studio is now much more comfortable year-round and is much quieter in summer. And, with much more steady temperatures, his piano stays in tune much longer!

Rocky Mountain Power has a voluntary goal and plan to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation by 74% by 2030. Because of this plan, switching to efficient electric heating reduces Salt Lake City homes’ carbon impacts significantly, about 55-60% for a new home. In addition, heat pumps and HPWHs reduce nitrogen oxide emissions which contribute to ozone pollution.

For new homes, by choosing a heat pump 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. The annual heating costs (including hot water) for the all-electric home in Utah will be about 25% 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, Utah’s homes can become healthier and safer, with much lower carbon emissions.