Ottawa, ON — “Installing heat pumps instead of central air conditioners is a feasible and cost-effective strategy for meeting Canadians’ heating and cooling needs,” according to a new report titled The Cool Way to Heat Homes.
The report was authored by Alexander Gard-Murray, director at the Greenhouse Institute, Brendan Haley, director of policy research at Efficiency Canada, Sarah Miller, research lead of adaptation at the Canadian Climate Institute, and Mathieu Poirier, director of policy at Building Decarbonization Alliance.
The report acknowledges how switching air conditioner installations with heat pumps can save Canadians $10.4 billion in energy bills and cut the country’s emissions by 19.6 million tonnes of CO equivalents.
While the report promotes the rapid transition from central air conditioning units to heat pumps across Canada, it highlights Canada’s barriers and concerns when making the switch. The top barriers included lower familiarity, infrequent purchasing, short replacement timeframes, limited stock availability and higher upfront costs.
“For many people, this isn’t a conscious choice: many don’t realize there’s an alternative, and a heat pump doesn’t sound like something you’d buy to cool your home,” according to the report.
The report states that six million Canadian homes have a central air conditioner, but only 800,000 homes have a ducted heat pump. In 2022, Canadians bought 36,000 new ducted heat pumps and ten times as many central air conditioners.
This gap is continuing to grow despite a range of heat pump rebates and incentives. Nearly 7,000 Canadian households install central air conditioners every week, according to the report.
Despite the barriers, the report explains that they are not insurmountable as Canadians’ adoption of heat pumps has grown. Between 2018 and 2022, ducted heat pump sales increased by 18 per cent. But even with increasing
sales, Canadian households are not on track to electrify their space heating by 2100, let alone
The report states that, on a mechanical level, central air conditioners and ducted air-source heat pumps are essentially the same machines, and in their simplest form, they both work by gathering heat in one space and pushing it somewhere else.
According to the report, improvements in heat pump technology are making the transition more affordable. “Single-speed heat pumps are now only marginally more costly to manufacture than comparable central air conditioners. And more efficient variable-speed and cold-climate units are becoming increasingly affordable, making the transition to clean heating more feasible than ever.”
Additionally, the report explains how the performance improvements with heat pumps should help reduce the stigma previously associated with the technology. “Traditionally, heat pump performance declined when temperatures got really cold. But now there are specialized “cold-climate” models that can maintain their full heating capacity down to -15 C and can still operate effectively down to -25 C. Cold-climate performance is no longer confined to expensive high-end units either. There are increasing numbers of mid-range cold-climate models available whose costs are not far above that of non-cold climate units. When combined with existing rebates, these units can even be cheaper than single-speed alternatives.”
The report also encourages governments to adopt and expedite the transition to heat pumps. Additionally, the report acknowledges that “Canada is facing a deficit of workers in skilled trades, including HVAC installation and repair. Governments can do more to support training more HVAC contractors to ensure households can get heat pumps installed quickly and properly, especially through well-funded vocational education.”