Heat pump technology has improved a lot over the past 10–20 years and is likely to be at least 20% more efficient than what you have now. Heat pumps also cool your home during summer months, which is an added value.
Ducted and mini-split heat pumps
A centralized air-source heat pump can work well in a home with a forced air furnace. A compressor outside your home that looks like an air conditioning unit is connected to the existing duct system. The temperature is controlled through one main thermostat. This is a solid solution as long as your system has quality ductwork. Poor ductwork will render any kind of central heating or cooling system much less effective.
In a home without ductwork or ductwork that is poorly designed or leaky, a ductless mini-split heat pump might be the best bet. With a mini-split heat pump, tubes connected to the outside compressor carry refrigerant to one or more air handlers, which are mounted high on a wall to distribute air. Thermostats regulate each air handler, providing control of different zones in the home.
Geothermal (or ground-source) heat pump
Geothermal energy is a renewable energy source because it uses the earth to produce energy. Several feet underground, the temperature remains constant year-round, typically 45–75 degrees, depending on latitude.
In a geothermal system, heat is transferred into or out of the ground by pipes buried in a loop 10 feet underground or drilled up to 400 feet into the earth. The pipes carry water to a compressor, which uses a refrigerant to transfer the heat to or from your home’s ducts.
Often used for new home builds, the geothermal heat pump system is extremely energy efficient. While it has higher installation costs, the energy savings could be worth it. Use an energy calculator to do the math.
PAT KEEGAN and BRAD THIESSEN write on energy efficiency for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association