How do I Switch From a Boiler or Baseboard Heating to a Heat Pump?

One of our most common energy efficiency questions comes from people with boilers or electric baseboard heating: How can they upgrade to a new system if there is no ductwork in their house? Ductwork can be costly and destructive to install in a home renovation. Central air-source heat pump units require ductwork to be able to heat and cool a home. A central unit could replace a natural gas furnace.  The most common heat pump solution for replacing a boiler is a type of heat pump made to work without ductwork. These models are called ductless air source heat pumps (also known as mini-splits).  There are many different brands of ductless heat pumps available. We have a Moovair M42 at the Reep House for Sustainable Living, which is rated to work down to -30°C. Learn more and request a tour here.   

What is a ductless air source heat pump? 

Ductless air source heat pumps provide energy efficient heating and cooling for a space and only require a small line to be run from the outside unit to each wall-mounted head. Installation and hardware costs are lower than a central unit, and much less invasive than installing ducts. 

These systems allow for zone control, which means that you can save energy by keeping unoccupied areas at a different temperature than those where people are.  

How does a heat pump work? 

An air source heat pump moves heat from one place to another. This is different from electric resistance heating because there is no heating element. Heat is being moved into the house in the winter or out of the house in the summer. 

If you are interested in detailed technical explanations of how heat pumps work, please see these two resources: 

Can I replace my boiler with an electric air-to-water heat pump? 

While there are models of heat pump boilers, they are not widely available. Because they are so uncommon, we tend to steer people away from them as it may be very difficult to service them in the future. 

Additionally, the radiators and plumbing in your house will still require maintenance and may not work as effectively with a new boiler. 

In short: It is possible, but not always a good idea. 

Do I need a back-up heating source? 

Yes. In Ontario, all homes need a backup heating source that either uses electric resistance or gas to provide heat. In our experience, these backup sources are only used on the coldest nights. With good insulation and proper thermostat setting, a cold climate air source heat pump can provide the majority of your heating needs. 

If you are upgrading baseboard heating, it may make sense to keep the baseboard units in place and only power them on when the temperature drops below the functioning temperature of the heat pump. 

Since every situation is different, it’s important to find a backup solution that works for your situation.

Who installs ductless heat pumps? 

You can find a list of heat pump contractors on our Contractors List. In particular, check out this list of heat pump contractors in Waterloo Region from ClimateActionWR. 

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