As we shared recently, this time of year a lot of people think they need their heat pumps repaired because their homes either aren’t warm enough, or that their heat bills are suddenly very expensive.

Heat pumps work the way air conditioning does (just in reverse) using refrigerant. This does a great job cooling down a home in hot months, and a decent job for warmth in the winter. And it does this affordably most of the time. But this method of producing heat is not as efficient as a gas furnace, for instance. You may not notice it when it’s a little chilly out and the unit only has to warm the house a bit. But once it’s down to freezing temps a heat pump can struggle to keep up.

With older units that’s all the more true. You may have even had a minor leak that you didn’t notice until it got really cold, and then the lack of refrigerant made a huge difference.

Sometimes when a heat pump can’t maintain your thermostat temp it will kick into what’s called “emergency heat,” which induces an electric heating coil to make up the difference in heat. It works, but electric heat is far less efficient than gas. (In fact, gas is generally 3x more efficient.)

That’s where your heat bills really take a hit. For most people it’s not something they’d know to look for, which keeps a series of high bills a bit mysterious.

Then There’s Freon

Older heat pump units also have the issue of still using Freon, which has been phased out of newer units. This makes it harder to come by Freon when there’s a leak or repair needed, driving prices up versus the newer refrigerants used. For a long time when you had issues with the heat pump it came down to weighing that repairs were cheaper than buying a new unit if the existing one still had some life in it.

These days, depending on your budget and how long-term you’re thinking regarding your heat bills, it can make more sense to opt for new (which we can help with, too).