The Heat Pump Solution

The Role of Heat Pumps in Adapting to Increasing Heat Waves 
By Alice Grendon | TCAT Communication Coordinator
Adapted from Faith Action Climate Team’s Information for Congregations

We’ve made it through multiple unprecedented heat domes, a summer drought, and the warmest Pacific Northwest spring on record. As we know, the warming will only continue if we do not radically alter the direction of the polluting industry, and begin to sequester carbon. We know that our systemic work to mitigate the impacts of climate change, sequester emissions, and create resilient community adaptations is vital. And there are always small changes individuals can make in addition to community organizing for systemic change. If you are a homeowner, one of those changes is updating the heating and cooling systems in your home. 

As we experience increasing heat waves, many homeowners in the Northwest are looking at cooling systems for the first time ever. Electric heat pumps have become one of the most common heating and cooling sources for new construction for several reasons. They are highly efficient, provide cooling as well as heating, and with an electricity supply generated almost entirely by renewable  sources do not contribute significantly to global warming. 

How They Function:

A heat pump warms a building primarily by using existing heat energy from outside the  building rather than by burning fossil fuel. Heat may be transferred from the air or, for  larger buildings, from the ground. In a process much like that of a refrigerator, a heat  pump uses a compressor and a refrigerant to move heat to where it is needed. In cold  weather, a heat pump extracts heat from the colder outdoors into the building interior. In the summer, it can function as air conditioning by moving heat from indoors to outdoors.  Electrical energy is used for the system control mechanisms and to run the compressor,  but not to create new heat. The technology has improved in recent years so that heat  pumps can warm a building in sub-freezing weather without the assistance of a back-up  heating source. Presently the coolants used in heat pumps do include hydrofluorocarbons whose harmful impacts occur in the disposal process. However, due to new state law, all new heating pumps released after 2023 will be hydrofluorocarbon free. Additionally, the disposal mechanism is changing to become much safer.  

A heat pump does not eliminate the need for a broader focus on energy efficiency. A  poorly planned and maintained building system can use more energy to operate even  with a heat pump. When evaluating the energy efficiency of your home, it  would be wise to update insulation, close any air leaks, upgrade window frames and glazing, and install heat-pump water heating.

Heat pumps can be designed to use your existing duct system or hot-water circulating  system, or to bring refrigerant directly through your building wall to a wall-mounted unit  called a “mini-split.” The cost of a heat pump installation is dependent on many factors,  

including the total square feet to be heated, the number and sizes of rooms, noise  control requirements, and other factors. Professional estimates or even bids are  needed.


Because fossil gas extraction enjoys federal tax benefits and subsidies, gas is sold at prices far too low to compensate for the damage it causes to the  climate and to human health. The operating cost of a heat pump currently can be somewhat higher or lower than that of a gas furnace. However, gas is being phased out through legislation and growing public outcry for climate safe heating options, the shrinking pool of gas customers will inevitably face increasing prices as the gas companies struggle to keep their aging systems going, so as a consumer it is in the best interest of your future pocketbook to make the transition. 

To find more data and information on the efficiency of heat pumps as it relates to increasing heat waves we recommend this article from our friends at RMI. 

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