81%+ of Europe, Japan and China use heat pumps. The USA is less than 8%.

Brian26

Minister of Fire
Sep 20, 2013
574
Branford, CT
According to a Mitsubishi study a large portion of the world uses heat pumps. The fact that these can be powered from renewable energy and use zero fossil fuels is a game changer. Why is America so far behind on this clean and efficient technology?
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NoGoodAtScreenNames

Feeling the Heat
Sep 16, 2015
362
Massachusetts
In the New England there haven’t been a lot of whole house options available. People generally like to change out like for like, especially when the house doesn’t have ducting which is pretty common here. Many people don’t like the big mini split units on their walls. Having more options where people could swap out their hydronic baseboards running on oil with a baseboard from a heat pump would be nice.

I have an oil boiler for the baseboards and am also ducted for AC. If / when my boiler goes I’ll seriously consider a heat pump that can leverage my existing ducting. But my boiler may last another 25 years so that may not be any time soon. May AC breaking down actually might be what pushes me over to be honest.
 
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SpaceBus

Minister of Fire
Nov 18, 2018
5,373
Downeast Maine
I'm not surprised after seeing what Mainers have to say about them on facebook.
In the New England there haven’t been a lot of whole house options available. People generally like to change out like for like, especially when the house doesn’t have ducting which is pretty common here. Many people don’t like the big mini split units on their walls. Having more options where people could swap out their hydronic baseboards running on oil with a baseboard from a heat pump would be nice.

I have an oil boiler for the baseboards and am also ducted for AC. If / when my boiler goes I’ll seriously consider a heat pump that can leverage my existing ducting. But my boiler may last another 25 years so that may not be any time soon. May AC breaking down actually might be what pushes me over to be honest.
I'm pretty sure that you can still use whatever heat distribution system you want, but it might add more complexity. Long term I want to install high efficiency radiant baseboard and panel rads heated by an air to water heat pump, that can also heat our domestic hot water. We will have to use a couple of wall or ceiling mounted cassettes in order to get the AC working.

It seems like not having ducts would be an issue for these heat pumps, but they can be mounted on the floor, ceiling, or wall. Plenty of options and you save money due to no duct losses or having to pay for ducts. You can mount the actual heat pump a good distance from the distribution system as well.
 

woodgeek

Minister of Fire
Jan 27, 2008
4,311
SE PA
I converted my 1960 split level from oil fired hydronic baseboards (and window ACs) to a whole house 4 ton HP (and central AC) on 2008. Project cost was about $10k, including wiring upgrades. Air handler and ducts in the attic. Stole a couple sq ft of a closet to run ducts to lower story rooms. I did a bit of the carpentry myself (like building chases around ducts, and snaking/dropping an extra brach duct).

100% satisfied.

The answer to your question is HVAC installers. They install the systems badly, with tstats set up to switch to backup (strip) heat at outdoor temps as high as 40-50°F. I have had every tech in my house reset my thermostat that way. There was also a wave of installations in the 80s and 90s with really crappy tech, which got a lot of callbacks and turned all the old-timer installers hard against the tech. The only place they show up (in cold climates) is in low-end housing when gas is not available.... which furthers a negative association.

The only advantage of minis.... bc they are packaged as a unit, installers can't eff them up. IMHO.

And BTW, south of Mason-Dixon line, and West of the Rockies, HPs reign supreme. The stats I saw suggested that HPs were closer to 40% of space heating nationwide, and growing rapidly. In apt buildings, large systems are very popular.
 
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3fordasho

Minister of Fire
Jul 20, 2007
979
South Central Minnesota
I'll be installing my 2nd 9k btu mini split heat pump this spring, this time a LG 27.5 SEER unit. With that I intend to never use the 15 year old conventional central air unit again.
Between the two units I should have good coverage of the key living areas in our 3400 sqft house (not all areas, but between the 2 of us our occupied areas will be covered). I would also like to use them for some of our heating demand along with the wood boiler, and possibly more if I install grid tied solar PV. (Current electric rates average around .18/kwh, so not the cheapest but the solar PV should cancel that out). Both units are rated for heating down to -13f, but the LG is better at lower temps than the current Pioneer unit I already have.

I don't see many of these installed in this area (southern MN), but I can install myself.
 

peakbagger

Minister of Fire
Jul 11, 2008
5,993
Northern NH
My guesses are combination of things drive the difference in market penetration

Energy in general in the US was cheap for many years but prior to deregulation of the electric power market electricity was a premium over fossil. Both Europe and Japan had to import most fossil fuels and it was much larger part of household energy budget. Many European countries put large tariffs on fossil fuel used for heating making it uneconomic. Japan has always been a net importer of energy and one of the drivers for WW2 was to get access to energy in an expanded Japanese empire.

US homes tend to be energy hogs due to relatively cheap energy, few states have energy standards and few enforce them. I know in my state of NH there is fairly progressive energy code but its up to the towns to enforce and few do. This means higher capacity equipment is needed. The installed first cost for a gas or oil boiler does not vary much for change in capacity. My guess is the increase in cost for incremental increase in capacity for minisplit/VRF technology is steeper. My experience with solar is long term energy savings is a hard sell for people to spend money upfront. Developers rarely include solar unless forced to by law or they allow a third party to install a PPA or leased system so the developer doesn't have to load in the initial cost. My guess is they wont install minsplits unless the market accepts it (which is rapidly happening with apartment buildings. With the shift in Washington, there could be national wide rules passed but they have to be matched to extremes in climate.

Japan has poured subsidies into electric efficiency programs as a way of propping up their manufacturing base and driving down energy demand. Since they had the major nuke problem, they are short of generation and bringing in tanker loads of LNG to keep the lights on. Their existing remaining nukes may keep running but I dont see new ones going in. With respect to the manufacturing base, they invent it with heavy government subsidies , then they manufacture it and sell it around the world which helps their balance of trade. The US may subsidize basic research, but is far less involved in the end scale research needed to build products. VF drives required for a cold climate minisplit were driven down in cost by Japan. I remember buying drives from US companies and they were all under great pressure as the Japanese companies gave orders to their distributors that they were to take every order even if it was at loss. It drove a lot of US businesses out of the business. Lots of similarities with consumer electronics.

US distribution of minisplits evolved to sell through regional distributors allied with limited local installers. The local installers were limited in market and they could markup the equipment and labor to install generously. Once various distributors popped up on Ebay that decided to sell on volume folks like me decided to buy direct and cut out the middleman. The trade off was lack of warranty and warranty support but barring a defect most of the Japanese (now partially outsourced to china factories) make these units very reliable.

Most banks and mortgage firms do not accept minisplits as primary heating sources. Whole house heat pumps are accepted as many just switch over to resistance heat when its below freezing. Big US heat pump firms have been slow to adopt cold climate design compressors, I do not know why but guess they are going for first cost. There was one firm in Bangor Maine that sold this technology 20 years ago but it sold for premium and ran into the issue that even with cold climate, when the temps drop real low the efficiency drops opposite to the heat demand. That means having to install an oversized system or a backup system. I and an associate both have participated in mini split/ heat pump hot water heater industry seminars and training and universally they are very conservative on how far north they advocate installing systems without backup. At best I have heard middle Atlantic.

Developers look at first cost and what will sell easily, minisplits are making inroads to multifamily apartments but for a single family home with the limitations of requiring a backup heating system, the first cost is high for multihead minisplit system. Efficiencies for multihead units were lagging in the past but expect they may be getting better. I think a developer can put in a 100,000 btu condensing natural gas wall hung unit for about what a one ton minisplit is installed.

John Seigenthaler, HVAC guru is really pushing air to water "mini splits" coupled with buffer tanks for heating dominant areas. The nice part with these units is no need for a HVAC tech to charge the lines in the field, all the refrigerant is inside the outdoor unit so less chance of abuse and leaks. The only connections are water or glycol and power to the unit. Talk to any minsplit tech and their number one service call is outside abuse of the refrigerant lines causing a leak. That is not covered by warranty. Moving water around for heating is far more efficient and takes far less space then moving air. Installing low temp emitters substantially increases effective thermal storage. In theory a properly designed building can do some level of radiant cooling but my guess is there will need to be air handlers incorporated for dehumidification especially in coastal climates. My guess is that in moderate climate zones with the right balance of laws and incentives, minisplits and multi heads will become dominant but as the climate zone gets more extreme the air to water units with backup may dominate. Still plenty of market share to hand around but sadly its all dollars are heading offshore as US firms dont compete in building these units.
 
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woodgeek

Minister of Fire
Jan 27, 2008
4,311
SE PA
Looking more closely at the OP slide, it looks like it is not showing the incidence of HPs versus other heating technology, but of minis versus others. It shows 'Unitary' is dominant in US. I'm guessing that is a central, ducted system in a single unit dwelling, or the big systems in apt buildings.

With proper duct sealing and insulation, duct losses are negligible (a few %). So again, it comes down to installation and qualification of ducting systems in the US, which is rather poor. I ended up unwrapping, masticing, and rewrapping the metal trunk ducts my cheapo installer put in.

Also, the American manufacturers of HPs (mostly central) were late to inverters, variable speed compressors and advanced controls. Many of them lost money and are now owned by the East Asian HP companies. The result....many central HP systems now use variable speed and inverter tech, and their efficiency is a lot higher. They still, unfortunately, still push the old single speed tech to most buyers, and charge a premium for the new tech.

This is a RIPE situation for govt regulation, requiring a minimum HSPF going forward....the tech is there and the price is reasonable. And it could retrofit the 50 million central HP systems already around the US, bringing them up to mini performance levels.
 

EbS-P

Minister of Fire
Jan 19, 2019
520
SE North Carolina
I lived in a condo complex in Maine for a few years. Construction began in late 2004. My unit was finished mid 2005. Project had between 60-100 units with about 6-8 units per building. All oil burners exhaust faced the front of the buildings that were arranged in horseshoes of 5-7 buildings. To this day I have no clue why the didn’t use a 3 zone heatpump( most units were 2 stories with basement and 2x6 construction). The smell of the exhaust after three 3-4 years of no maintenance (because who would spend a dime on a brand new system) on budget boilers was over powering. It was cost savings for the developers. They were not large units1000-1300 sq ft. If kept it cold I could go all year on 500 gallons of oil.

there was no incentive to make them efficient. So I blame lack of regulation for the lack of heatpumps. Even today efficiency is viewed as a luxury. You should have seen the look on my contractors face when I said I wanted 80 gallon hp water heater. “Why would do that when you can have two separate 40 gallon units for way cheaper” is what his face was saying. And I asked why I could not get a single 80 gallon and he said they changed the regulations without even thinking twice about why that was the new standard.
 
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woodgeek

Minister of Fire
Jan 27, 2008
4,311
SE PA
Even today efficiency is viewed as a luxury. You should have seen the look on my contractors face when I said I wanted 80 gallon hp water heater. “Why would do that when you can have two separate 40 gallon units for way cheaper” is what his face was saying. And I asked why I could not get a single 80 gallon and he said they changed the regulations without even thinking twice about why that was the new standard.
When I wanted to get an 80 gallon HPWH in 2011, I called three different plumbers. The first refused to take the bid, but would sell me an 80 gallon conventional. The second jawboned me that I was making a huge mistake, that it would break down and give me lukewarm water and I would be so sorry I would call him back in a couple years and tell him he was right (!!). And then the the third said 'Haven't installed any before, but I'll take the job.' It blew a controller board in Year 4 (after a massive power surge), I replaced it myself with a board the co fedexed me and I was back in business. Still aok in year 9.

I saw a bunch of ads by a local HVAC company advertising like a $50 heating system inspection and I (against my better judgement) called them out to take a look at my central HP, which hadn't had a lick of maintenance (other than me changing filters and hosing off the outdoor unit) for close to 5 years. He saw my hydronic radiators and said 'WTF?' I told him I ripped out a boiler and tank many years ago, and had been ripping out the radiators whenever I repainted a room (i think they're an eyesore and make arranging furniture hard). I had already explained that I had been 100% satisfied and comfortable with the HP for close to a decade, and it was cheaper to run than oil. When I talked about ripping out the radiation, he got an almost PAINED look on his face. He told me I should stop doing that, and think about replacing them instead. BC someday I would have to sell the house, and then future buyers would much rather have an oil boiler than a HP!

I asked him if he saw any problems with his inspection, and he said, 'Nope, between you and me these systems don't need any maintenance....it will probably work for many years, don't bother calling us back again.'

;lol;lol;lol SMH.
 
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peakbagger

Minister of Fire
Jul 11, 2008
5,993
Northern NH
In the New England there haven’t been a lot of whole house options available. People generally like to change out like for like, especially when the house doesn’t have ducting which is pretty common here. Many people don’t like the big mini split units on their walls. Having more options where people could swap out their hydronic baseboards running on oil with a baseboard from a heat pump would be nice.
Fundamentally getting high enough temps for standard slant fin type radiators is the big sticking point. The standard home heating calculators assume 160 to 180 degree supply water. It takes a lot more baseboard to put out enough heat to heat a house on areal cold day with 100 degree water. It can be done in many rooms but in places like kitchens its tough. Seigenthaler is big fan of radiant walls and ceilings. They respond quicker than underfloor radiant or infloor radiant, supply temps can be 90 F, but it basically only good for new construction unless someone is doing a full gut. Outdoor air to water units can get up to 130F and maybe 140 F so its not a great fit for existing baseboard. The Euro low temp emitters are several hundred dollars per room. I think I was looking at between 4 and 5 K to switch my small house over. Since I heat with 3 to 4 cords a year with a minisplit for shoulder seasons, hard to justify the upgrade. For a new house in my climate I might just make that move with a small wood boiler and hope the big companies come out with air to water units as right now the selection in the US is limited. Daikin sells them offshore but not in the US last time I looked. Lot to be said for 360,000 btus of backup in a 500 gallon tank heated to 180 F with a standby wood boiler with 90 degree emitters compared to 160,000 btus for a 180F to 140F for standard radiators.

The other big issue is cooling, radiant cooling can work but its very dependent on relative humidity. Unlike out west the Atlantic seaboard hot days are usually damp days. If a surface is cooled to the dewpoint, water will condense out and potentially cause mold. This is real bad. Standard HVAC units if sized correctly take the humidity out of the air and dump it out a drain tube so it not an issue. Radiant cooling would be far warmer temp water begin circulated so humidity would have to be handled separately. In commercial installations it would be mix, radiant cooling equipped with very good controls and regular AC for peaks and humidity control and maybe desiccant wheels in the mix.
 
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>Looking more closely at the OP slide, it looks like it is not showing the incidence of HPs versus other heating technology, but of minis versus others

Wanted to highlight this point from WoodGeek, since the whole point of the original post and much of the ensuing discussion is flat wrong.

China, with more than a billion people, has only about 17 million heatpumps according to that chart.
 

kennyp2339

Minister of Fire
Feb 16, 2014
5,601
07462
They're also freezing in China, not to sound like a tin foil hat wearer here, but I'm leery of switching to all electric energy sources, I do see some benefit with efficiency, especially with some renewable resources out there, but, putting your faith in electric companies with no back up available is asking for issues, since we have no extra large scale generation (no nuclear) and pretty much reliant on natural gas / fossil for steady generation output, tells me that load issues can develop and rolling black outs at the worst time would become a thing in our county, look at California with there wild fire season and PG&E cutting the grid, or back in 2014-2015 winter on the east coast when the gas pipe lines were at the maximum capacity and there literally wasn't enough natural gas for everyone, or if your in Europe not having enough generation available because it wasn't windy enough to power the turbines (Italy) , or if in China having politics get in the way and a government enforces an embargo on coal imports from Australia, do we really want all that here?
Part of becoming more energy efficient and making it work in the long term starts with the end user (you and me) if our Country wants to really make a practicable and impactful difference, we need a major overhaul of our new building construction making everything as energy efficient as possible, whether its better insulated buildings, tighter building envelopes, air exchangers, dare I say an added tax to subsidize retro fitting existing construction? The reduction in electric usage would have a trickle down effect, opening the door to better sustainability for better products to enter the markets (EV's) or a more energy independent future.
 

woodgeek

Minister of Fire
Jan 27, 2008
4,311
SE PA
They're also freezing in China, not to sound like a tin foil hat wearer here, but I'm leery of switching to all electric energy sources, I do see some benefit with efficiency, especially with some renewable resources out there, but, putting your faith in electric companies with no back up available is asking for issues....
I agree Kenny. Electricity does go out, esp in the heavily wooded area I am in. I can run my 120V loads off a 1.5kW inverter hooked up to my Volt... and a tank of gas runs all those for a week. As for backup space heating... that is what I have a woodstove for!

I moved into this house, with oil heat, in 2005. Only to see my winter heating bill climb to $5000 per year in a couple years. So yeah, the oil was available....but at a terrible price. When the old boiler started gassing my family with CO, I had had enough. Electricity is locally generated and the price is a lot more regulated. I know that the New Englandahs saw a price spike many years ago, but I live west of the Hudson river, awash in natural gas and nukes, with plenty of cheap electricity.