Although much of this area is situated at a relatively high latitude, the Pacific Northwest rarely endures the bone-chilling temperatures experienced by our neighbors to the east.

Not only does that make the winter season more bearable, it also makes extremely efficient home heating and cooling technologies cost-effective. In mild climates, heat pumps are significantly cheaper to own and operate than furnaces or zonal heating systems, such as baseboard, wall or cable ceiling heaters.

At the most basic level, heat pumps are heat exchangers. The units don’t generate heat, they move it. In practice that means a heat pump extracts heat from the air outside your home in the winter–and transfers it into our homes to warm them up. In summer, the process is reversed; heat is pulled out of our home and transferred outside, cooling the indoor air.

The three most popular heat pump types in our region are air source, ductless (mini-splits) and geothermal. Selecting the right version for you depends on your home’s conditions and your budget.

Air source heat pumps are the most commonly used in Southwest Washington. They connect to a home’s air duct system and supplement a furnace. These heat pumps can be more than twice as efficient as electric resistance heating systems, such as baseboard heaters. Plus, they offer air conditioning in the summer months.

“Depending on the unit and existing heating system, Clark Public Utilities offers a rebate between $250 and $1,000 to customers who install a heat pump,” Clark Public Utilities energy services project manager Matt Babbitts said.

Duct systems are expensive to install if an existing home doesn’t have one, and some homes simply don’t have the space to accommodate ducting. Ductless heat pumps, also called “mini-splits,” avoid that issue with a wall-mounted head unit. The unit sits high and out of the way on a wall and connects to a unit mounting outside.

To keep a home comfortable year-round, ductless systems must be properly sized relative to the space they’ll heat and cool. Otherwise the system is overworked and operates less efficiently, or the system is too large and costs more than is necessary.

“Generally, ductless systems are cheaper to purchase and operate than air source heat pumps,” Babbitts said. “But the costs can add up pretty quickly if a homeowner installs more than one head unit in the home so we recommend multiple bids from contractors who participate in our Contractor Network.”

The utility also offers generous incentives and affordable loans for ductless and air source heat pumps, terms and conditions apply. To qualify for any incentives, the work must be completed by a contractor in the utility’s network.

The least common type of heat pump in our region is the geothermal heat pump. Rather than pulling heat from the air, this type pulls it from deep underground.

Air Cooled Chiller

“Geothermal systems are very efficient, but only make financial sense in homes that are 4,500 square feet or more,” Babbitts said. “For most homeowners the operational savings will never overtake the cost of the initial investment.”

Call Energy Services at 360-992-3355 to learn more about rebate eligibility, finance options, and our Contractor Network.

Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.

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