The Inevitable Heat Pump Post (Part 1)

Hello again everyone!

Just a reminder that if you’re interested in posts that do not have math in them, please visit the Snowy Brook Facebook page for relevant, interesting farm stories, and not the ramblings of a middle-aged farmhand.

With that out of the way… since it’s snowing today, I think we’ll make today’s topic about HVAC! Buckle up folks

Northern Country Livin’ ™ has its advantages. Cheap land. Serene snowfalls. Waking up an hour before sunrise because your chickens want the world to know that they are both alive and sexually active. But one thing that’s not great about Northern Country Livin’ ™ is the heating bill. Rural areas don’t have access to cheap natural gas, and many homes around here are reliant on heating with propane (or worse, heating oil). At $2.50 for a gallon of propane, you’re looking at $2000+ a winter to heat a typical Buffalonian home to a reasonable temperature (my parents would make it clear that the 63F we heat it to here is NOT reasonable). But folks, it’s 2024. Technology has improved! That’s why we kicked our propane furnace to the curb and got a heat pump installed instead. WARNING! Math is coming

Yes, a heat pump! It’s exactly like an air conditioner, but with a reversing valve that lets it also heat in the winter. For decades, these devices weren’t really an option in northern climates. They work by extracting heat from the air outside and moving it into your home. In Buffalo, heat can be hard to find in the outdoor air in winter. But in the last decade, technology has vastly improved, and heat pumps can now work efficiently even in our climate. How efficiently? Math time!

Electrical resistance heating produces 3,412 Btus of heat per every kWh of electric consumed. In a climate like Buffalo, a typical modern air-source heat pump will run with a seasonally-averaged efficiency of ~3 (COP=3) times more efficient than electrical resistance heating over the course of a winter.

1 kWh of heat pump = 3,412 x 3 =  10236 Btus of heat

The cost of electric where we are is $0.138 per kWh.

So the cost to create one thousand Btus of heat with a heat pump is $0.138/10.236 = $0.0134

Let’s put that nifty result on the whiteboard and store it for later

(Yes, Snowy Brook Farm has a whiteboard. Yes, there does appear to be a list of favorite foods on the left. Yes a story on why we have a massive whiteboard and the top 10 food list would be much more interesting than unit conversion post. In due time, friends. In due time…)

Alright, let’s do the same for propane!

1 gallon of propane burned in a 95% efficient furnace = 87,000 Btus of heat

The cost of propane where we are is $2.50 per gallon.

So the cost to create one thousand Btus of heat with a propane furnace is $2.50/87 =$0.0287

Let’s add that nifty result to the whiteboard

There you have it! $0.0134 <<<< $0.0287. At current utility prices here, switching from propane to a heat pump will more than halve your heating bill. And so that’s exactly what Snowy Brook Farm did! Well, sort of…

Tune in next week for the thrilling conclusion of The Inevitable Heat Pump Post! If you enjoy trenches, digging trenches, or looking at trenches dug by someone else, you won’t want to miss this!