My electric heat pump kept my house warm on Denver’s coldest day in 60 years without burning natural gas. Ditching gas for electricity is also cutting my Xcel bill and fighting climate change.

Now, millions in funding through Denver’s relaunched Climate Action Rebate program and the federal government’s Inflation Reduction Act can do the same for you.

When my furnace died in March 2022, I replaced it with an efficient electric heat pump. However, several HVAC contractors tried to steer me back toward a new furnace, claiming heat pumps couldn’t handle Colorado winters.

December 22nd put this myth to rest. Despite a full day of negative temperatures, averaging -15°F, my heat pump kept my house a toasty 70°F.

Older heat pumps weren’t designed for this weather, and contractors who installed them in cold climates got burned, creating distrust among HVAC professionals. But technology has made great leaps, and today’s models are fully capable.

Instead of burning polluting fossil fuels, heat pumps use electricity and refrigerants to pull heat from outside air, making them more than three times as efficient as gas furnaces for most of the year. They also work seamlessly in reverse to cool your home.

Extremely cold temperatures can mean heat pumps temporarily lose their efficiency edge, when they work harder to pull warmth from freezing air, sometimes needing support from a secondary heat source installed inside the pump’s air handler. However, these days are rare, with Denver dropping below zero about five times annually.

Upgrading any HVAC system can be a hassle, but the switch can make your home more comfortable, save you money, and help halt climate change.

Installing my heat pump upgraded my home’s cooling system by removing my aging swamp coolers, which had high annual startup and winterization costs for poor temperature control. I now have just one system to maintain for both heating and cooling, and it requires less upkeep than either my swamp coolers or gas furnace on their own.

My heat pump also slashed my winter gas use 90%. My November-December energy bill was $50 less than I calculated I would have spent if I had heated only with gas, the price of which is skyrocketing. Heat pumps generally save cold-climate homeowners hundreds annually on energy bills.

Switching from gas to electric will help meet Denver’s goal of eliminating planet-heating emissions by 2040 and Colorado’s plan to cut these emissions 90% by 2050. Natural gas is a potent greenhouse gas that is contributing to dangerous climate change. Burning gas in our homes and buildings contributes a third of citywide emissions—not to mention harmful air pollution—and highly-efficient electric heat pumps are the best way to reduce these emissions.

Xcel aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions from electricity 85% by 2030 and deliver 100% clean electricity by 2050, meaning the electricity powering our heat pumps will get cleaner every year. Meanwhile, as a fossil fuel, gas will always worsen climate change.

Transitioning to high-performance electric appliances while cleaning our electricity supply can help prevent climate change’s worst consequences. But, while heat pumps are generally cheaper to run compared to furnaces, they’re still more expensive to install. Government incentives can help people make the switch by cutting upfront costs.

☀ MORE IN OPINION

Denver’s Climate Action Rebates helped me get off gas, but high demand meant the funds quickly ran out. Luckily, the city is re-opening the program for 2023, providing up to $3,500 per heat pump. Even better, the new Inflation Reduction Act includes up to $8,000 per heat pump for low- and moderate-income households, likely available later this year. Both programs also cover other home efficiency and electrification upgrades and can be combined with each other and Xcel’s $1,000 per heat pump rebate for maximum savings.

Colorado’s state and local governments can capitalize on this momentum by offering low-interest loans to finance installations, adopting all-electric building codes, and expanding workforce training and contractor education.

Greater heat pump demand spurred by incentives will boost contractor experience and local supply chains. This will drive lower installation costs, wait times, and logistical headaches long after rebates expire. It’ll also create local jobs.

New incentives and improved technology mean there’s never been a better time to ditch gas for cheap, efficient, pollution-free heat pumps. Rest assured, they’ll keep you warm through our state’s most extreme weather.


Dan Esposito, of Denver, is a senior policy analyst at Energy Innovation, a nonpartisan climate and energy policy think tank.

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Dan Esposito

Dan Esposito, of Denver, is a senior policy analyst at Energy Innovation, a nonpartisan climate and energy policy think tank.