How Dual-Fuel Heat Pumps Work

Many people start the process of selecting a home heating or cooling system by settling on a single fuel source, such as heating oil, natural gas or electricity. If you're looking for a new heating or cooling system you may be surprised to learn that choosing fuel for your system doesn't have to be an either/or decision; dual-fuel heat pumps are designed to burn both heating oil or electricity, switching seamlessly between the two to maximize efficiency and comfort while keeping energy costs at a minimum. Even better, these systems provide both heating and cooling, which means only one system to maintain and operate year-round. 

System Overview

Dual-fuel heat pumps fit right to your existing oil furnace to form a single unit. Throughout the summer, the heat pump will cool the house just like a central air conditioning system would. In the spring and fall, the heat pump provides energy efficient heat by extracting heat energy from the outdoors and moving it inside. When the weather gets cold during the winter, the oil furnace automatically takes over heating duty, burning oil for heat when it's just too cold outside for the heat pump to keep up. 


To understand why these systems make sense, it's helpful to understand the efficiency ratings of each of these fuels. A very efficient oil furnace could have an efficiency of 90 percent or more. That means that 90 percent of the energy consumed by the furnace is transformed into heat. Heat pumps, on the other hand, have efficiency ratings between 150 and 300 percent, which means that they generate more heat energy than they consume. If you have a standard heat pump, when it gets too cold outside for the unit to work, an inefficient and expensive electric backup heater kicks on to keep you warm. Dual-fuel heat pumps save you big bucks by using oil as a backup when it's really cold, rather than costly electric heating.


Dual-fuel heat pumps also provide a great deal of flexibility and convenience. When operated properly, they provide maximum efficiency, which means you don't waste money or inefficient heat sources. They also provide a bit of wiggle room if you accidentally run out of heating fuel earlier than you expect; with a standard oil furnace, running out of fuel means no heat, while dual-fuel systems allow you to use the electric backup component on the heat pump for emergency heat while you wait for the oil truck to arrive. 


Expect to pay about 20 to 25 percent more for a dual-fuel heat pump than a standard central air conditioner. While this may seem like a lot of money upfront, keep in mind that these systems offer substantial savings over time by maximizing efficiency and keeping monthly energy bills at the lowest possible level.

For more information, contact a local heating expert (such as Enright and Sons).