This story is part of The Salt Lake Tribune’s ongoing commitment to identify solutions to Utah’s biggest challenges through the work of the Innovation Lab.
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Here are the modern options for home heating, starting with the least polluting option at the top.
A heat pump can heat and cool a space by transferring heat in or out. It’s electrically powered, so no natural gas is required, and no emissions are produced from the house. It can cost up to $20,000 or more for installation in an average house. In new construction, there is savings in not having to install ductwork or gas lines. Rocky Mountain Power offers rebates of up to $1,600. In a well-insulated home, operating costs are roughly equal to a traditional furnace and air conditioner, but it all comes in the electric bill.
‘Dual fuel’ heat pump
This also handles summer and winter in one unit, and it also transfers heat rather than creates it, except on the coldest days, when a small gas furnace kicks in. It has the lower energy and lower pollution benefits of a heat pump, but it’s not emission-free on the coldest days. Prices run higher than regular heat pumps, and installation requires electricity and a gas line. Operating costs are similar to regular heat pumps, with the addition of a small gas bill in winter. For dual fuel, Dominion Energy adds up to $800 in additional rebate to Rocky Mountain’s rebate.
Gas furnace and swamp cooler
A gas furnace heats in winter, and an evaporative cooler cools in summer. This is the low-price leader, although cooling isn’t as effective on humid days. The furnace still adds to winter pollution. Installation costs are lower (under $10,000) because swamp coolers cost considerably less than air conditioners, and operating costs also are lower in summer because coolers are also cheaper to run than air conditioners.
Note • While combining a heat pump with a swamp cooler is theoretically possible, it’s not recommended. Heat pumps are essentially air conditioners in summer, and swamp coolers and air conditioners should not be used to cool the same space.
Gas furnace and electric air conditioner
This is the traditional choice found in most Utah homes. A central natural gas-fueled furnace produces heat in winter that is ducted throughout the house. In summer, an electric-powered air conditioner provides cooling through the same ductwork. The furnace adds to winter pollution. A new furnace and air conditioner for an average home can run $10,000 or more installed.
Tim Fitzpatrick is The Salt Lake Tribune’s renewable energy reporter, a position funded by a grant from Rocky Mountain Power. The Tribune retains all control over editorial decisions independent of Rocky Mountain Power.