How Low Should I Operate my Heat Pump?

UPDATED: Break Even COP’s for MA

How do you know if you should install a ductless mini-split, or upgrade your air-conditioner to a heat-pump and create a dual-source application during replacement this Winter?  I have been asked this countless times over the past week!  I personally always prefer the option of multiple fuel sources, particularly since energy prices have been all over the place during the last decade.  Fortunately, using averaged energy prices, there is some simple math to figure out if an aggressive assessment should be made for a dual-source heat pump application, based on equations from ACCA's Manual H: "Heat Pump Systems: Principles and Applications".  First, you will need the average energy costs for the selected fuels, and then plug the information into the equations below.  This will provide your "break-even COP", or the point where operating the heat pump will cost the same as the other source.  You can then take the calculated Coefficient of Performance (COP) and see what temperature the heat pump will be operating at; the lower the better!


I completed a little research for you, so let us insert the recent average prices into the Natural Gas, Oil, and Propane equations to see if the investment in a heat pump will make sense during replacement, or become your primary source of heat – and to what temperature.


As you can see, if installing a 96% Natural Gas furnace, the Break-Even COP would be 3.9.  Based on the Heating Performance Data for Fujitsu’s most efficient 12K RLS2 Heat Pump, it would need to be above 60F outdoors for the cost to operate the heat pump to be cheaper than the Natural Gas Furnace (see data at bottom, assuming 70F Indoor Temperature).


Not all homes in MA are lucky to have access to a Natural Gas supply.  There are more than enough Oil Tanks out there to keep the hundreds of delivery companies busy during most New England winters.  As you can see in the equation for oil, a resulting break-even COP of 2.6 indicates a significant savings can be realized. Based on installing an extremely efficient 87% oil furnace and the same heat pump performance data, the heat pump would still be cheaper to operate as low as 20F.  Of course, you must worry about the output of the heat pump at that low ambient, and in order to feel comfortable you will need to calculate the Thermal Balance Point.


If you decide to install a Propane tank you could realize the same efficiencies as the natural gas furnaces out there, but the increased costs in fuel/delivery is currently higher than oil, particularly when including a recent oil price plunge.  As you can see, the break even COP for installing a heat pump add-on above a 96% Propane Furnace is only 1.45.  This is even lower than the Oil application, resulting in a break-even COP of -15F, proving the recommendation of a more thorough calculation into the Thermal Balance Point and investment costs for going to Dual Source.


          With the recent technological advancements in the HVAC industry in controls and conventionally ducted VRF's like the Carrier GreenSpeed, break even COP's and Thermal Balance Points can be driven even lower.  This makes Dual Source Heat pump applications more attracting to New England homeowners, despite recent electric rate hikes.  Some contractors are still installing electric supplemental heat, hopefully in stages, for low-ambient operation.  Although not any more efficient than the heat strips it replaced, the new heat pumps could save more than enough above the temperature of the defrost cycle to still be worth it.  I would still prefer dual-source, you know these energy companies will not be leaving any money on the table over the long run!


E-mail me when people leave their comments –

You need to be a member of Building Performance Community to add comments!

Join Building Performance Community


  • Peak energy use is a summer issue. TOU rates apply. Located in OKC. That's why I mentioned local rates structures vary A LOT.
  • Great points Bob!  Can I ask where you are located?  Here in MA, our utility providers have a tiered structure to charge more when using more...I guess it depends on when, or even if, you have a peak demand problem in your locale.  These demand issues are well documented on the West Coast and where I live in the Northeast.  Although we still do maintain a minimum monthly service using less or least is only beneficial to that point.

  • Don't forget to account for meter/delivery charges when comparing the costs of various fuels. Some charges change with use, others are "fixed". Some utilities tier their rates. Our utilities have a "negative tier" where they charge LESS per KWH/Therm as you use more per month.

    The NG company charges $176/yr in monthly meter charges plus $3.73 per DTH if you use less than 50DTH per year. If you use more than 50DTH you pay a flat $363/yr but no per DTH delivery charges. The NG itself runs about $5/DTH and varies month to month. Go dual fuel and get under 50DTH/yr, you will be effectively charged a higher "per therm" rate from the NG company.

    The electric company has a similar deal, all use over 600KWH is 6 cents instead of the normal 11 cent winter rate. The electric company only does this in the winter, summer rates are higher once you go over 1400KWH.

This reply was deleted.
Don Fugler replied to Tom Phillips's discussion Kitchen Ventilation Resources in Kitchen Ventilation
"Another general resource is the indoor air quality guidelines of Health Canada at:
These are particularly important if you would like to have some basic information on the health…"
Don Fugler replied to Don Fugler's discussion Links to resources in Low-cost residential particle monitoring
"Here is a link to the Health Canada site that references indoor air quality guidelines:
If you want to explore the arcane world of oxides of nitrogen or volatile organic…"
Joe Hughes posted a blog post
This week we welcome back one of our favorite medical contributors and epidemiology of infectious disease expert, Dr. Alan P. Zelicoff MD. Dr. Zelicoff has been educating the IAQ Radio+ audience about biological weapons and infectious diseases since…
ovacen liked Emily Ambrose's video
Emily Ambrose posted a video
Video has long been recognized as a vital communications tool for contractors, particularly around some of the complex topics in building science and renewables. But in 2020, Energy Circle saw breakout performance from video as it turned from just…
Emily Ambrose posted a blog post
 - By Jake VP, Content Writer Even after all of our meetings here at Energy Circle had gone virtual, one part of our everyday office conversations remained: We loved to talk about the latest streaming series and movies we’ve all been watching at…
Horace Douglas Hunt, Jr. replied to Diane Chojnowski's discussion States & Cities Are Driving Climate & Clean Energy Progress
"Good article. Maybe one day soon Clean Air wont be thought of as "Unachieable". "
Mark Fetsko @ULTRA*GLAZE, LLC liked Mark Fetsko @ULTRA*GLAZE, LLC's blog post Winter Window Inserts
Emily Ambrose’s video was featured
The federal solar tax credit (ITC), has long reigned as one of solar energy’s most important demand drivers. But the turmoil in Washington and the step downs in the credit have created some market uncertainty and confusion in the minds of solar…
Building Performance Association’s blog post was featured
Last week, the Building Performance Association submitted comments on the Pennsylvania Environmental Quality Board’s (EQB) proposed amendment to Chapter 145 to establish a trading program for carbon dioxide emissions and join the Regional Greenhouse…
Building Performance Association posted a blog post
Last week, the Building Performance Association submitted comments on the Pennsylvania Environmental Quality Board’s (EQB) proposed amendment to Chapter 145 to establish a trading program for carbon dioxide emissions and join the Regional Greenhouse…
Building Performance Association’s blog post was featured
Late last year, on December 27, 2020, Congress passed and the President signed a massive end-of-year package that included FY2021 government funding, a small-scale energy bill, a tax extension, and COVID relief provisions.
Following is a brief…