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Planning for a Heat Pump Furnace in Michigan

Our gas furnace has been loud for a while, and getting louder. We got a furnace check-up this fall and the technician said, that noise is your inducer motor. They fail often on these furnaces and your furnace is old. Sounds like yours is on its way out.

I started researching electric replacements for gas furnaces, i.e., heat pumps. That picked up in early January, when my friend George sent me the hot-off-the-press guide from Rewiring America, Electrify Everything In Your Home.

The day after I started reading it, I woke up to a chilly home. The inducer motor had failed.

Thanks to two responsive HVAC companies, the heat was back on 36 hours later. Thanks to my neighbors, and our block’s email list, I borrowed a half-dozen space heaters that kept the home in the upper 40s.

We ended up replacing the inducer motor ($1,500) instead of getting a new, similar gas furnace (~$5,500). Not a smart financial move if we were sticking with gas, given that the furnace itself is 20 years old.

But I’m planning to take the plunge on an electric heat-pump unit. Hopefully this buys me warmth for the rest of the winter and I can do the research and swap in the spring or summer.

The man from the first HVAC company did not like that I said no thanks to the new furnace, since I was thinking about a heat pump. He told me, those don’t work in Michigan. Too cold.

Rewiring America says that’s a common misconception. That the technology has gotten better and there are heat pumps keeping people warm in America’s coldest states. And there are companies installing them in Michigan. Not the first company, as you might guess.

I believe Rewiring America on this one. But say that on the coldest nights of winter, a heat pump furnace just couldn’t keep my house at 67 degrees – that would be acceptable. I’d put on another sweater. In this day and age where, as Dr. Mindy says in Don’t Look Up, “we really [do] have everything,” it would qualify as a fun little adventure.

To those who repeat “heat pumps don’t work in the cold,” here’s what really doesn’t work: burning fossil fuels. We need to electrify everything to keep the planet liveable. Installing a new gas furnace that will combust methane into CO2 for another two decades is not an option. Gas appliances that fail now must be replaced with their electric counterparts.

The IPCC notes plainly that averting the worst of the climate catastrophe will require “far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” Replacing a gas furnace with a heat pump is about as not-disruptive as this change gets. It just requires some money and research, both of which I am thankful that I can muster.

Of course, for this sort of replacement to be universal, we’ll need more than just individual actions. Think affordable, high-quality units produced at huge scale, with subsidized installation programs creating thousands of good jobs. A Planet To Win describes what this might look like, down to the installation of millions of energy-efficient windows.

But in the meantime, it’s not on me to solve that big problem. This easy opportunity fell into my lap. I hope I can report back next winter that my electric heat pump is keeping me comfortably warm.

4 replies on “Planning for a Heat Pump Furnace in Michigan”

Sam! I just watched a This Old House video about new generation heat pumps and got super interested because it seems like the tech has come a long way… they don’t mention manufacturers but definitely gives a good overview

Good to hear from you, Vicky! Thanks for the link, I will check it out as I do my research this spring and summer.

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