What Is The Downside To A Heat Pump?

The High Upfront Cost

One of the biggest downsides to a heat pump is the high upfront cost compared to traditional heating and cooling systems. Installing a heat pump system can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 depending on the size of your home and the type of heat pump you choose. This is significantly more expensive than installing a traditional furnace or air conditioner, which typically costs between $2,000 and $6,000.

There are a few reasons heat pumps are more expensive upfront:

  • Heat pumps are more complex systems that require specialized equipment like air handlers and condensers.
  • Installation costs are higher since more ductwork and electrical work is usually needed.
  • Top-of-the-line cold climate heat pumps with advanced technology have higher price tags.

While heat pumps have higher upfront costs, keep in mind that they can pay for themselves over time through energy savings. The increased efficiency of heat pumps compared to conventional HVAC systems means lower monthly utility bills that offset the initial investment over the lifespan of the equipment. Still, the high upfront price tag makes heat pumps less accessible and is a key downside compared to cheaper alternatives.

Efficiency in Extreme Temps

One downside to heat pumps is that they lose efficiency in very cold or hot weather. Heat pumps work by transferring heat between the inside and outside of a home. But when outside temperatures dip below freezing or rise above 100°F, there is less of a temperature difference between the indoor and outdoor air. This makes it more difficult for the heat pump to extract or dissipate heat.
an image of a heat pump struggling to extract heat on a very cold day

In extremely cold climates, heat pumps will often have a backup electric resistance heater to provide supplemental heating when temperatures drop. But running this backup heater uses a lot more electricity, reducing the efficiency of the system. In very hot weather, heat pumps may struggle to remove heat from indoor air, causing some loss of cooling capacity.

Newer heat pump models with inverter technology can operate efficiently across a wider temperature range. But in general, extreme cold or hot weather will result in lower efficiency compared to moderate temperatures. This can lead to higher energy bills for heating and cooling.


One potential downside of heat pumps is that they can generate noise from the outdoor compressor unit. This is especially true with older models of heat pumps that tend to be louder than newer, advanced models. The compressor has to run quite frequently to transfer heat between the indoor and outdoor coils, which can lead to an irritating humming or buzzing sound outside your home.

Newer heat pump models have gotten much quieter thanks to improved compressor insulation, vibration dampening, and fan designs. However, even new heat pumps generate some noise when the compressor is running. This noise can be an annoyance for homeowners, especially if the outdoor unit is located close to windows or patios.

If noise from the outdoor compressor is a major concern, it’s recommended to locate the heat pump unit as far from gathering areas as possible. You can also install sound dampening materials or barriers around the outdoor unit to help reduce noise. Some homeowners report the heat pump noise is only noticeable for the first year or so as they adjust to the new system. Overall, noise issues should be considered when deciding whether a heat pump is the right heating and cooling system for your home.

Space Requirements

One potential downside of a heat pump is the amount of space the outdoor unit requires. Heat pumps have an outdoor compressor unit that is typically installed on the ground or mounted on the exterior wall of a home. This unit is often large, roughly the size of a refrigerator or even larger depending on the heating and cooling capacity required.

Finding sufficient clear space for the outdoor unit may be a challenge, especially for homes or properties with limited yard space. The unit will require several feet of clearance around it for proper airflow, and some local building codes have specific setback requirements from property lines or windows. This may rule out certain installation locations. Proper placement is important so the unit has room to function efficiently without creating noise disturbances or being an eyesore.

In some situations like tall apartment buildings, creative solutions like mounting the outdoor unit on the roof or balconies may be required. The logistics of installing, accessing, and servicing the equipment in these scenarios can present difficulties. Overall, the footprint of a heat pump outdoor unit is something to consider when deciding if it will work for your specific home set-up. Careful planning of the placement is key.


While heat pumps require less maintenance than furnaces or boilers, they do need some regular upkeep to operate efficiently and safely. Experts recommend having a professional service technician perform annual maintenance on the heat pump system.

During the maintenance visit, the technician will inspect the refrigerant levels, clean the coils, check for leaks or damage, lubricate moving parts, and confirm proper airflow. They may also replace filters and do performance testing to ensure the heat pump is working correctly.

Lack of maintenance can lead to reduced efficiency, higher energy bills, and costly repairs down the line. Refrigerant leaks, dirty coils, and worn parts will make the system work harder to maintain comfortable temperatures. Catching and addressing any issues promptly through regular maintenance helps avoid complete system failure.

In addition to annual maintenance, heat pump owners may need to occasionally repair or replace components like fan motors, capacitors, contactors, defrost controls, and more over the lifespan of the system. While the maintenance costs are higher than a furnace or boiler, a well-maintained heat pump can last 15-20 years.

Air Flow Issues

One potential downside to heat pumps is that they can have air flow problems if not properly sized for the space they are heating and cooling. Heat pumps work by moving air over the evaporator and condenser coils to provide heating and cooling. If the unit is too small for the size of the home, it may not be able to push enough air through the coils to reach all the rooms efficiently. This can lead to hot/cold spots or the system having to work harder to condition the air, reducing efficiency.

To avoid air flow issues, it’s important to have a heat pump professionally sized based on calculations of your home’s insulation value, window area, and other factors that determine heating/cooling loads. A unit that is too small will likely have trouble providing adequate air flow, while a unit that is oversized could short cycle and lead to uneven temperatures. Proper sizing, installation, and regular maintenance are key to ensuring a heat pump system provides consistent heating and cooling throughout the home.


The outdoor heat pump unit is typically installed on the exterior of a home, either on the ground, roof, or wall. Some homeowners may find the appearance of the outdoor unit to be unsightly or detract from their home’s curb appeal. The unit can be several feet tall and wide, with metal casing and noisy fan blades. Those seeking a clean, minimalist look may dislike having a large mechanical appliance visibly mounted on their home’s exterior.

Potential solutions are to install landscaping, fencing, or decorative covers to mask the outdoor unit from sight. However, these additions require extra costs and maintenance. Ultimately, those prioritizing aesthetics over functionality may find heat pumps visually unappealing. Carefully selecting the location and size of the outdoor unit can help minimize the impact on a home’s look. But for some homeowners, even a compact, discretely positioned unit may be considered an eyesore.


One potential downside of heat pumps is that they do not provide ventilation on their own. Unlike traditional HVAC systems that bring in outdoor air, heat pumps simply recirculate indoor air. This can lead to poor indoor air quality and stuffiness if fresh air is not introduced into the home through other means.

Without proper ventilation, pollutants like dust, pet dander, cooking odors, and VOCs from furniture and cleaning products can build up inside. Stale air can also lead to condensation and humidity issues. Proper ventilation is important for health and preventing mold/mildew growth.

Luckily, there are solutions for integrating ventilation with a heat pump system. Some options include:

  • Installing a dedicated fresh air ventilation system
  • Using a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) or energy recovery ventilator (ERV)
  • Cracking windows periodically
  • Running bath and kitchen exhaust fans

As long as the ventilation concern is addressed through one of these add-ons, a heat pump can provide healthy and comfortable indoor air quality.

Humidity Control

One downside of heat pumps is that they can struggle with humidity control in some climates. In humid environments, heat pumps may not be able to effectively remove moisture from the air. This can lead to high indoor humidity levels which can cause mold, mildew, and general discomfort.

Heat pumps work by extracting heat from the outside air. But when they extract heat, they also extract moisture. This moisture then accumulates inside the home. In damp climates, the moisture extracted may be excessive, overwhelming the heat pump’s ability to remove it from the indoor air.

Some heat pumps come with built-in dehumidifiers to help with moisture control. But their capacity is limited. Standalone dehumidifiers or additional ventilation may be needed in humid climates, adding to cost and complexity.

Humidity control can be a significant downside in locations prone to high humidity. Careful system sizing and extra dehumidification equipment may be required to maintain indoor air quality.

Alternatives to Heat Pumps

When considering a heat pump, it can be helpful to compare it to some other common HVAC systems like traditional furnaces, air conditioners, and geothermal systems. Here’s a quick pros vs cons look at some of the alternatives:



  • Lower upfront cost than a heat pump
  • Tried and true familiar technology
  • Provides strong heating performance


  • Doesn’t provide cooling
  • Less energy efficient for heating than a heat pump
  • Relies on fossil fuels instead of renewable electricity

Central Air Conditioner


  • Lower upfront cost than a heat pump
  • Provides highly effective cooling


  • Doesn’t provide heating
  • Less energy efficient than a heat pump

Geothermal Heat Pump


  • Extremely energy efficient for both heating and cooling
  • Can last over 20 years with proper maintenance
  • Provides consistent comfort in all seasons


  • Very high upfront cost for installation
  • Lots of land space needed for ground loops
  • Complex overall system

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