Today's Heat Pumps: That Cozy Comfort Feeling, Decades in the Making

History of Heat Pumps Popularity

Like phones, televisions, and even cars, today’s split heat pump systems are very different from the originals installed in homes decades ago. Over time, their indoor comfort effectiveness and energy-efficient heat transfer properties have allowed heat pumps to grow in popularity - gaining approval from homeowners across the country.

Evolution of the Heat Pump


Every generation is shaped by world events and major cultural, political, and economic influences. These events have also impacted the evolution and popularity of the split system heat pump. Let’s take a look at the generational breakdown of the evolution of the split system heat pump:

  • Baby Boomer (born approximately between 1946 and 1964): In the 1950 and 60s, heat pumps were becoming an electric heating option for the residential marketplace. By the late 1960s, the average Baby Boomer was in their 20s and purchasing their first home. Suburban neighborhoods continued to expand across the country. Although air conditioners were available in some of these new homes, heat pumps were not a conventional heat source.

    According to the 1960 US Census, only 1.8% of homes used electricity as a source of heat.1 Nearly 81% used some form of ‘fuel’ to keep their home warm in the cold months of the year.1 By the 1970 US Census, 7.7% of households used electricity as a source of heat.1
  • Generation X (born approximately between 1965 to1980): By the 1970s, the oil crisis was in full swing with many Generation Xers witnessing the full brunt of its impacts. As a result of the crisis, the heat pump became a more popular choice for heating and cooling homes because they used electricity instead of fuel.2 The decreased supply of fuel increased the cost, which may have played a significant factor in this growth. By 1980, 18.4% of homes used electricity as a source of heat, more than doubling the rate of the previous decade.3 

    Before 1980, the heat pump may have been merely an available alternative to fuel. Heat pumps, which have energy-efficient heat transfer properties, had a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating (SEER) of 6 or less and a Heating Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF) of below 5. Energy-efficiency and conservation didn’t seem to be the primary objective. By 1992, the energy conservation movement was in full swing, and Generation X’s push for more energy-efficient products was evident. As a result, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) raised the minimum energy-efficiency standards of heat pumps to 10 SEER/ 6.8 HSPF.
  • Millennial (born approximately between 1981 and 1994): By the early 2000s, the average Millennial was a teenager, and energy-efficiency was a mainstream concept. Energy conservation and minimizing environmental impacts continued to be an actionable priority. By 2006, the DOE raised the minimum required SEER/HSPF standards for split system heat pumps from 10 SEER/6.8 HSPF to 13 SEER/7.7 HSPF nationwide.4 

    By 2015, Millennials became the largest sector in the U.S. labor force, and the DOE once again raised the minimum SEER/HSPF requirement for split system heat pumps (currently at 14 SEER/8.2 HSPF).4

    Energy efficiency continues to be a hot topic for Millennials. 
  • Generation Z (1995 to early 2000s): The idea of energy efficiency continues to be a priority. This momentum may continue to increase with a push from the socially aware Generation Z. There is already an effort to increase the current SEER standard to 15 SEER by 2023.

    Over the next ten years, as the majority of Generation Zs enter the realm of home ownership, smart devices, and home automation will most likely be ingrained into their lifestyles. Particular heating and cooling equipment companies are taking notice of the trends now so that a new, smart generation of indoor comfort equipment will be readily available in the future.

    What will a split system heat pump look like for a generation that never experienced life without a smartphone? Will their expectations of “normal” extend to home heating and cooling? Only time will tell!

More Heat Pump Options


Historically, air source heat pumps were only installed for homes in milder climates. However, in recent years, they have been working their way north, creating a cozy, comfortable electric heating alternative for homes in colder regions. Today’s heat pumps systems are now being installed from Alaska to Florida.5

Unlike the heat pump systems of the past, some of today’s models are equipped with variable-speed or dual-speed motors on their indoor fans (blowers), outdoor fans, or both. According to the Department of Energy, “The variable-speed controls for these fans attempt to keep the air moving at a comfortable velocity, minimizing cool drafts and maximizing electrical savings.”6 A heat pump system with this technology may improve your comfort level when compared to a single speed heat pump system.

Additional advancements, including design and engineering evolutions, smart controls, and other mechanics that simplify installation have also impacted the indoor comfort and energy costs associated with residential heat pumps.

"Smart" Home Comfort

Years ago, smart home technology was only depicted in Hollywood blockbusters or reserved for the ultra-wealthy. However, the increase in availability and reduced cost of smart products have created a smart home marketplace boom. Tech-savvy homeowners are increasingly looking for ways to connect technology with their home…and heating and cooling manufacturers are taking notice.

Numerous smart thermostats now offer a wide range of control features and connectivity with virtual assistants and smartphones, making it easier to align your heat pump operation with your lifestyle. As technology continues to become more integrated into heating and cooling equipment, the future of heat pumps will most likely evolve.

There may come a time when you ‘expect’ your heat pump to directly communicate status updates to you or your local, professional HVAC dealer. Imagine a technician contacting you because they received a diagnosis notification from your heat pump. This technician could potentially arrive at your home for a repair or proactive maintenance before you ever experience an uncomfortable temperature in your home.

Just like today’s generation will never know life without smartphone technology, future generations may never know what it is like to walk into a hot home on a sweltering day! Isn’t that a comforting thought! 

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1, 3  United States Census Bureau. (2011, October 31). Historical Census of Housing Tables. Retrieved from Census of Housing:
2 Cormany, Charles. The Perfect Solution, and Why it is Not Working. 19 January 2017. 30 July 2017.
4 Pew Research Center. The Generations Defined. 8 May 2015. 28 July 2017.
5 Department of Energy. Heat Pump Systems. n.d.:
6 Vanessa Stevens, Colin Craven, Robbin Garber-Slaght. Air Source Heat Pumps in Southeast Alaska. Fairbanks: Cold Climate Housing Research Center, 2013.