Chart: Which states have the most heat pumps?

More than 17 million U.S. homes have central heat pumps. Most of them are in states you might not expect.
By Maria Virginia Olano

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Canary Media’s chart of the week translates crucial data about the clean energy transition into a visual format.

Heat pumps have been in the news a lot lately, but they’re not new. These energy-efficient electric devices can both heat and cool homes, and climate advocates are pushing for their adoption in order to shift away from fossil-fueled heating systems. Yet plenty of homes in the U.S. already have them — and perhaps not in the states you would expect.

There are currently more than 17.5 million central heat pumps installed in housing units across the United States, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, mostly in Southern states. More than 40% of homes in South Carolina, North Carolina and Alabama use heat pumps for heating — compared to 17% nationwide and only 5% in climate-friendly California. Florida and Texas have the highest total number of heat pumps installed.

Heat pumps’ popularity in Southern states is due in part to the fact that many homes in the South are already all-electric; they don’t have gas connections. The South is the U.S. region that’s most reliant on electricity for heating and least reliant on direct use of gas or other fossil fuels. Another factor at play is the age of housing stock. As Bloomberg News recently explained, States where a lot of the housing was built before World War II, and where gas distribution networks were established long ago, are less likely to have a lot of all-electric homes.”

Heat pumps have also been slower to penetrate in northern states because older versions did not perform as well in freezing-cold temperatures. But new heat pumps are much improved in this regard. A recent study in Maine found that newer heat pumps were both effective and efficient at keeping homes warm during the state’s famously chilly winters.

One amazing thing about heat pumps is that they can also serve as air conditioners during hot weather — a service that homes in the northern U.S. will increasingly need as climate change brings more summer heat waves. Every minute, 12 new central AC units are installed in homes in the U.S. Both homeowners and the climate would benefit if people got dual-purpose heat pumps instead of single-purpose AC units. But while heat pumps are gaining market share, they still have a long way to go — in 2021, nearly 4 million heat pumps were sold, compared to 6 million central AC units.

The Inflation Reduction Act should help boost the adoption of heat pumps. It offers homeowners tax credits for installing them, including especially generous incentives for low-income households.

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Maria Virginia Olano is chief of staff at Canary Media.