Not every high-efficiency heating solution is appropriate for every climate. Deserts offer unique challenges that make finding the right solution a little more challenging. Use this guide to learn more about those challenges, the systems that offer improved efficiency, how they compare to traditional systems, and what you need to know to maintain the efficiency you’re seeking.

Desert Climate Challenges

The desert has a couple of unique challenges that you have to overcome to get the most efficient performance from your system. First, there are the massive temperature swings that are unique to the desert. Even though the temperature is generally mild and warm during the day, it can swing more than 40 degrees, dropping below freezing at night.

Additionally, you’ll need to remember that the dry climate makes managing air quality challenging. This dryness will cause your filters to clog more quickly and can lead to fine dust getting through and settling into the sensitive areas of your system. The result is more wear on your heating system’s internal components in addition to restricting the air moving through it.

Energy Efficient Heating Options

Two primary options offer incredible efficiency in the desert climate, heat pumps and geothermal systems. However, within those two systems, there are a couple of additional options you may want to consider, depending on your particular home.

Heat Pumps

Rather than producing heat in the way that furnaces do, heat pumps merely redistribute heat from one place to another. Generally, when people think about heat pumps, they are referring to what’s known as air-source heat pumps. These have a compressing unit that sits outside your home, very similar to a central air conditioner. The difference is that these systems contain a reversing valve that allows them to provide both cooling and heating.

The challenge with air-sourced heat pumps is that they become much less efficient as the temperature drops. While this isn’t normally a problem during the day in central Arizona, the evenings can get well below freezing. This can make traditional heat pumps struggle to keep your home comfortable without tapping into the auxiliary heating system, which is usually an electric resistance heater.

Geothermal Systems

Geothermal systems are different, drawing heat from the earth rather than pulling it from the air. The most common is the closed-loop ground source geothermal system, which uses refrigerant coils that run 4 to 6 feet below the ground. A closed loop simply means that it’s a sealed system that utilizes refrigerant to move the heat.

The other type of geothermal is the water-sourced model, which uses water rather than the ground as the heat transfer media. These come in closed-loop and open-loop options. The open loop system draws water through the system from the source to redistribute heat into or out of your home.

Dual-Fuel Systems

Given the frigid temperatures that sometimes settle around the area at night, some property owners appreciate the option of the dual-fuel system. These have a heat pump, either air-sourced or geothermal, for the primary heating system.

The difference is that they have a gas furnace for the auxiliary heat rather than relying on an electric resistance heater. When the temperature gets cold enough to warrant the auxiliary heater, the cost of heating drastically increases because of the amount of energy needed to run electric resistance heaters. Dual-fuel systems allow you to take advantage of lower-cost natural gas, which costs less during freezing temperatures, even with less efficiency.

Ductless Mini-Splits

Ductless mini-splits are a variation of heat pumps, which can include geothermal systems. Traditional HVAC systems use a central air handler to condition air and distribute it throughout your house using a system of ducts. These central systems have some thermal energy loss as the conditioned air moves toward its destination.

The alternative to central systems is the ductless mini-split. These use smaller air handlers that are installed throughout your home. Each air handler is responsible for heating a smaller area. These set up what are called zones, allowing you to set different temperatures in the various areas of your home, rather than only keeping a single temperature. It also means that it only runs the air handlers in the areas that need heating or cooling, reducing total energy consumption.

How Heat Pumps Compare to Traditional Heating Options

Gas-fueled furnaces are the most widely used residential heating system. These systems produce a tremendous amount of heat, but some of that is lost with the system’s exhaust.

Further, single-stage furnaces allow the air in your home to go through a temperature swing, getting cool before the system cycles on, and then heats it back up. This leaves your family uncomfortable, getting chilled and then overheating.

Heat pumps have a smaller temperature rise than traditional furnaces. This leaves the system running longer cycles and experiencing smaller temperature swings. In fact, if you have a 2- or variable-stage system, it’ll run nearly non-stop as it maintains your home’s temperature rather than constantly having to raise it.

Keeping the System Running Efficiently

Even when your home has a high-efficiency heating system, it may not remain efficient without the right work. Fortunately, these tasks aren’t challenging, and you can do most of it for yourself.

Cleaning the System

It’s important to keep the system clean, especially in the dry Arizona desert climate. The small particles that float through the air will clog up the external unit of an air-source heat pump and will eventually clog up the internal workings of the inside unit. The best way to keep them clean is through routine heat pump maintenance twice a year, usually in the spring and fall. Also, consider gently washing the exterior unit throughout the year to prevent dust and dirt from restricting airflow through the unit.

Keeping the Filter Clear

Along with routine maintenance, your system’s filters will need attention. If you opt for a central system, it’ll have disposable filters that will need replacing. For the common 1- and 2-inch filter, you can expect to replace it every 30 to 90 days, while larger filters may last longer.

If you have a ductless mini-split system, you’ll have to wash the filter and let it completely dry before reinstalling it. Plan to wash each filter about every two weeks. If you have multiple air handlers throughout your home, consider rotating which you wash so that you aren’t doing all of them at the same time. This will help keep your home comfortable even while some of the air handlers are shut off while you clean the filter.

Managing Your Air Quality

Do whatever you can to improve the air quality around your home. The more contaminants the air contains, the more your system will strain to maintain your desired temperature, raising your heating costs and increasing the wear on the system.

Start by managing your home’s humidity, aiming to keep it between 30% and 50%. Then look at other air quality improvement options, including air purifiers, filters and scrubbers.

Whenever property owners around Camp Verde have needed dependable heating or cooling services, they have turned to Goettl's High Desert Mechanical since 1987. Our expert team provides heating and cooling installation, maintenance and repair together with indoor air quality solutions and a wide range of residential plumbing services. Call to schedule a consultation with one of our heating experts to explore the most efficient heating solution for your home.

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