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Heat Pump Before Solar Panels: Why It’s the Smart Choice

Like peanut butter and jelly, macaroni and cheese, and cookies and milk, some things just make sense together. Another (non-food) duo we’d add to the list: home electrification upgrades and solar energy.  But which is better – a heat pump or solar panels?

Both going electric and installing solar provide many benefits to homeowners. These upgrades can help reduce your home energy costs, minimize your environmental impact, and keep your home healthy, safe, and comfortable year-round. 

That said, homeowners likely have many questions about how best to take advantage of these upgrades: Should I begin electrifying my home first? Or, should I start with solar panels and then electrify? Can you have a heat pump and solar panels together? How many solar panels do I need to run a heat pump? Is electric heat cheaper with solar panels? And, what specific benefits do these systems offer? 

Today, we’re focusing on two specific upgrades–heat pumps and solar panels–as we dig into these questions. We’ll talk about how each works, the benefits they provide, and which upgrade we recommend starting with (and why!). Read on to learn more about heat pumps or solar panels, how installing them can help support the clean energy transition, and how they can improve your Colorado home. 

Solar panels or heat pumps: a quick intro 

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of whether to install a heat pump or solar panels first, let’s do a quick overview of these home performance upgrades and the benefits they offer. 

Heat Pumps 

There are many reasons to go electric. And, for many homeowners, replacing their traditional furnace and air conditioner with an electric heat pump is one of the first electrification upgrades they consider. 

Unlike furnaces, which burn fossil fuels to produce heat for your home, heat pumps work to both heat and cool your home by transferring heat that already exists. When the weather is cold, heat pumps extract heat from the air outside and transfer that heat into your home to increase the temperature. And, when it’s sweltering (see: a Colorado Front Range heat wave), a heat pump works by transferring the heat out of your home to keep the temperature cool inside. 

Here are a few of the (many!) benefits of upgrading to an electric heat pump or mini-split heat pump: 

  • It’s a single system for both heating and cooling 
  • Can deliver up to 300% more energy than it consumes (hello, cost and energy savings) 
  • Improves indoor air quality (buh-bye, noxious gas fumes from burning fossil fuels) 
  • Increases home value 
  • Reduces carbon emissions (good for you and for the environment) 

Solar Panels

Just like electrifying your home has many benefits, so too does going solar. When solar panels are installed, they capture energy from sunlight and turn it into energy that can either be used to generate electricity for your home or can be stored in solar batteries or geothermal storage for later use. 

Here are some of the key benefits that solar offers homeowners: 

  • Access to a clean energy source and reduced carbon emissions (again, good for you and our planet!) 
  • Reduced energy costs (once the system is installed, you aren’t paying for the electricity you generate) 
  • Can be used to power electric appliances, including heat pumps and mini-splits 
  • If used in conjunction with solar storage, ensures your home always has access to power 


Solar installation
Elena Elisseeva / Shutterstock.com

Why Install a Heat Pump Before Going Solar? 

“Okay, great,” some homeowners might say. “Air source heat pumps and solar panels are both beneficial home upgrades. But where should I start?” 

This is a great question! It can be difficult to know where it’s best to begin when you’re making clean energy upgrades to your home. And just to be super clear–making any of these upgrades is going to be beneficial for you, your home, and our environment. 

That said, there can be benefits to making some upgrades before others. Our recommendation when it comes to heat pumps vs. solar panels? Start with the heat pump, and then install solar. 

Heat pump in the snow

Here’s why: When you go to install your solar energy system, the optimal size for your solar array will depend upon your home’s energy usage. Since solar energy can be used to power the electrical components of your home’s energy system, you first need to understand how much electricity they require. If you’re planning to get a heat pump, it should factor into this electricity usage evaluation.     

If you start by installing solar panels and upgrade to a heat pump after, there’s a chance your solar array won’t be large enough to provide electricity for all your home’s appliances. 

And if, on the other hand, you start by installing a heat pump, you immediately reap the benefits of reducing your monthly gas bill and transitioning away from harmful fossil fuels. And, with your heat pump already in place, you’ll have a good read on your home’s electricity needs before designing your solar system. Having this information in hand will allow you to make solar sizing decisions that are based on your actual electricity usage – therefore ensuring your array is correctly sized. Once your solar system is installed, voila!–you have a solar-powered heat pump that runs on clean energy.   

Next Steps: Home Electrification and Solar 

Both electrifying your home and installing solar will reduce your carbon emissions and can even help you save money. Not to mention–they improve the health and comfort of your home and are good for the environment. 

But, if you’re considering both solar panels and air source heat pump upgrades, there are real benefits to starting with the heat pump. Specifically, installing a heat pump first can ensure you factor its energy usage into your design plans for your home’s solar energy system. That way, your solar array is an appropriate size to support your whole home’s electricity needs, providing you with more than enough clean energy. 

Looking for more support on how best to begin your “electrify everything” journey? Check out our free tool, Your Electrification Roadmap®. It allows you to share your priorities and preferences and then uses that information to build a personalized home electrification roadmap that’s clear, intuitive, and easy to follow.