Elon Musk, Tesla and the Future of HVAC

Elon Musk, Tesla and the Future of HVAC
Mark Wilson
HVAC Content Writer

Working with our subject-matter experts, I cover every corner of the HVAC industry for Fire & Ice, educating our customers to help them make the best decisions for their homes.

About This Article

Elon Musk has stated that Tesla hopes to enter HVAC and produce high-efficiency heat pumps with a host of innovative benefits for residential homeowners.

Elon Musk is on record as saying he hopes to roll out in-home HVAC systems from his company, Tesla, in the near future. This first gained attention on Twitter, and has since been reinforced by Musk in various interviews when asked about Tesla’s plans for HVAC.

Given Musk’s status as a technology pioneer and one of the world’s richest people, his words have power.

In the wake of his statements, several think pieces have come out. Markets have to react when a business titan like Musk is prepping for an entry into their industry.

In these kinds of media frenzies, it can be tough to separate fact from fiction, hype and speculation from reasonable predictions, and to figure out what this means for the typical American home.

The nuanced response to Musk’s statements and Tesla’s work is that there’s probably a little bit of hype that can be ignored, but also a lot we should be paying attention to.

That’s where we come in. At Fire & Ice, we pride ourselves on being ahead of the curve with HVAC technology, and are excited to see what comes next. Below, we’re going to explain the technology that Tesla is developing, then discuss how it integrates with a whole-home heating and cooling system.

High-Efficiency Heat Pumps

We’re going to start with a crash course in high-efficiency heat pumps. I promise it will be relevant to where we’re headed below.

Heat pump technology has been around for a long time. If your home uses electric power instead of gas, chances are you have one. In short, it’s a system that will take warm air from one location (inside or outside) and move it to the opposite location. So, for example, to cool your home, heat pumps don’t actually inject cold air but rather extract warm air and vent it outside.

The drawbacks for much of the country are twofold:

  1. Electric energy is traditionally much more expensive than gas heating.
  2. Heat pumps often struggle to provide warm air in the coldest winter months, which requires additional heat from an electric furnace and is where a lot of the cost comes from.

However, it’s not all bad news:

  1. Electric HVAC equipment might cause higher utility bills, but it’s actually more efficient than gas heat.
  2. Advances in heat pump technology have made them much more viable for cold-weather use in recent years.

Let’s unpack those two statements. It might be counterintuitive to think of something more efficient costing you more in utilities, but even the most efficient gas furnaces will vent a little bit of heat into the atmosphere. But the cost of gas is lower for most, particularly in the coldest months, so it makes more financial sense.

On the second item there, historically heat pumps have had to shut down around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Any colder and they’d cease to provide heat. That’s when the more-expensive electric furnace kicks in, which is generally what hikes those utility bills.

The best modern heat pumps can heat a home when the outdoor temperature is as low as 15 degrees Fahrenheit! This is a monumental difference compared to even 10 years ago.

So the improved technology is making the systems more viable.

We’ve also talked a lot about ductless mini-splits, which can operate on heat pump technology. These ductless units can achieve absurd levels of efficiency, at or above 30 SEER rating (traditional A/C and heat pumps currently top out around 20 SEER).

RELATED: What’s a Good SEER Rating and Why Is It Important?

So the technology is primed to create a lot of improvements for homeowners. Enter, Tesla...

Tesla Heat Pump & Air Filter Technology

Tesla actually already has working heat pump technology...in its cars.

The heating and cooling systems in Tesla vehicles already employ high-efficiency heat pump technology that runs on electric power. This gives them a proof of concept for larger, whole-home systems that do the same.

The other big innovation touted by Tesla is their dramatically-named Bioweapon Defense Mode. This is essentially a firm seal on airflow and HEPA-level air filtration. It’s been shown to dramatically improve air quality in Tesla cars.

HEPA stands for High-Efficiency Particulate Air (filter). On an earnings call, Musk stated that the systems could filter “viruses, bacteria, pollen, fungi, but also neutralizes silicon alkaline gases, that is quiet and efficient.”

This is all completely true. How do we know that? Because HEPA filter technology already exists in HVAC.

This is another area where it might not be the norm, but top-end HVAC filters and equipment provide these benefits to homes.

RELATED: N95 Masks, HEPA Filters & COVID

Furnace filters aren’t all made the same, but the best ones are HEPA-level quality and can protect against numerous types of particulates, including bacteria, viruses, allergens and more. There’s an increased cost, of course, but it can significantly improve the quality of the air you breathe in your home.

Smart-Home Technology

Tesla, of course, isn’t just in a single industry. They’re probably best known for their cars, but they have a variety of progressive technologies available to consumers.

One of these is integrated smart-home technology. Tesla already offers solar roof panels that integrate into a home’s energy grid. The most robust of these allow some homes to pay entirely for their energy costs.

By linking things like a Tesla car and, eventually, Tesla HVAC systems, there are additional possibilities. Musk has talked about how each will be able to communicate between devices and equipment. This could allow things like the HVAC system to turn on based on where your car is in proximity to the home. In-home technologies like facial recognition could provide additional control over what areas of the home are being heated or cooled, and when the HVAC system is in operation.

It’s all quite exciting, and has the potential to increase comfort and reduce energy costs for families.

The only caveat is that many of these things already exist in some form, though it’s rare to see multiple systems interacting in ways that actively control comfort and efficiency. However, communicating thermostats and HVAC equipment is becoming more prevalent and also more affordable for homeowners.

RELATED: What Kind of Home Thermostat Do I Need?

Indoor Air Quality Benefits

We talked about HEPA filters above, but the fancy terminology isn’t why we endorse quality air filtration. It’s because there are numerous, real-world benefits for our customers.

RELATED: IAQ and You: Indoor Air Quality HVAC Products

Among other benefits to controlling the air quality in your home, you can expect the following:

  • Fewer dust mites and other bugs in the humid months if you have a whole-home dehumidifier, since they thrive more easily in humid conditions.
  • Less risk of the flu in the winter with a whole-home humidifier, since dry air allows it to live longer and exist in your home.
  • Reduced allergies with high-quality filters that are frequently replaced or cleaned.
  • Several more that are dependent on your household, such as cracking floorboards (from low moisture), persistent cough, dry, itchy skin, and mold in the summer months. Good filters and humidity control can help with each of these.

Tesla has touted their car system as reducing toxins and particulates in the air, and this holds true for any HVAC system. If you don’t have high-quality filtration, you’re breathing dirtier air on average.

Elon Musk in HVAC: What It Means

This last section is more speculative. I want to make that clear. Everything above is the facts as we know them. Below, we offer a bit of perspective from a company that’s been monitoring these developments for some time, and whose employees collectively have hundreds of years of experience in the HVAC industry.

I talked about how most of what Tesla has announced is not new to the HVAC industry. And in general, that’s true. But there are a few opportunities for them to progress the industry further:

  1. The technology already exists, but widespread use of it does not. With Tesla’s influence, they have the opportunity to educate more people than ever on the benefits of quality HVAC products.
  2. Details are sparse on just how efficient their heat pump technology is. It’s possible that their engineers have been able to move the meter forward on the upper limits of heat pump efficiency. It won’t be anything new, per se, but it could be the next step in the evolution of HVAC tech.
  3. Full smart-home integration is rare for HVAC systems, even though many of the individual technologies already exist. A fully integrated home with, say, solar panels, smart car, communicating HVAC system and related technologies could improve a homeowner’s quality of life immeasurably.

So would Tesla’s introduction to the HVAC industry be a good thing? We think so, and we’re not the only industry professionals who feel that way.

And what timeline should we expect to be able to buy a new Tesla HVAC system? Here we have to simply shrug our shoulders. While Tesla clearly has the resources to initiate a rollout in the coming months, it may take a backseat to other projects that the company is undertaking. Without more knowledge, we can only speculate.

To us, though, the important part is that Elon Musk and Tesla have the power to educate and excite people about the quality of the air they breathe, and the sustainability of the HVAC systems they install in their home. These are not topics that get discussed often in popular media, but they should be.

And if you don’t want to wait for Tesla to introduce their systems, Fire & Ice has you covered with high-efficiency products that have been in production for years and can provide a ton of benefits for you and your loved ones!

Check out our resources below or schedule an estimate to see what we can do to improve the quality of your comfort.

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