“The easiest way to think about this is like your backyard is a battery,” said Ryan Doherty, president of Geothermal Exchange, a trade association that advocates for geothermal heat pumps. “You can use that thermal battery in the winter, and you can use the energy in your yard to heat your house. Then in summer, the process is reversed: you take the heat out of the house and put it back into the battery inside.”

The downside to a heat pump is that you can’t install one yourself unless you’re really handy. Whether using air or geothermal energy, a heat pump is no harder to install than an air conditioner, but you still need a professional. But the good thing is that the heating and air conditioning company (disclosure: my aunt owns one) has been installing these for years, so just check with local businesses for a quote.

Cool the planet by warming your home

Installation will cost between $4,000 and $8,000, but the heat pump’s efficiency pays dividends: It uses half as much electricity as electric stoves and baseboard heaters. “Even if your heat pump is powered by coal electricity, it’s still a major upgrade,” said Duncan Gibb, principal analyst for heating and buildings at REN21, which advocates renewable energy. “There’s really nothing to lose by making buildings more efficient and deploying heat pumps as quickly as possible. I think the government should really take this seriously now.”

Of course, the long-term idea is to run heat pumps with electricity generated from renewable energy sources rather than fossil fuels. But economics is a bit tricky. Buying a heat pump is an upfront cost, and fossil fuels like natural gas for furnaces are still cheap. But as heat pumps become more popular, prices will drop, just like solar panels. Heating and cooling homes cleanly will therefore become cheaper, says Gernot Wagner, a climate economist at New York University, who sees both technologies as investments. “It’s like a solar panel,” he said of the heat pump. “First of all you spend a lot of money, right? Sure, it’s a lot less now than ever, but you spend money, and once you have money, you’re printing free electricity.”

To make heat pumps more affordable, especially for low-income people, governments need to provide tax breaks and huge subsidies to incentivize homeowners and building owners to switch. (Honestly, if billionaires really cared about saving the planet, they’d buy heat pumps for everyone.) But officials could also ban new gas connections, as cities like New York City and Berkeley are already doing. “Let’s cut the gas line, let’s install a heat pump,” Wagner said. “It creates a better indoor climate, which creates a better home. It’s a no-brainer.”

Another option is “heat-as-a-service,” where homeowners pay a monthly fee to have a company install and maintain the heat pump. (Such programs are starting to appear in Europe.) “It’s kind of like a phone program,” Gibb said. “This is obviously great because it not only reduces the upfront costs for consumers, but also reduces the risk associated with fluctuating fuel prices.” So if your local power plants are still running on fossil fuels and prices are soaring, your Heating bills will not be affected.