Choosing a heating and cooling system that fits your needs can sometimes seem like a daunting task.
If you’re looking for a versatile system that has excellent energy efficiency and provides you with both hot and cool air depending on the season, then a heat pump might be just the system you’re looking for.
What Is a Heat Pump?
The term “heat pump” may be misleading to some, as the word “heat” is not often associated with most HVAC systems that cool air. With a little bit of understanding of how a heat pump works, however, it’s easy to see how heat pumps are equally capable of both cooling and heating air.
A heat pump is a device that transfers warm air from one area to another. In colder months, heat pumps extract heat from the outside air or ground and push it into your home. During warmer months, heat pumps reverse this mechanism to bring hot air out of your home and cooler air in.
Heat pumps are designed to operate using the principles of heat transfer, which basically state that hot, high pressure particles are naturally drawn toward cold, low pressure particles. This is actually why we stay hot in the summer but get cold in the winter—in colder weather, the heat from our bodies is being pulled into the cold air around us, whether we like it or not!
Because heat pumps simply transfer hot air rather than generate it, like electric heaters and fuel-burning furnaces do, they are significantly more energy efficient, saving you money.
Heat pumps are the greenest option available when it comes to choosing a HVAC system. Heat pumps generate the smallest amount of carbon emissions, can be powered by renewable energy sources, and because they do not burn anything, they have zero risk for producing carbon monoxide gas. Some studies have shown that heat pumps can help reduce emissions from HVAC systems up to 75 percent.
How a Heat Pump Works
Heat pumps are typically made up of two refrigerant-filled coils, two fans, a compressor, expansion device, and a reversing valve.
Most heat pumps are also comprised of two physical structures—an outdoor compressor unit and indoor air handler unit that are connected to one another by the refrigerant coils—which industry professionals refer to as a “split-system”.
Here’s a basic step-by-step look at how a heat pump warms your home:
- With the help of a fan, outdoor air first passes over refrigerant-filled coils located on the outdoor compressor unit. Even though it may be hard to believe, there is enough heat in the air during colder weather months to heat the liquid refrigerant within the coils enough for it to begin to evaporate into a medium-pressure gas.
- The refrigerant gas flows to a compressor, where a small amount of energy is used to really turn up the heat. The gas becomes extremely pressurized and hot.
- The gas then flows to the indoor air handler through the refrigerant coils, where a second fan distributes the heat given off from these coils throughout your home.
- As the fan distributes this hot air across your home, the gas is cooled back into a liquid form through an expansion device, and then moves back into the outside unit for reheating.
- This process repeats until you’re nice and toasty.
In order to cool your home, the heat pump simply reverses the process using the reversing valve, keeping you comfortable throughout the hot summer months.
So What Types of Heat Pumps Are There?
Most heat pumps vary little in their mechanism, except for when it comes to their outdoor heat source. The two most common heat pumps are air-source heat pumps and absorption heat pumps.
Air-Source Heat Pumps
Air-source heat pumps are undoubtedly the most popular type of heat pump. Air-source heat pumps most commonly consist of an external compressor unit and internal air handler and follow the basic process detailed above to cool and heat your home.
Air-source pumps are also equipped with an electric resistance heater inside of the indoor air handler to help give the pump a heating boost on particularly cold days. However, they are not traditionally recommended for use in climates that regularly fall below freezing.
These pumps are compatible with ducted, ductless, and short-run ducted homes. Homes with short-run ducted systems simply combine the advantages of regular air-source systems and mini-split systems to provide your home with full coverage.
For ductless homes, the mini-split heat pump provides a solution with a number of perks. The mini-split system connects several small indoor handlers installed throughout the house to a single outdoor air-source unit. Mini-split systems are extremely versatile because the indoor units can be installed wherever you’d like, even through the ceiling or floor.
Because each air handler comes with its own thermostat, you can control which areas you’d like to heat or cool. Installing the air handlers only requires a 3-inch conduit to come through the wall as well, making them pretty inconspicuous.
Absorption Heat Pumps
Absorption heat pumps are similar to air-source systems in installation, but differ in two main ways.
Rather than running off of electricity, these pumps are often powered by a fuel source like natural gas, solar panels, propane, or geothermal-heated water. Furthermore, instead of compressing a refrigerant, absorption heat pumps absorb and evaporate ammonia to and from water, achieving a similar effect.
Absorption heat pumps are most commonly used in commercial settings, although residential versions are also gaining popularity.
Because these pumps run on fuel, they are extremely powerful, making them good candidates for office spaces. Absorption heat pumps can function in sub-freezing temperatures, and gas-fueled coolers are also available, although they cannot be reversed to heat like other heat pumps.
Split vs. Packaged Systems
Just like an air conditioner, your heat pump can also come in the form of two units or one.
Almost all heat pumps are split-systems, meaning that there is a device on the outside of your home and a device on the inside. Split-systems are much more versatile in their ability to be upgraded with improved features, like better heating technology for colder climates or a water heating capacity. They are also more efficient than packaged systems. Simply put, most people prefer split-systems.
Packaged systems are units in which the external and internal units are combined into a single machine and are often installed on the roof of a building when duct systems are unavailable from the ground level. These systems are most often seen in commercial settings. Because they come straight from the manufacturer in a single machine, they are typically easier to install and require less maintenance.
Features That Further Improve the Quality of Your Heat Pump
Whether you’re looking for a completely new heating and cooling system or just want to upgrade what you have in place, heat pumps are certainly worth giving some consideration.
Heat pumps have many additional features and upgrades that improve the quality of your system and can even be used in conjunction with preexisting heating units, such as gas furnaces.
Several additional features include:
- Compressor technologies: Two-speed compressors and variable-speed scroll compressors now offer higher levels of efficiency, lower levels of energy consumption, and lower noise levels. Scroll compressors have even reportedly improved the quality of heat by 10 to 15˚ F.
- Water Heating: A desuperheater takes advantage of any run-off heat from your heat pump and utilizes it to heat water. Desuperheaters are commonly used to heat storage water heaters, pools, and spas. Because water heating accounts for nearly 20 percent of the energy budget, purchasing a heat pump with a desuperheater may save you even more money than you had originally thought.
- Blower Motors: Improvements to blower motor speed increase a heat pump’s ability to heat and cool your home as well. Look for two-speed or variable-speed blowers to cool or heat your home with more ease.
Have More Questions? Get Your Answers with a Free Estimate on Installation!
Are you looking for the highest efficiency HVAC system to heat and cool your home or business? Are you a saving-savvy individual who wants to get the most out of your investments? Contact Pro HVAC Service today to learn about how you can get more bang for your buck with a heat pump system.
Whether you’re interested in learning more about heat pumps or are already set on another HVAC system, Pro HVAC Service is dedicated to finding you the best services to suit your needs. Simply fill out the form to the right, or give us a call at (844) 769-5995.
Within minutes of placing your request, you will receive free and competitive estimates on heat pump installation or maintenance from multiple contractors to ensure that you are receiving the most affordable pricing option available.