Heat It Up: What Exactly Does a Heat Pump Do?

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Heat It Up: What Exactly Does a Heat Pump Do?

Heat pump

If you’ve been looking into a new HVAC system recently, you may have noticed that traditional A/C systems have some new competition — heat pumps.

Heat pumps are efficient and easy to maintain, offering year-round climate control in a single system. But with a name like “heat pump”, it may be confusing to hear that it’s just as effective at cooling as it is at heating. We’ll help you understand how a heat pump works and explain why it may be worth the investment when it’s time to upgrade.

How a Heat Pump Works

A heat pump works much like an air conditioning system in that it moves heat from one area to another. It’s even hard to tell the difference between a heat pump and a standard A/C sometimes because the two often work in similar ways.

Air-source heat pumps are growing in popularity thanks to their energy efficiency and cost-saving potential. These are the most common residential heat pump styles, and like an A/C system, they use refrigerant and pressure to exchange heat between the indoor and outdoor air.

Cooling with a Heat Pump

In cooling mode, an air-source heat pump has cold refrigerant in an evaporator coil that absorbs heat from the air that comes in from the house. After the refrigerant absorbs the heat, the cool air then gets blown back into the home.

Now that the refrigerant is holding all that heat, it needs to cool back down so it can continue cooling the household air. To start the cooldown process, the refrigerant flows from the evaporator coil to a compressor that pressurizes it, raising the temperature even higher.

The refrigerant will now be much hotter than the outside air, even if the summer heat is breaking into triple digits. At this point, it goes into the condenser coil, which is housed in an outdoor unit exposed to the air. Since the refrigerant is hotter than the air, it releases that heat and cools down.

After it cools, the refrigerant goes into an expansion valve that regulates its flow and reduces the pressure, making it even cooler. The refrigerant is now cold enough to go back into the evaporator coil and cool the indoor air again.

Heating with a Heat Pump

In the cooling process alone, you can see that a heat pump and an air conditioning system are nearly identical. But heat pumps have one essential feature that air conditioners do not have — a reversing valve.

A reversing valve turns the refrigerant’s flow around, so instead of getting rid of heat in the condenser coil, it absorbs it.

In this system, the cold refrigerant starts in the condenser coil and absorbs heat from the outside air. It doesn’t matter if it’s freezing outside. In general, as long as the air is at least 30 degrees outside, there’s enough heat in it to bring the indoor air up to 70 degrees.

The heated refrigerant moves from the condenser coil to the compressor, where it is pressurized and heated further. It then moves to the indoor evaporator coil, where it releases the heat into the incoming cold household air. The hot air is then blown back into the house.

Different Types of Heat Pumps

There are several types of heat pumps. An air-source heat pump is the most common style because of its versatility. It can be used in most locations, and you can even find air-source mini split heat pumps that don’t need ductwork, making them easy to retrofit onto older homes.

Air-source heat pumps continue to evolve, and they’re becoming more and more effective in colder climates. But depending on your needs and capabilities, you may want to investigate geothermal or absorption heat pumps.

A geothermal heat pump is a ground-source or water-source pump that draws heat from under the earth. The heat exchange takes place in a long system of underground pipes full of either refrigerant or water.

In many geothermal setups, refrigerant is in a closed-loop system where it exchanges heat with the ground and then flows back to the system to either chill or heat the air. With the ground temperature being more consistent than air temperature even when the seasons change, it takes less energy to initiate the heat exchange. That efficiency makes geothermal one of the greenest and least expensive heat pump options to run.

Absorption heat pumps are a little different because they may use natural gas or propane as a heat source. However, you may also find some that use solar or geothermal heat.

An absorption heat pump has a similar condenser/evaporator system as an air-source pump but replaces standard A/C refrigerant with ammonia. These systems were traditionally only used in commercial spaces, but new advancements have brought about practical absorption options for large homes.

Benefits of a Heat Pump

Heat pumps can be expensive to buy, but they’re much more efficient than standard heating and cooling systems. With fluctuating oil prices, moving from a furnace to an all-electric system can give you more peace of mind in terms of your utility costs. And compared to a standard central air system, a heat pump will still be much more efficient.

Saving the planet and saving on utilities aren’t the only benefits of heat pumps. Since your heating and cooling are all in one unit, your annual maintenance will be easier as well. When your technician performs an inspection and tune-up, he can look at both sides of the climate control equation.

Is a Heat Pump Right For You?

Heat pumps are getting attention from consumers and innovators because of their low energy use and environmental impact. If you’re looking for a new HVAC solution, it’s a great time to start considering a heat pump. The initial investment can be pricey, but with available tax credits and the expected long-term savings, there is a ton of value in upgrading.

Interested in learning how you could benefit from a heat pump in your home? Contact our team of heat pump experts at Cool Care Heating & Air for information on outfitting your home with the next generation of cooling and heating comfort.