What is a heat pump?

One of the most frequent questions we receive from customers is “what is a heat pump?” Many homeowners are confused and think they are simply devices that help heat your home in a more efficient manner. While that is partially true, there is much more to a heat pump than just “heat.”

Technically speaking, it’s a reversible mechanical-compression cycle refrigeration system that can both heat and cool a space. As with an AC unit, a heat pump usually consists of two parts: the indoor unit which is called an air handler and an outdoor unit that looks similar to an AC unit, but is called a heat pump.

How a heat pump works

These units can be thought of as a heat transfer device that is constantly moving warm air from one place to another, depending on the cooling and heating needs of a home. In the winter and fall months, when it is cold outside, the heat available in the outside air (yes, there is heat present in cold weather) will be extracted from the outside air by the heat pump and directed into the home through the air handler and your HVAC ductwork. When it is warm outside, the heat pump works exactly like an air conditioning unit, and removes heat from your home and discharges it outdoors; this is the heat you feel exiting the condensing unit when you walk by it in the summer.

Advantages

The primary advantage is that it moves heat instead of generates it. This gives you a boost in energy efficiency and can act as a compliment to an oil or natural gas fired heating system, saving you fuel charges. When combined with an oil or gas system it is known as a “hybrid” system.

Heat pumps are not for everyone

Standard Heat pumps are best when used in moderate climates, where a usable amount of heat is available in the outside air. They should not be used in very cold climates, as you will see little or no benefit. However, VRF Heat pumps have changed this fact and will be featured in our next blog.

Before considering a heat pump, speak to a knowledgeable HVAC contractor and find out if a heat pump will be a good addition to your home.

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