When compared to traditional ways to heat a home—using propane or heating oil, an electric-resistance furnace, or even a wood burning stove—a Heat Pump is a sustainable and efficient alternative. And since it uses electricity—which can be generated by renewable sources like solar power and wind turbines—heat pumps are an environmentally friendly way to warm homes.
A heat pump moves thermal energy—that is, it transfers heat from cooler spaces to warmer ones using a refrigeration cycle. It does so using a system that works much like an air conditioner. The difference is that heat pumps also provide warmth during the winter. They can use the air around your house as a source of heat or they can extract heat from the ground, water, or even waste products.
As a result of this efficiency, heat pumps tend to be cheaper and more environmentally friendly than other types of heating systems, including gas boilers. They’re especially cost effective when paired with a solar system.
Heat pumps come in a variety of shapes and sizes to suit different needs. Whole-house models can be used to replace a central air conditioning system and are available as ductless mini-split units for homes that don’t have ducting.
In either case, the system consists of two major components: an outdoor unit that looks like a typical air conditioner, and an indoor air handler that contains a coil (which operates as a condenser in cooling mode or as an evaporator when heating) and a fan. The unit is powered by an electrical compressor that pumps a volatile liquid, usually refrigerant, through a series of pipes. The piping has a reversing valve, which can send the liquid in two directions depending on whether the pump is operating in heating or cooling mode.
When the reversing valve is in the heating mode, the liquid moves to the condenser unit outside. When the heat pump switches to cooling, the liquid goes back through the reversing valve and enters the indoor air handler, where the fan blows over the coil, releasing the refrigerant’s heat into the air. The refrigerant then moves back through the reversing valve and returns to the condenser unit, where it can be used again.
If you have a heat pump and live in an area with moderate winter temperatures, a basic model should be enough to meet your heating needs. In areas with extremely cold weather, however, you may want to invest in a more powerful model marketed as a cold climate heat pump that can deliver heating down to freezing temperatures.
A professional can assess your heating and cooling needs to determine if a heat pump is right for you. They can perform a load calculation to ensure that your unit is properly sized, which will help you save money and prevent premature wear and tear. They can also check the system for issues like leaks, faulty fans, or uneven heating.
Having regular maintenance done on your heat pump is critical to keeping it running at peak performance. A professional can change the filters and clean the air handler, as well as check for a variety of other things that could affect performance, such as the temperature and pressure of the refrigerant and airflow.