Most people are familiar with the term heat pump. Millions own one, but ask them to explain how it works, and the great majority would shrug their shoulders. A heat pump is an energy efficient way to cool your home in the summer and heat it in the winter. We often get the question of what is a heat pump and is it right for my home?
First, let’s establish what a heat pump does. . .or rather what it doesn’t do. It doesn’t create heat. There is no heating element, no gas flame, no way of generating heat. A heat pump simply transfers heat from the inside of the house to the outside when used as an air conditioner, or from the outside to the inside when it’s used as a heat pump.
Your AC unit is all about removing heat from the air, whether the air is located in the house or outside of it. In the summer, the air handler in your home pushes the heat from the inside to the outside. Then in the winter, with the AC system essentially in reverse, the movement is from outside to inside.
Because there are no heavy heating coils in use, energy usage is reduced. Depending on how often the system “kicks on,” the savings can be significant. As with AC operation, the more reasonable the thermostat setting, the better the results, in terms of cost savings.
Another factor is the weather. The heat pump works best when there is only a slight gradient from source air and supply air. Think of how your AC works in the summer, and how it works much more effectively when it’s 84 degrees outside as opposed to 94. In the winter, the effectiveness of the system as a heat pump is limited to temperatures above 35 degrees.
For areas of the country that experience brief cold snaps, you will need to add alternate solutions. The most common is to add an electric furnace – usually already a part of the system – sometimes referred to as “emergency” heat. A standard heating element generates heat that is moved through the same duct work. This uses more energy, but assuming it will be turned off when the weather warms up, it is not a big drain on the budget. Homeowners served by gas lines can also add a gas furnace as a supplement. (For those customers, watch our Dual Fuel video for more information.)
If you live in the extreme north, where the winters are particularly frigid – where you go several weeks at temperatures below freezing - a heat pump may not be the best choice for you. Research your climate database for the best information.
For more information, check out our “Getting Started” videos and our sizing guide for the right heating solution for your family.
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