How Does A Heat Pump Work?

heat pump

In recent years heat pumps have become increasingly common in newly constructed homes or as an add-on to older homes, but how they work is a mystery to many.  There are two types of heat pumps, those that use air and those that draw from a ground-source.  Essentially, those that use air work to pull any available heat from the cold outdoors in the winter, then by using an electrical system it distributes that heat inside the house, essentially the inverse of how an air conditioning unit works in the summer.  The heat pump is generally connected in to a forced air heating system to distribute the heat throughout the home.  Air-source heat pumps are the more common of the two heat pumps, primarily because they are cheaper to purchase and easier to install, however the ground-source heat pump is by far the more efficient option.

Homeowners who are looking to live more sustainably or those that intend to remain in their home for a long period of time should consider the more expensive ground-source heat pump.  As the name implies ground-source heat pumps get their heat from underground.  Ground temperatures are more consistent than air temperatures allowing for a higher degree of efficiency for the heat pump.  As previously stated a ground-source heat pump requires a more involved installation process and would generally only be completed by a certified HVAC professional.  Depending on the terrain, either long trenches 3-6’ deep, or vertical boreholes, will need to be dug to lay the necessary “loop” of piping.  Consumers also have the option with these systems of using groundwater to pass through the heat exchanger rather than refrigerant. That groundwater can then be returned to the aquifer.  Setting this up would be part of the standard ground-source heat pump installation.

It may initially seem counter intuitive that using electricity with the heat pump will actually be any cheaper for the homeowner than just running a standard gas heating system, however because the electricity is only being used to move heat rather than to actually generate it there will be a savings.  The heat pump definitely delivers more energy than it consumes. Because the ground temperature stays warmer than the air temperature in the winter, a ground-source (or geothermal) heat pump will be the highest level of efficiency.

A heat pump can then be reversed in the summer months to pull heat from the air inside the home and move it outside, thus further increasing its value.  Most homeowners see an energy savings of 30-40% year round after installing a heat pump.  It’s also interesting to note that the heat pumps sold today are more than 3x more efficient than those sold 30 years ago.  So if you looked at heat pumps in the past but had trouble justifying the initial cost, it might be worth giving it another consideration.


Benefits to Flushing the Water Heater

25763704 - electric water heater hanging on the wooden wall

Most homeowners are aware that flushing the water heater is a regular maintenance requirement, but very few do it with the frequency recommended by the water heater manufacturers which is generally once per month, often it never gets done at all.  What are the real costs to not flushing the water heater and what are the benefits to getting it done?

  1. Heating Efficiency – if the water heater hasn’t been flushed for some time it will take longer for the heat transfer process between the heating elements and the water to take place. This will result in it taking longer to get more hot water and will increase the likelihood of running out of hot water.  Most customers say that they notice an immediate improvement in the amount of hot water they have after getting the tank flushed.
  2. Reduced Operational Costs – as sediment builds up in the tank it makes it more difficult for the heating elements to transfer heat to the water, which means it requires more energy to get the water to the same temperature, thus costing more money. In addition, the premature failure of components, which can result from this build up, will also increase maintenance costs of the water tank.
  3. Reduced Noise – a noisy water tank is a sign of a problem. A properly maintained tank should make very little noise.  The noisier the water tank, the more sediment has built up inside.  However, should the water tank eventually get quiet again this does not mean that the problem is resolved, in fact the opposite is true.  At this point the build-up has solidified such that water is no longer circulating properly and an immediate flush is required.
  4. Reduces Potential for Odor – if water is unable to move properly through the water tank system, either due to excessive sediment build-up or a failure of the system, then water will become stagnate. Stagnate water can lead to unpleasant odors which will only grow worse if left unattended.
  5. Ensures Warranty Protection – this is especially important during the first few months after installation while the water heater is under a manufacturer’s warranty. Very few warranties will protect against failure caused by scale or sediment build up so it’s important to be able to show that this is not the case should the water heater fail for some other reason and require warranty coverage.
  6. Increases Life of the Water Heater – the primary reason water heaters fail is a result of sediment build-up. On an electric heater this build-up can cause the electrodes to fail prematurely.  For customers with a gas heater this build up between the heat source and the water can result in additional heat being trapped at the bottom of the tank causing it to get hotter than intended which could eventually cause the metal to become so stressed that the tank leaks or fails.

The necessary frequency for flushing will vary dramatically depending on the quality of the incoming water and the type of water heater in use, however given that there’s no down side to flushing, it’s better to err on the side of over flushing to keep the system running its best.

Use a Heat Pump This Winter

Heat Pumps

Heat pumps can be an energy-efficient alternative to furnaces during cold Idaho winters. They work by extracting outside heat and transferring it inside. Even air that seems too cold, like during winter, has heat energy present for the system to use.

Because heat pumps move heat instead of generating it, their biggest advantage is energy efficiency. They can provide the same comfort level as a conventional heat source for as little as one quarter of the conventional source’s operating cost.

While there are three types of heat pumps, the most commonly used is the air-source heat pump. This transfers heat between the home and outside air using electricity. It can reduce electricity use for heating by about 50 percent when compared to electric resistance heating.

Before, heat pumps were only sufficient in moderate climates where the temperature didn’t drop too low. With recent technology developments, they can now provide sufficient heating in colder climates too. Often, a heat pump is paired with a furnace for supplemental heating if needed in subfreezing temperatures.

In homes without ducts, a mini-split heat pump, which is a type of ductless air-source heat pump, is a viable option. These can operate in climates as low as -13 degrees Fahrenheit to keep the home warm all winter long.

Heat pumps aren’t just for heating in the winter, however. They can also be used to keep the home cool in the warmer months by reversing the process, extracting the warm air from inside the home and putting it outside. It pulls double duty year-round to keep the house comfortable while using less energy, helping homeowners to save money.

Diamond Heating and Cooling can install a heat pump or mini split heat pump for homes that want to save on heating costs or when a current heating option is unavailable. Call us to learn more about these heating options.