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.

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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.