What is a Heat Pump?
A heat pump is part of a home heating and cooling system.
It is not a furnace, but it can heat your home. And it is not an air conditioner, but it can cool your home. How is that possible?
So, the question remains, what is a heat pump? A heat pump is part of a home heating and cooling system and is installed outside your home looking exactly like a central air conditioner. Heat pumps cool your home, but are also capable of providing heat for your home. In cooler months, a heat pump pulls heat from the cold outside air and transfers it inside your home, and in warmer months, it pulls heat out of indoor air transferring it outside to cool your home. Heat pumps are powered by electricity and transfer heat using refrigerant to provide comfort all year round. Because they handle both cooling and heating, homeowners in the colder climates will need a backup heat source such as a furnace or electric heat strip in an indoor fan coil for those really cold nights. Heat pumps do not burn fossil fuel like furnaces do to heat your home. They simply transfer heat from outside your home to inside your home making them more environmentally friendly and up to 300% more efficient than a conventional furnace. This, according to Tri-State a non-for-profit cooperative power supplier.
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How does a heat pump work?
Simply stated, a heat pump is a combination of components working together to heat and cool your home. This appliance is engineered to keep your home comfortable all year round. The big thing to know about heat pumps is that they do not produce heat at all. Instead, heat pumps work by transporting heat from one place to another. It consists of a few main components: An indoor air handler or furnace with an indoor coil, and an outdoor heat pump which replaces your central air-conditioning unit. The heat pump has a compressor that absorbs and then releases heat just like an air conditioner does. In summer, the heat pump operates exactly like an air conditioner, absorbing heat from inside your home and expelling it outdoors. In winter, the process reverses and the pump extracts heat from outside air and delivers it indoors to heat your home.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about a heat pump is that it can extract heat from cold air because even cold air contains some heat. For example, imagine standing outside in 30º F weather. You would feel cold, right? But you would be warmer than if the temperature dropped to 10ºF. It is that ability to absorb heat from air, even cold air, that makes heat pumps reliable and much more energy efficient than single-source systems that only produce either cool or warm air.
How does a heat pump work?
Original heat pump technology that was marketed in the 1980s and 1990s did indeed struggle in cold climates, and freezing weather which is why you will find a ton of outdated information on the internet about heat pumps. That outdated information no longer accurately reflects how heat pumps operate today.
There is a world of difference between 40-year-old heat pumps and the brand-new, super-efficient cold climate heat pump technology on the market today. In fact, new heat pumps have been completely redesigned. They are now outfitted with an improved coil design, better fans, better and more efficient motors, and the biggest difference, a completely redesigned compressor fully capable of operating in much colder temperatures than just a few years ago. Some heat pumps today will operate all the way down to -13F.
All these upgrades mean that new heat pumps work much better at keeping your home cozy on the coldest winter days than the heat pumps of yesterday.