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Get Pumped and Move Your Heat

Let’s attempt to demystify the oft-misunderstood and underappreciated humble heat pump. Even the name itself, “heat pump” is a somewhat of a misnomer because it does so much more than merely pump heat. It also has the ability to pump cool air so it can serve in a dual-capacity as an air conditioner and heater. And that’s the gist of heat pumps: they move heat rather than make heat.

Traditionally used in more temperate climates, new technology has paved the way for the utilization of heat pumps in places like the Northeast, Midwest, and Canada. They’re also prevalent in extreme weather locales, such as Norway. Even during sub-freezing temperatures, heat pumps are able to extract and utilize the latent heat energy that is always present in the air around us. And because a heat pump moves heat, via high-pressure refrigerant, rather than producing heat, they tend to be much more energy-efficient than a run-of-the-mill furnace or central air conditioner.

The most common type of residential heat pump is the “air source” variety, which draws heat from the air outdoors and moves it through refrigerant coils toward indoor air ducts. The other type of heat pump is the “ground source,” or geothermal, model. These harness heat energy from beneath the earth in the form of long loops of refrigerant-filled pipes buried underground. Depending on how far one digs, the temp below the surface generally hovers around 50℉, so the unit doesn’t have to “work” as intensely as its air-sourced counterpart on uncommonly cold (or hot) days.

However, heat pumps do have some drawbacks. If you’re operating one that isn’t graded for days of extreme highs or lows you most likely need to engage a supplemental heating or cooling source to attain the desired temperature. Also, some air-sourced models do require periods of defrosting on very cold days, which usually takes about 30 minutes, although the unit will stop blowing hot air indoors. Some consumers complain of noisy operation from the compressor outside during defrost mode. On the other hand, because geothermal heat pumps require burial, and/or excavation, of approximately 1,500 feet of pipe for the average 2,000 square-foot home, they incur a larger initial investment than do air-sourced pumps, although they are cheaper to operate once installed.

To learn more about heat pumps, and whether they have a potential place in your home, contact a trusted and reliable HVAC technician (you can find one here) to answer your questions and enable you to make an informed decision.


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