The term “heat pump” is frequently used in reference to a heating and air-conditioning system, but not every homeowner is familiar with what a heat pump is, or what it does. In the simplest definition, a heat pump is an air conditioner that can reverse its operation to move heat into the house, instead of out.
The Movement Of Heat
Most everyone is familiar with what an air conditioner does. It creates cool air, which is then circulated through a house’s ductwork by the furnace or air handler. But strictly speaking, an air conditioner doesn’t “make cold,” it “gets rid of heat.”
The refrigerant that a dealer puts into an air-conditioning system circulates back and forth between the air conditioner outside, and the coil inside, gathering heat as it goes. Once that heat gets outside the home, the air conditioner disperses it.
Standing next to an air conditioner, you can feel a steady stream of warm air coming off of it. This heat isn’t generated by the air conditioner’s motor or fan; it’s the heat that was previously in the house, being vented into the atmosphere.
The Heat Pump Difference
When a heat pump operates during warm weather, it performs exactly like an air conditioner. It gathers the heat that’s inside the house, and vents it outside.
When cold weather arrives, however, the heat pump is able to reverse its operation. It gathers heat from the outside air and moves it inside to warm the house. Because even when the outside air feels cold on the skin, it still contains enough heat for the heat pump to gather and move inside.
Why select a heat pump?
The decision to choose a heat pump or a furnace for a home has to do with the climate in which the home is located. Heat pumps typically work better in warmer southern climates where winters aren’t too harsh. Since the air doesn’t get very cold, a heat pump can gather enough heat during cool weather or cold snaps to keep the home comfortable.
For homes located in mild or moderate climates, a heat pump can be paired with a gas furnace to create a dual-fuel system. In this configuration, you enjoy the best possible balance between comfort and energy efficiency.