A heat pump is a device that uses a small amount of energy to move heat from one location to another. Heat pumps are usually used to pull heat out of the air or ground to heat a home or office building, or they can be switched into reverse to cool a building. If you know how an air conditioner works, you already know a lot about how a heat pump works, because heat pumps and air conditioners operate in very similar ways.
Heat pumps are a unique kind of heating system, because they can do the work of both a furnace and an air conditioner. Thus, there’s no need to install separate systems to heat and cool your home. Heat pumps can also work extremely efficiently, because they simply transfer heat, rather than burn fuel to create it.
Heat pumps work best in moderate climates. If you live in a moderate climate, using a heat pump instead of a furnace and air conditioner may help you save money on your utility bill. Most heat pumps are somewhat limited by the cold, however, so it is important that you learn which kind of heat pump is best for your area before installing one in your home or office building. If you install the wrong kind of heat pump, you may end up paying even more in energy costs than you do already.
There are many different kinds of heat pumps, but they all operate on the same basic principle of heat transfer. Heat transfer means that rather than burning fuel to create heat, a device moves heat from one place to another. Heat naturally flows downhill, which means that it tends to move from a location with a high temperature to a location with a lower temperature. A heat pump uses a small amount of energy to switch that process into reverse, pulling heat out of a relatively low-temperature area, and pumping it into a higher temperature area. In a heat pump, this heat is transferred from a heat source (e.g. the ground or air) into a heat sink (e.g. your home).
One of the most common types of heat pumps is the air-source heat pump, which takes heat from the air outside your home and pumps it inside through refrigerant-filled coils. Inside this basic heat pump, you’ll find two fans, refrigerator coils, a reversing valve and a compressor.
Here’s how this heat pump works:
This system is more commonly known as an air-air heat pump, because it takes heat from outdoor air and transfers it to indoor air ducts. With the proper modification, air-source systems can also work with other types of indoor heating systems.
The reversing valve is a very versatile part of a heat pump. It reverses the flow of the refrigerant, so that the system begins to operate in the opposite direction. Instead of pumping heat inside your home, the heat pump releases it, just like an air conditioner. The refrigerant now absorbs heat on the indoor side of the unit and flows to the outside, where the heat is released and the refrigerant cools and flows back indoors to pick up more heat.
Heat pumps can help consumers save on utilities, but they have limitations. First, they tend to be somewhat ineffective in any climate where the outdoor air temperature falls near or below freezing on a regular basis. This is because moving heat from a very cold area to a hotter one takes more energy than moving heat between two areas with a more moderate temperature difference. There’s also more heat available outside in a moderate climate than in a cold climate. It’s important to note that even in a cold climate, there’s still heat in the outside air to be pumped indoors, but the unit needs to work harder to extract the heat that is available. Supplemental energy may be required to make the heat pump produce enough warmth to comfortably heat your home when the temperature falls below freezing.
The heat produced by heat pumps isn’t as intense as the heat produced by a gas or oil-burning furnace. Some people used to traditional furnaces are uncomfortable with the milder heat produced by these systems. Other people prefer the warmth produced by heat pumps, because heat pumps distribute heat evenly throughout the house, meaning there are no cold spots. A heat pump also should turn on and off less often than a gas furnace, and most systems have eliminated the blowing of cold air through the vents that used to occur when the system temporarily switched into reverse to defrost the coils.
Before you install a heat pump, you will need to consider what kind of supplemental or backup heating you may need to use when the heat pump can’t work efficiently. Many heat pumps use supplemental electrical heating, but you might also use some kind of oil burner or an adapted gas furnace. Whatever type of heating system is common in your area is likely the most efficient and cost-effective backup method.
When you start shopping for a heat pump, there are a few things you need to look for. First, manufacturers rate the efficiency of most heat pumps in two ways: SEER and HSFP ratings. Higher SEER and HSFP ratings indicate a more efficient unit.
Heat pumps often feature options that make them more efficient. These include:
Though many of these features can only be found on more expensive heat pumps, they make up for the initial expense by helping heat pumps work more efficiently and save more energy throughout the pump’s life.
Choosing the right system for your requirements can be hard and time-consuming. At Solar Power Systems we would be happy to help you with more information and choosing the right system for your needs. Do not hesitate to contact us or visit our webshop!
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