What are heat pumps, and how do they work?

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There’s a lot of jargon in the HVAC industry, and one term that is especially confusing is “heat pump.” From the name, you might guess that it’s a heating system, but it’s far more versatile than that. Adding to the uncertainty is the fact that there are many different types of heat pumps, including those that make use of geothermal energy. However, air-source heat pumps—the ones we’re discussing in this article—are by far the most common type. In this article, we’ll review what heat pumps are and how they work.

Air-source heat pumps are a great year-round comfort option for homeowners here in Central Mississippi. At Channell Heating & Cooling, we’re proud to install a wide variety of heat pumps from both Carrier and Trane. To find out if a heat pump is right for your home, call us for a free in-home estimate. 

A heat pump might be the perfect system for your home here in Central Mississippi.

Are heat pumps cooling systems? Or, do they provide heating?

They are actually both! Heat pumps are dual-season systems that see year-round use. They can both cool your home in the hot summer months and heat your home in the winter. This versatility makes them a popular option here in Central Mississippi.

How do heat pumps work?

The secret to heat pumps is right in the name: “heat pump.” At its most basic, the heat pump pumps (or moves) heat energy from one place to another using refrigerant as the conduit. The direction this heat is moved in depends on the season. 

In the summer, the system pulls heat energy out of the air inside your home and “pumps” it outside, where it is released through the outdoor evaporator unit. By the time the refrigerant loops back inside, it has dispersed that heat energy and is ready to absorb more. A blower pushes air past the cooled gas inside the coolant line, which is how cool air comes out of your vents. This happens over and over again until enough heat energy has been moved outside that your home’s indoor temperature cools down to what you’ve set the thermostat to. 

If this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because it’s the same method an air conditioner uses to cool down your home. It’s also the same physics that are behind how your fridge works.

So, how does this work in the winter?

Here’s the twist: a heat pump can reverse that process to move heat back inside during the wintertime. Even in relatively cold outdoor air, there is residual heat energy to be absorbed. The heat pump moves that energy to the inside of the home, releasing it and heating your home in the process. As with its cooling operation, it repeats this process until your home is warmed to the desired temperature indicated by the thermostat.

What’s the catch?

There is a caveat, however: the colder the temperature outside, the harder the heat pump needs to work to pull heat energy inside, and the less efficiently it does so. This is why heat pumps are popular throughout the South and the Sun Belt, where our winters are mild and nighttime temperatures only rarely dip below freezing, but places like the Midwest and the Northeast continue to rely on gas and electric furnaces, which generate heat independently.

What is the difference between heat pumps and ductless systems?

Functionally, the way that both cool and heat the home is the same. Both systems work by moving heat energy from one place to another. It’s the delivery mechanism that is the key difference. A heat pump uses a blower to push heated or cooled air through air ducts to the living spaces of your home. For a ductless system, the blower is located in the room itself, eliminating the need for ductwork. You can learn more about ductless systems and their benefits here.

Is a heat pump a good fit for my home?

Potentially, yes! Our mild winter conditions here in central Mississippi are conducive to heat pump operation, and many of the Carrier and Trane heat pumps we install are nearly as energy efficient as air conditioners in our hot and humid summers. If your home needs a new cooling or heating system, a heat pump—professionally installed by the team here at Channell Heating & Cooling—might be the answer.

Call us for a free in-home estimate

We recommend giving our team a call for a free in-home estimate. We’ll send one of our experienced, friendly techs out to your home to talk with you about your comfort needs and what you’re looking to get out of a new HVAC system. At that time, we’ll also take measurements of your home to match the space that needs cooling / heating with the right tonnage system. 

Based on this, we may recommend a new Carrier or Trane heat pump—especially if you already have a heat pump and it just needs to be replaced with a new model.

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