What Is A Heat Pump System And How Does It Work?

March 15, 2022

In frigid Iowa winters, some may think a heat pump is an unrealistic choice to keep you warm in low temperatures. However, heat pumps can provide an energy-efficient source of warmth in your home, especially when paired with a furnace to create a dual-fuel system for ultimate home comfort.

What Is A Heat Pump?

Heat pump systems transfer heat indoors or outdoors using a compressor and liquid or gas refrigerant to provide an energy-efficient way to heat or cool your home. In colder months, heat pumps pull heat from the outdoor air and transfer it inside your home to keep it warm. In warmer months, it transfers heat from inside your home to the outdoors to maintain cool temperatures inside your home. Because heat pumps transfer heat rather than generate it, they can efficiently heat or cool your home in any climate.

How Does A Heat Pump Work?

Because heat pumps transfer heat rather than generate it, heat pump systems typically consist of both an indoor and outdoor unit that works together to transfer thermal energy between two places. Heat is pulled from the air or ground and pumped indoors to heat a space, and is removed from a home to cool it down. The two main types of heat pumps are air-source and ground-source.

Heat pump diagram. 

Source: mepskills.com

Air-Source Heat Pumps

In the summer, heat pumps work similarly to an air conditioner to cool your home, using a refrigerant to absorb heat and transfer it outdoors. During the winter, the cycle is reversed and the heat pump extracts heat energy from outdoor air and transfers it into your home. The refrigerant absorbs the heat from the air and pressurizes it to raise the temperature. The warm air is then released into your home until the heat is extracted and condensed back into a liquid to continue the cycle.

Ground-Source Heat Pumps

Ground-source or geothermal heat pumps absorb heat from underground to transfer it indoors or outdoors. The most common type of ground-source heat pump uses buried pipes filled with refrigerant or water to transfer heat. The pipes can be part of an open or closed-loop system to either pump new water in and out through an underground water source or circulate the same water through the pipes repeatedly.

Heat Pump Vs. Furnace: Pros And Cons

The main distinction between heat pumps and furnaces is that, unlike furnaces, heat pumps do not generate heat. While both types of HVAC systems can provide a comfortable environment inside your home, there are a variety of factors that can affect which option may be better suited for your heating needs.

Iowa Climate Considerations

During Iowa winters where the temperature regularly falls below freezing, a furnace is generally able to heat your home more efficiently than a heat pump. If you live in milder climates, a heat pump can provide adequate heating inside your home without using too much energy. However, pairing a furnace and a heat pump creates a dual fuel system that can handle both mild and below-freezing temperatures, switching between heat sources depending on the outdoor temperature and home heating needs.

Space Constraints

Heat pumps typically require less space than a furnace and exist outdoors, rather than a furnace that lives indoors and requires at least 30 inches of clearance for fire purposes. Though traditional air-source heat pumps also require an indoor air handling unit, they don’t require additional safety clearance and fit more comfortably in small spaces. Depending on the type of heat pump you choose, the air handling unit may be able to be mounted high on the wall to avoid taking up additional floor space as well.

Lifespan and Maintenance

Because furnaces are only used during the colder months throughout the year, they generally have a longer lifespan of 20 years or more and require less maintenance than heat pumps. Since heat pumps can provide an alternative to both a furnace and an air conditioner, their life span is typically a bit shorter at around 15 years and potentially require more maintenance due to having more parts than a furnace. However, because heat pumps can warm or cool your home, you can forgo the cost of an air conditioner and the maintenance it may require with the installation of a heat pump.

Are You Looking To Install A Heat Pump System In Your Home? Call To Get A Quote From The Experts At Lozier!

If you’re considering installing a heat pump system in your home, contact a certified HVAC technician at Lozier! Give us a call at (515) 267-1000, send a text to (515) 393-4262 or use our contact form to schedule an appointment for a technician to provide a free quote and discuss what options best fit your needs.