What’s a Heat Pump and How Do They Work?

These days, many homes and commercial properties are heated and cooled by heat pumps, but not many people understand how they do their jobs. If you didn’t know, a heat pump is one of the most efficient and cost-effective machines available today.

What is a heat pump?

A heat pump is a special machine that both cools and heats a building.

During the summer, a heat pump collects the warm air from inside your home or property and pumps it outdoors. During the winter, a heat pump works in reverse and pumps heat into your home. The process is actually identical to air conditioning (in the winter), but instead of cold air, it pumps in heated air!

How does a heat pump work in the winter?

A heat pump has an outdoor expansion valve that decreases the pressure of refrigerant in the outdoor coil until the coil is a great deal colder than it is outside. In fact, the coil is essentially warmed by the cold outdoor air. After acquiring as much heat as possible from outside, the heat pump compresses the refrigerant to very high pressures which then raises the temperature to be in the mid-hundreds. This heat is then pumped inside your home—and, in the end, this is why it is called a “heat pump.”

Can harsh winter weather affect a heat pump?

Even though the winter air doesn’t hold as much humidity, a super cold heat pump coil can turn a bit of water vapor into frost. Therefore, (usually after an hour or two) a heat pump coil will accumulate enough frost and ice to block airflow. Reduced airflow means a colder coil and more frost which can affect the efficiency of the heat pump and damage the compressor. To fight frost build-up, heat pumps will change from heating mode to cooling mode for a few minutes (every few hours) to heat the outdoor coil and melt any frost or ice. In the end, if you get a heat pump, you should keep an eye on it just like you would a typical air conditioning or heating unit!

If you are looking to save money on your energy bills in both the summer and the winter, consider having a heat pump installed by a reputable HVAC company. To learn more about their uses and how they work, please reach out to us at any time!

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