Heat pumps offer an energy-saving alternative to traditional HVAC systems in all climates. By combining heat pumps with solar panels, you can become energy self-sufficient for heating and cooling your home. But it helps to have a contractor with experience heating and cooling homes at an affordable price in your local area on your side when you are choosing the right heat pump for your home.

What is the difference between an HVAC system and a heat pump?

It’s easy to get lost in the terminology of home heating and cooling. Here is the difference between an HVAC system and a heat pump:

HVAC refers to heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. Traditionally, that involves a furnace, ductwork, and a separate cooling system.

  • Heat pumps are a more modern technology that uses electricity to move heat from one location to another. They can warm your home in the winter and cool your home in the summer, all with the same unit. Technically, heat pumps are part of HVAC, but installation, operation, and the cost is very different from traditional HVAC systems.
  • You probably already have a good understanding of what your furnace and air conditioner do. Let’s take a closer look at heat pumps.

How does a home heat pump work?

Heat pumps don’t generate heat. They transfer heat. They can collect heat from the ground, water, or air outside your home and bring it inside. They can also collect excess heat from inside your home and send it outside.

diagram showing how a heat pump works to cool and heat

The most common kind of heat pump is the air-source heat pump. It transfers heat between your house and the air outside. It does a better job of dehumidifying the air than a standard air conditioner, so it needs less electricity to cool your home. Recent innovations have made air-source heat pumps operational even in cold temperatures, so they have become a legitimate alternative for heating spaces through the winter months.

There are heat pumps for homes that work without ductwork. About 30% of the heating and cooling capacity of most HVAC systems is lost in the ductwork, even more if the ductwork is routed through an open space, like an attic. Ductless mini-split systems have their own conduits to the heat pump outdoors, which can be up to 50 feet away, so you can use them in the front rooms of your house. They can be placed on the floor, hung from the ceiling, or mounted on a wall. They are much less obvious than a window unit AC, although they need a drip pan to catch condensation.

If you have the right soil, a large enough lot, and the right landscaping, you may benefit from a geothermal heat pump. These heat pumps exchange heat with the subsoil for energy savings of up to 60 percent. Or your best option may be an absorption heat pump, also known as a gas-fired heat pump, which only uses electricity to circulate the liquid that connects them to their heat sink, which can be solar panels, a gas heater, or geothermal energy.

Advanced Features in Modern Heat Pumps

There have been a number of innovations that have improved the usefulness and performance of heat pumps.

One major innovation in heat pump technology is the scroll compressor, which forces the refrigerant into even the tiniest areas inside the unit. Compared to piston compressors, scroll compressors provide 10° to 15°F (5.6° to 8.3°C) warmer air when they are in heating mode, from the same amount of energy.

Another innovation is the two-speed compressor. Having multiple speeds allows your compressor to work with variable heating and cooling capacity, saving energy as well as wear and tear on compressor parts.

Also extremely helpful is the dual-speed and variable-speed fan motor. These motors maximize energy efficiency while they minimize drafts.

Some high-efficiency heat pumps can be connected to a desuperheater, which uses excess energy to run your hot water heater. And for efficient operation at the very coldest temperatures, heat pumps can be combined with a gas furnace sharing the same ductwork, or even the same box.

Can a heat pump replace an air conditioner?

A heat pump can replace an air conditioner, but you need to make sure to choose the right heat pump for your year-round heating and cooling needs.

At AQM, one call services all. We handle installation, service, and upgrades to heating and cooling systems of all kinds in Chester, Delaware and Montgomery Counties. We are here when you need us. Request an estimate online or call us today at 610-363-3940 to make an appointment!

AQM, Inc.