What is a Heat Pump?

Posted May 25, 2017

If you’ve been thinking about installing or upgrading a home climate control system, you’ve probably heard the term “heat pump” being passed around. They are an excellent solution for keeping a comfortable temperature in your home by acting as both a heater and air conditioner. However, their use is not as common in North America, so many people don’t know what they do or how they do it. Well, in a nutshell, it’s a highly efficient home heating system that can produce both warm and cool air.

The outdoor unit of an air conditioning system
Mitsubishi heat pump

Heating and Cooling Technology All in One

The technology to produce both hot and cold in a single unit isn’t new. In fact, it’s been around for decades in the form of refrigerators and air conditioners. These devices use refrigerants to absorb heat energy from the desired area and redirects it away. If you’ve ever passed the outdoor side of an active window mounted air conditioner, you may have noticed that the air blowing is quite warm. This is the redirected heat that is created from the energy absorption.

Although it appears that the device is producing heat, it is merely separating heat from the existing air, which is more efficient. Heat pumps differ from air conditioners in that they utilize both the hot and cold produced by this effect. For this reason, heat pumps are actually usable all year round unlike more conventional climate systems like baseboard heating, furnaces or window mounted air conditioners.

Because heat pumps absorb hot energy from the air, they can struggle to stay efficient in temperatures below -15°C or 5°F as the amount of heat energy in the air is scarcer. Fortunately, tempuratures rarely drop that low in Vancouver, making heat pumps an energy efficient solution even in the winter.

For Ducted and Ductless Homes

Heat pumps typically come in 2 forms, which can be used for homes with ducts or without. Heat pumps that connect to a duct system have a large box shaped condenser unit that sits outdoors. Ductless systems, which are known as ductless mini splits, are divided into 2 parts: an outdoor condenser unit and one or more indoor head units which dispense air into your home. Typically one head will be installed in a room to adjust the temperature for that room.

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