Homeowners looking for an energy-efficient alternative to traditional furnaces in the winter (and air conditioners in the summer) might want to invest in a heat pump: a type of heating and cooling system that can help you save money while also minimizing your environmental footprint amid the climate crisis.
Heat pumps don't burn fossil fuels, and for those living in milder areas, they may be a great solution for your heating and cooling needs. Here's everything you should know about how heat pumps work, the different kinds of heat pumps available and where to buy them, and how to service these energy-saving machines.
For more tips on saving money, check out how much you can save by unplugging your appliances, setting your thermostat at the right temperature and taking a shorter shower.
How does a heat pump work?
A heat pump is a type of home heating and cooling system that uses resources like water and air to regulate the temperature. It's like an air conditioner, but it has a built-in heating system, too. Heat pumps are installed outside your home.
Using electricity and refrigerant, a heat pump is able to turn cold air into hot air during the winter, and hot air into cold air during the summer. It does this by redistributing the heat in the air or ground, and heating it or cooling it with refrigerant as needed.
The standard heat pump has several parts:
- Outdoor unit: Equipped with a coil that powers evaporation in heating mode and condensation in cooling mode.
- Indoor unit: Includes both a coil and fan to circulate air throughout your home.
- Refrigerant: A type of fluid needed to absorb and release heat as necessary to keep the system running.
- Compressor: A pressurizing agent to prepare the refrigerant for use.
- Reversing valve: Controls the direction of the refrigerant in your system, allowing you to switch between heating and cooling modes.
- Expansion valve: Controls the movement of refrigerant in the heat pump.
The Department of Energy reports that a heat pump can save you approximately 50% in electric costs, compared to electric resistance heating systems, like furnaces and baseboard heaters.
What are the different types of heat pumps?
Heat pumps are more environmentally friendly because they are powered by natural elements, like air, water and earth. There are three different types of heat pump systems: air-to-air, water-sourced and geothermal.
An air source heat pump system uses the air outside your home to transfer heat inside. These are particularly notable for dehumidifying spaces, more so than traditional central air conditioning systems, which can also save on energy and cooling costs.
Air source heat pumps are a popular option throughout the US today. Though these heat pumps were previously not an option for colder climates, the technology has evolved significantly in recent years, and many systems are now able to keep up with the added demands of a Northern winter. If your home does not have any ducts, there is a ductless heat pump option known as a mini-split heat pump as well.
Instead of using an outdoor fan and coil, a water source heat pump system uses a heat exchanger. These systems still use refrigerant, turning water into gas and then into water. With an ongoing flow of water, the system uses a loop system to either cool or boil as needed to create the optimal temperature for your home.
Ground source systems, also known as geothermal heat pump systems, use either a ground or water source for power, transferring heat to your home. They can reduce your energy use by up to 60% with added humidity controls, and offer a flexible format that works across a variety of different homes based on things like your property's subsoil and landscape.
Ground source systems are a more expensive option to buy upfront, but have significant savings in energy costs long term.
Where can you buy a heat pump?
You can buy a heat pump from a major retailer or through a professional installer.
Heat pumps are available from retailers like these:
Pricing may vary, so it is always a good idea to shop multiple retailers to find the best deal for your new heat pump.
How to install a heat pump
Once you purchase your new heat pump, it comes time for installation. A heat pump comes with several parts that require exact precision during installation. Handling refrigerant can also be unsafe for the average homeowner.
Don't worry, you have several options for professional installation. Most retailers offer installation for your purchase at an additional cost, although this may be contracted out to a third-party provider.
You also have the option to hire an independent installation company. If you choose to hire someone for installation, be sure to find a licensed professional for the job. You can find a local installer by checking local ratings and reading reviews from past customers on sites like Google and Yelp.
Tips for maintaining a heat pump
Although energy-efficient, heat pumps still require maintenance to ensure proper function. Here are some basic ways to maintain your heat pump for extended use:
- Clean filters regularly, changing as needed.
- Occasionally clean outdoor coils.
- Perform basic maintenance, according to your manufacturer's instructions.
- Remove items from around your system so it can function properly.
- Power down the fan to clean as needed.
Many professional HVAC companies offer one-time or regular maintenance packages to assist with your heat pump.
Be warned: A poorly maintained heat pump could cost you. According to the Department of Energy, if you don't keep up with your pump's working needs, it could cost up to 25% more in energy costs, so it is important to make sure that your heat pump is always in top working order.
Heat pump warranties
When you buy a new heat pump, most models come with a warranty.
Heat pump warranties
|Amana||• Lifetime limited warranty with free replacement for compressor failure|
|American Standard||• Base limited manufacturer's warranty • Registered limited manufacturer's warranty • Registered limited warranty transfer option • Optional extended warranty|
|Carrier||• Limited warranty|
|Lennox||• Basic • Extended limited warranty|
|Luxaire||• 10-year parts limited warranty • Lifetime compressor limited warranty • Extended labor warranties • Extended warranties|
|TempStar||• Standard • No Hassle Replacement limited warranty|
|Trane||• Limited • Optional extended warranty|
|York||• Standard • Extended warranty with factory-backed service|
Ask your retailer or dealer about what warranty options exist for your heat pump so you can be sure your family is protected, no matter what.
As the world continues to witness the growing effects of climate change, it has brought renewed attention to the reduction of harmful emissions in the US. Heat pumps are one way to reduce dangerous fossil fuels while also lowering energy costs. Improved technology today has even made it possible for homeowners in more extreme climates to enjoy the cost savings and environmental benefits that heat pumps have to offer. It's just a matter of which one is right for you.