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Olive Answers Some Basic Questions About Heat Pumps

Sun and Snow

I field plenty of questions from locals about the different types of air conditioning and heating systems we install and service. Most people have a basic idea of what HVAC equipment does, but not many of the specifics. I’ve had the fortune of lounging around on the couch of the Russell & Abbott offices for a good long while, and I’ve learned book-loads about HVAC equipment from listening to the techs. (I know it looks like I’m sleeping, but these big dog ears pick up almost everything.)

Today I want to talk about the heat pump, which causes plenty of confusion—starting with the name.

“Is a heat pump a type of heater?”

Yes … but that’s not all it does. The name heat pump makes it sound as if the heat pump is a heating system and nothing more. But heat pumps are much more like air conditioners than, say, a furnace. As the name says, a heat pump does the job of pumping heat out of one space and into another. An air conditioning system is a type of heat pump that can only move heat from inside a building to the outside, cooling it off. The standard heat pump can pump heat either out of a house or into it—it operates like an air conditioner that can shift direction so it can work as a cooling system or heating system.

“Is a heat pump effective at those jobs?”

I get this question often because people imagine that a heat pump can only do the job of an AC or a heater half as well because it’s taking on two jobs. However, a heat pump can be just as powerful at cooling as a standard air conditioning system: it uses all the same components, like refrigerant, a compressor, indoor and outdoor coils, and blower fans. They are also effective heating systems, although not as powerful as a gas furnace. For homes that require a bit more heat, a dual-fuel heat pump comes with a small backup furnace.

“Does it cost more to run a heat pump than an AC or furnace?”

You expect to pay nearly the same for cooling your home with a heat pump as you did with an AC. When it comes to heating mode, a heat pump costs less than running an electric furnace, which is why we often recommend them to homes that rely on electricity rather than gas. Gas furnaces, however, are the least expensive to run and have greater heating power.

“When the heat pump moves air into my house in winter, where is the heat coming from?”

This is the #1 question folks have when they hear about how heat pumps work. If a heat pump runs in heating mode during the winter, how can it pump heat from outside if the air is cold?” The answer is that there is always heat energy in the air, no matter how cold. As long as the heat pump runs refrigerant that’s colder than the outside air through the outdoor coil, it can draw ambient thermal energy to bring indoors.

Ask us more about heat pumps!

I think heat pumps are excellent options, but I also know they aren’t the ideal HVAC system for all homes. Our experts who deliver heat pump services in Maryville, TN can help you find out what’s the best way to cool and heat your house around the year.

Stay cool,