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When it comes to choosing how to heat and cool your home, you have several different types of options. From conventional furnaces and air conditioners to ductless heating and cooling systems and heat pumps, it is worthwhile to educate yourself about each of these heating and cooling options to ensure you select the best system for your home.

One particular option many people do not know much about are heat pumps. To help you learn more about heat pumps and what you need to know about them, we will answer several common questions that come up.

  1.  What is a heat pump?

A heat pump is a system that can be used for heating and cooling your home. It is a mechanical system that uses compressed cycle refrigeration. A heat pump consists of two components, similar to a conventional central heating and cooling system.

2.  How does a heat pump work?

A heat pump has refrigerant that is circulated through the system by a compressor. The refrigerant absorbs heat and moves it to where it is needed. It releases the heat as the refrigerant travels through the system inside or outside the house. The best way to think about this operation is a heat pump is moving warm air from the area where it is not needed and moving it to the area where it is needed.

3.  What is the difference between a heat pump and an air conditioner?

While the outdoor unit of a heat pump can look rather similar to an air conditioner condenser unit, there are some key differences in how they cool your home. A central air conditioner draws warm air from inside the home and uses refrigerant to cool the air and return it inside the home.

A heat pump, rather than creating cooled air, removes heat from inside the home using its special refrigerant. After the heat is absorbed, it releases it outdoors as the refrigerant passes through the outdoor unit.

4.  What is the difference between a heat pump and a furnace?

A furnace will generate and create heat that is circulated throughout the home. A heat pump, on the other hand, absorbs heat energy from the outdoor air and releases it inside the home. Even on the coldest winter days, there is heat energy in outdoor air.

5.  What are some advantages of a heat pump over conventional furnaces and air conditioners?

One advantage is a heat pump is more energy efficient. Since it is not creating cooled air or heat but, rather, moving heat from one area to another, it does not cost as much to operate. In addition, most heat pumps are electric, which means there are no added natural gas costs in the winter months.

6.  What climates are heat pumps are best suited for?

Heat pumps are well-suited for moderate climates that do not get too hot or too cold. While heat pumps can work in temperatures as low as -10 degrees Fahrenheit, they start losing efficiency when temperatures drop below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. During the summer months, heat pumps are just as efficient as central air conditioners in keeping the home cooled.

Technician working on a heat pump outside

7.  What types of maintenance do heat pumps require?

Just like conventional heating and cooling systems, heat pumps do require regular maintenance to ensure they continue to operate efficiently. Since the heat pump is used year-round to heat and cool the home, it is highly recommended to have it serviced at least twice a year by a professional heating and air conditioning service technician.

8.  Is there any maintenance I can do myself on a heat pump?

There are some general maintenance tasks you can do yourself to help keep your heat pump working great. You should check the air filter monthly and replace it when it’s dirty. You should keep the area around the indoor air handler clear and clean. You should also keep the area around the outdoor unit clear of leaves and other debris.

9.  How do I choose the right size heat pump for my home?

Similar to conventional systems, heat pumps have to be sized for your home. It is best to call in a professional heating and cooling expert for assistance. The heat pump also has to be sized for the air ducts inside the home. If the heat pump is not the right size, it will be unable to keep you comfortable year-round.

Undersized heat pumps tend not to be able to keep up with the heating or cooling demands of the entire home. You may notice some rooms feel warmer while others feel colder. Oversized heat pumps can cause problems with system cycles running shorter, as they tend to release short bursts of heated or cooled air. This fools the thermostat into believing the desired temperature has been achieved, and it will shut down the system.

10.  Is there anything I can do in case winter temperatures are much colder than anticipated?

Heat pump systems can be configured with an auxiliary or an emergency heating backup. An auxiliary heat system is electric and uses heating coils to supplement the heat being released into the home by the heat pump. An emergency heating backup system could either be electric or gas.

The auxiliary system is normally configured to turn on automatically when the heat pump needs assistance keeping up with your heating needs. An emergency heating backup system normally has to be turned on manually to provide the additional heat.

11.  Is it normal for frost and ice to form on the outdoor unit of a heat pump system?

During colder months, frost and ice can form on the outdoor unit. This is perfectly normal. The heat pump will automatically switch to a “defrost” cycle to remove the frost and ice from the outdoor unit, by transferring some of the heat from inside the home to outside.

12.  How long do heat pumps last on average?

The average lifespan of older heat pumps that have been properly maintained is around 15 years. New, modern heat pump systems can last even longer, thanks to advances in technologies and improvements in energy efficiency.

13.  If I already have a heat pump, how will I know when I need to replace it?

Your heating and cooling technician will be able to provide you advice as your heat pump gets older. Once the unit reaches its tenth year of operation, you need to monitor the frequency of unexpected repairs. In addition, if major system components fail, like the compressor, accumulator, or reversing valve, you will want to compare the costs of fixing your current heat pump to getting a new heat pump installed.

14.  Are geothermal heating and cooling systems the same as a heat pump?

For all practical matters, both types of systems move heat from one location to another. Geothermal systems transfer heat from the ground into your home, in the winter months, and from inside your home into the ground in the summer. However, geothermal systems often cost significantly more than heat pumps.

energy saving thermostat

15.  What do HSPF and SEER energy efficiency ratings on a heat pump mean?

HSPF or Heating Season Performance Factor is the energy-efficiency rating of the heat pump when it is used to heat the home. SEER or Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio is the energy-efficiency rating of the heat pump when it is used to cool the home. The higher the HSPF and SEER numbers, the more efficient the heat pump will be at heating and cooling your home.

16.  Will I notice a difference between a heat pump and a furnace?

When first switching from a conventional furnace to a heat pump, most people notice a difference in the intensity of the heat generated between the two systems. With a conventional furnace, the heat blowing out of registers is often more intense and comes in bursts each time the system cycles.

With a heat pump, the heat blowing out of registers is more subtle. However, one added benefit of a heat pump is that the rooms inside the home will be more evenly heated. Furthermore, cold spots are normally not an issue, so long as the home is properly insulated and sealed.

As you can see, heat pumps can be a great choice to heat and cool your home over conventional furnaces and air conditioners. To learn more about heat pumps and whether one would be right for your home’s heating and cooling needs, please feel free to contact A+ Services at 360-334-5677 today!

Our heating and air conditioning repair technicians service the Olympia, Thurston, and Pierce County areas, as well as provide plumbing, septic, electrical, and 24/7 emergency repair services.

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