What is a Heat Pump?
What is a heat pump? The simplest answer is a heat pump is an air conditioner working in reverse. Of course, it’s slightly more complicated than that so I’ll cover everything you need to know in this article. Let’s discuss what a heat pump is, how it works, and if it’s right for your home.
What is a Heat Pump in Layman Terms?
To understand what a heat pump is, you first need to understand how a home air conditioner really works. The common belief is that an air conditioner makes cold air, however it doesn’t ‘make’ anything. Air conditioners work by removing heat from the air inside your home and expelling it outside your home.
Most homes have a ‘split system’ with a condenser outside (usually in your side or backyard) and an evaporator inside your home. The compressor is located in the condenser (outside unit) and the evaporator is in the air handler (inside unit). Here in Arizona the air handler is typically in the attic, garage, or a closet. In many parts of the country the air handler is in the basement. The evaporator pulls hot air out of the home and through refrigerant lines and then hands it off to the condenser outside. Using a condenser fan, that heat is blown out of the condenser into the outside air. Packaged units (rooftop) and mini splits work similarly, they just use a slightly different configuration. While they may be configured differently, they all utilize condenser coils, evaporator coils, compressors, and fans to remove heat.
How Does a Heat Pump Work in the Winter?
A heat pump simply reverses its cycle in the winter. The condenser removes heat from the air outside and hands it off to the evaporator. The evaporator has a fan that expels that heat from the evaporator coil and blows it into your home.
It’s strange to think about ‘heat’ being in the winter air outside – but it is. Heat is a form of energy and it exists everywhere, even in the coldest places on earth. It cannot be created or destroyed – but it can be moved from one place to another. Now you understand why a heat pump is simply “an air conditioner working in reverse”. In fact, the device that changes a heat pump from cooling to heating is called a ‘reversing valve’.
What is a Heat Pump, How is it Different Than a Furnace?
Now that you know what a heat pump is, let’s examine what makes a heat pump different than a furnace. A heat pump air handler replaces the need for a furnace as it is utilized for both heating & cooling.
A gas furnace doesn’t rely on an outdoor unit in the winter the way a heat pump does. In fact, there are still homes that have a gas furnace and no central air at all. Much like how a heat pump works by using fans to move heat from one place to another, so does a furnace. The furnace fan (indoor fan) moves the heat from the heat exchanger (burners) through ductwork into your home. While the furnace itself is not used in cooling mode, the furnace fan is used to move air across the A/C evaporator coil. Gas furnaces consume both natural gas (or propane) and electricity, whereas a heat pump uses only electricity.
Is One Better Than the Other?
You now know what a heat pump is and how it works. You also now know how a heat pump is different than a gas furnace (we’re always hiring by the way 😉 ). Which brings us to a common question, is a gas furnace better than a heat pump?
While this is somewhat of a loaded question, I’m going to give you the abbreviated answer in my opinion. I’d like to reiterate this is strictly my opinion, however it is based on 35 years of HVAC experience. It’s also coming from a certified home energy auditor, 25-year HVAC business owner, and fireplace service company owner!
A gas furnace is probably a better choice if you live anywhere in Minnesota. A heat pump is probably a better choice if you live in Phoenix, Arizona. In California, soon you’ll have no choice, so embrace the idea of loving your new heat pump! That said, except for Northern, CA where it gets very cold, I’d likely say it’s a better choice in most cases anyway.
When I started Magic Touch 25 years ago, I would’ve said a furnace was better everywhere – including Phoenix, AZ. Nowadays, with massive advances in heat pump technology and how well they operate in very low temperatures – I lean heat pump. This is also coming from a homeowner and commercial property owner who owns both types of systems.
The Electrification Movement
I refuse to get political here or even voice my opinion – I’m a contractor not a politician (mom is proud)! That said, we can’t ignore the fact that the electrification movement is happening, like it or not. CA, WA, NY, & MA have already begun banning the installation of gas furnaces and other states are following their lead.
Now that you know what a heat pump is and how it works, you know it’s not the end of the world. Modern heat pumps work very well even in very low temperatures (below 0°F temperatures), and can accept auxiliary strip heating for the most extreme nights. Again, I’m not saying I agree or not, this is an HVAC & Fireplace blog so not the forum for that discussion.
If you live in California or one of the states talking about gas furnace and fireplace bans – fret not! You’ll be able to heat your home even on the coldest days without it costing an arm and leg. Modern heat pumps are extremely efficient and work very well keeping homes comfortable. As for fireplaces – wait until you see what’s coming to market! At the last HPBE (Hearth, Patio, & Barbecue Expo) I attended, I saw electric fireplaces that looked exactly like gas units. If you live in one of the states colored in red below, gas bans are off the table for now, but that’s no reason to not consider a heat pump either. Speaking strictly as an HVAC Contractor, both gas furnaces and heat pumps have their pros & cons, but neither are bad.
Heat Pumps in Phoenix, AZ – The Motherland
If you live near Phoenix, AZ, you probably either already have a heat pump, or know of them. Phoenix is practically the motherland of this technology and has been for decades – our climate is ideal for them. More Phoenicians are opting to replace their gas furnaces to heat pumps than ever – we convert 5-10 homes per week some weeks. This is especially true with the popularity of inverter driven compressors from brands like Bosch, Gree, and Midea. All brands which offer high efficiency systems for a fraction of the cost of the ‘old guard’ like Trane, Carrier, etc. Sure, we still sell lots of all the old-guard brands, but more people are choosing new inverter brands because of the bang for the buck they offer.
We sell many brands including the ones mentioned (old guard and new) and are happy to show you how they compare side by side. We can also show you side by side how gas furnaces and heat pump systems compare for your home. Give us a call, text us, or use our self-scheduling feature to book online now for a free no-pressure quote.
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