A: A heat pump residential air conditioning system is a system that has the capability to reverse the flow of refrigerant. So, when you have your condenser that’s pumping refrigerant towards your evaporator coil—in straight cooling, the coil removes heat from the air. That’s when you get cold air supply into the home.
A heat pump will reverse that process so now that evaporator coil in the attic is adding heat to the airflow and warming up the house.
Heat pumps are mysterious pieces of HVAC equipment—unless you have a Ph.D. in physics and HVAC engineering. All jokes aside, heat pumps really aren’t that complex once you sit down and study how they work. However, if you Google “heat pump” you get a ton of links trying to sell you a heat pump or people trying to convince you to keep using gas or propane. You’ll be lucky to find a link that actually explains a heat pump and answers some of the most common questions about them.
Oh wait, yet here you are—with the Houston HVAC experts that are about to do just that. Listen, at AirTeam we are big proponents of educating customers—whether you’re buying or not. It’s good for business, good for our industry, and most of all, good for our community. So, let us make heat pumps a little less confusing for you. With the information we provide you, you’ll be able to make an educated decision no matter which Houston HVAC company you work with.
How Does A Heat Pump Work Within Houston HVAC Systems?
Well a heat pump, as Marcelo explained, is an appliance that can be used to heat the home. However, did you know that it also cools the home? That’s because a heat pump is an appliance that has two components. It consists of an indoor unit that brings hot or cold air inside the home and an outdoor condenser that produces that air.
Since the condenser and the indoor unit, or air handler are separated with a refrigerant line they are also called “mini-split” systems. The reason many people favor heat pumps is that they offer very high-efficiency rates in most cases. Also, in homes with no existing ductwork, these heat pumps or mini-splits can heat and cool without installing ducts. This is why heat pumps have yet a third name—ductless.
Confused yet? Don’t worry about it, once you realize how heat pumps work in detail it will all make more sense.
Heat Pump Operation
A heat pump in the most basic of explanations moves heat from one area to another using coolant and electricity. It differs from a furnace that uses natural gas or propane and a blower fan to heat and move air within the home.
To accomplish this a heat pump withdraws heat from the outside air and transfers it to coolant which is then compressed. This compression raises the coolant temperature and then gets delivered to the indoor unit. In that unit, the hot coolant has air passed over it, raising it to the temperature dictated by the thermostat.
Speaking of the indoor unit, that is one of the two components a heat pump is comprised of─ it’s referred to as a “wall cassette”. It’s usually mounted on a wall, it’s not very large, it’s rectangular shaped, and is usually no more than eight inches deep. Outside the home is the other component, the condenser unit which is connected to the wall cassette via a coolant line. The wall cassette is controlled by the thermostat and makes the call for heat. When heat is called for the fan on the condenser unit fires up and extracts the hear from external air. The coolant line carries the hot air into the indoor unit which distributes the air in the home using its fan. When you need the come cooled, the process is just reversed, taking heat from the home, cooling it, and re-distributing it inside.
What Are The Benefits?
When compared to other sources of heat, heat pumps offer significant savings over other methods of electric heating.
Since a heat pump only uses electricity to power itself rather than generate heat, it delivers huge savings on energy usage. When you use other electric heat sources such as a space heater, the heat produced is equal to the electricity used. That works out to 100% efficiency which sounds good until you compare it with a heat pump.
Now consider the heat pump, it only uses electricity to power the two fans, compressor, and the pump to bring heat into your home. For this reason, heat pumps can deliver over three units of heat per unit of electricity. That’s a whopping 300% efficiency rating which leaves traditional electric heat sources in the dust. Given that Houston has relatively mild winters (although this IS 2020) that also translates into huge savings on energy costs.
Heat Pump Usage With Solar Electricity Benefits
More and more homes are making the switch to solar electricity either in whole or part of a hybrid system. Solar has come a long way and is now a reliable, affordable option for power delivery.
Solar panels harvest solar energy during the day when the sun is out and transform it into usable electricity. The draw of solar panels is that in a lot of homes, the total amount of electricity produced exceeds what the home uses. This excess electricity is effectively sold back to the electric provider through credits that offset your electric bill. Since most homes in Houston will still have an electric bill for overnight usage and during storms or overcast days, that’s crucial. Those credits can make a huge difference in energy costs, especially during Texas summers.
We know you’re thinking, “But don’t heat pumps use electricity?” Yes, they do, however when using solar panels with heat pumps you can save up to 40% a year on electricity costs. So, heat pumps and solar panels are a perfect combo for maximum savings.
Do Heat Pumps Stop Working When It Gets Very Cold?
This is a fact─ however, it would have to get extremely cold for that to happen. We’re talking temperatures that aren’t possible in Houston’s semi-tropic climate zone. Let’s just discuss it though in general because—hey, the more you know, right?
Different models are going to be rated differently regarding what temperature range is optimal for the best operation. Heat pumps are rated by their output—say that at °30 a heat pump produces at 100% capacity at top efficiency. The lower the mercury drops, the harder that pump will have to work to keep your home at the desired warmth. So in essence with a drop of the mercury comes a drop in output and efficiency as well.
Heat pumps will have to work harder in other instances as well such as with older homes that have weak insulation or drafty windows. In newer homes that were built with stricter standards it happens less frequently.
Basically, to maximize the return on your investment of a heat pump, you should take all measures to seal your home properly. This will ensure whatever heat pump you buy will not have to work against your home but rather with your home. The more energy-efficient the rest of your home is, the more heat it will retain thereby working the pump less.
Want To See If A Heat Pump Can Save You Money?
Given that Houston’s climate affords us very mild winters, going with a full-blown furnace would be overkill. Heat pumps are the more efficient solution for warmer climates that rarely see a dip below freezing, such as Houston.
If you want to have the most efficient and affordable heating solution for your Houston home, contact AirTeam. We can get a specialist to come out and give you a personalized quote and go over your options.