How Does a Heat Pump Work in the Winter?

Many people don’t think much about how their HVAC system works — until it doesn’t. So what happens when your heater goes out? To understand how to troubleshoot your HVAC system, you first need to understand how a heat pump works in the winter. With the temperatures continuing to drop during chilly months, many homes will be susceptible to issues with their heating systems due to the extreme cold weather. One of these issues is heat pump inefficiency below certain temperatures. It’s important to understand cold weather tips for you and your home like installing a heat pump.

How Does a Heat Pump Work?

When choosing a HVAC system for your home, consider a heat pump system. This method of heating offers an energy-efficient alternative to furnaces and air conditioners. Heat pumps use electricity to push heat from a cool space to a warm space, making the cool space cooler and the warm space warmer.

During the cooler fall and winter months, heat pumps move heat from the cool outdoors into your warm house and during the cooling season, heat pumps move heat from your cool house into the warm outdoors. Since heat pumps transport heat rather than generate heat, this type of heating system can provide equivalent space conditioning at as little as one quarter of the cost of operating conventional heating or cooling appliances, according the U.S. Department of Energy.

Having a heat pump sized to match your home can increase its efficiency by allowing it to run continuously. A heat pump uses the same size and arrangement of ductwork that a conventional gas-powered forced air furnace requires. Heat pump systems can last approximately 15 years with annual maintenance. To keep utility costs low, heat pumps are often the best choice because they utilize geothermal energy and are powered by electricity.

Types of Heat Pumps

The main types of heat pumps are air-to-air, water source, and geothermal heating. They collect heat from the air, water, or ground outside your home and concentrate it for use inside.

Air-to-Air Heat Pump

The most common type of heat pump found in residential homes is the air-source heat pump, which transfers heat between your house and the outside air. Historically, air-to-air heat pumps did not offer sufficient warmth to homes in regions of extended periods of subfreezing temperatures.

However, large strides in air-to-air heat pump technology in recent years has allowed air-to-air heat pump technology to become a legitimate space heating alternative in colder regions. For homes without ductwork, air-source heat pumps are also available in a ductless version called a mini-split heat pump.

Geothermal Heating and Water-Source Heat Pump

Geothermal (ground-source or water-source) heat pumps achieve higher efficiencies by transferring heat between your house and the ground or a nearby water source. Geothermal heat pumps have lower operating costs because they take advantage of relatively constant ground or water temperatures. Although geothermal and water-source heat pumps can be costly to install, they pay for themselves in the long run by saving you money on utilities.

Geothermal heating reduces energy use by 30%-60%, controls humidity, has a long lifespan, and fits in a wide variety of homes. Whether a geothermal heat pump is suitable for your home is dependent on a variety of factors including the size of your lot, the subsoil, and the landscape. Ground-source or water-source heat pumps can be used in more extreme climates than air-source heat pumps.

Air-to-Air Heat Pump Efficiency

Air-to-air heat pumps can always pull heat out of the air, however heat pump efficiencyplummets when it drops below freezing or 32° Fahrenheit. If ice begins to accumulate on your heat pump’s outdoor components, your heat pump will switch into defrost mode. On this setting, your heat pump will reverse operation to defrost those components, which is critical to keep the inner mechanisms from freezing.

This setting should only be temporary and switch back to the default mode once the ice is melted away from the heat pump. If you’re asking why your house is cold even with the heat turned on, that might be a red flag. While defrost mode is a normal part of operation, if you feel it is drastically affecting the temperature in your house, there might be a problem with your heat pump. If it seems like defrost mode may be kicking on too frequently or lasting for an excessive period of time make sure to contact the HVAC professions at John C. Flood.

Heat pumps only require a modest amount of power and usually run on electricity, which translates to lower gas and electricity bills because this system removes your need for a central air conditioner. The advanced heat pump technology can reduce your electricity use for heating by approximately 50% compared to electric resistance heating such as furnaces and baseboard heaters. High-efficiency heat pumps also dehumidify air better than standard central air conditioners, resulting in more effective cooling in summer months.

Heat pumps are best suited to mild climates and may need a supplemental heating source in lower temperatures. However, if you live in an area the frequently drops into below-freezing temperatures, a dual-fuel system might be the best way to efficiently heat your home this winter. Pairing your heat pump with a gas furnace is the most efficient method to heat your home while ensuring around-the-clock coverage. A heat pump will provide electric heating down to a certain temperature, and then switch over to gas heating.

The John C. Flood Heating Professionals Work Hard so Your Heat Pump Doesn’t Have to!

Whether you choose a heat pump, furnace, or boiler for your home, a heating system that is regularly maintained will maximize your family’s comfort this winter without hurting your wallet.

Don’t get left in the cold! If you need help understanding how to efficiently heat your home, be sure to schedule an appointment as soon as possible with the HVAC professionals at John C. Flood by calling 703-214-5611

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