Get to Know: Heat Pumps

Get to Know: Heat Pumps


For much of the country, winter has officially arrived! All over the news we see images of people driving through mountains of snow and dealing with cold temperatures. But here in Alabama, we are lucky to have mild winters – our average highs are usually somewhere in the 50s, and we rarely are forced to deal with troublesome snow and ice. Of course we make up for it with hot summers, but that’s a post for another day…

Because we are blessed to live in a mild climate, our heating equipment needs are a little different from our northern neighbors. Here in the South, the heat pump is king. This device works on the same principles that allow air conditioners to function, and does a great job providing heat to homes in climates where the outside temperature generally stays above 40°F. Let’s learn a little more about this common piece of HVAC equipment.


What Is A Heat Pump?

In the simplest terms, a heat pump is a device that uses energy to move heat from one place to another. Refrigerators work on this principle, as do air conditioners. When we talk about a heat pump in HVAC terms, we are referring to a system composed of an evaporator and condenser that is often used to both heat and cool the home, depending on the season.

In order for a heat pump to heat a home, it operates in the same manner as an air conditioner, but in reverse (you can check out that process in this post). For heating, the roles of the condenser and evaporator coils are reversed – the evaporation happens in the outside unit, while the condensation happens indoors. The evaporator absorbs heat from the air outside and brings it indoors, heating the condensation coils, which in turn heat the air being pulled into the heat pump through return vents. This warmed air is then released back into the ductwork of your home.

However, for this process to work efficiently, there must be some heat available in the outdoor air for the heat pump to remove. This is why the system only works at temperatures that stay above 40° F. If the temperatures routinely drop to a lower level, it becomes difficult for a heat pump to keep a home warm, not to mention issues that arise from frozen outdoor coils.


What Are The Benefits?

One of the biggest benefits of using a heat pump over another source of home heating is their energy efficiency. Heat pumps require much less electricity to operate than furnaces – modern heat pumps can use up to 50% less electricity, leading to lower energy bills in the winter. Savings are also found in installation costs, as furnaces tend to be more expensive to install.

Another major benefit of a heat pump is that it can be combined in a single system with an air conditioner. This makes it very easy to switch from heating to cooling quickly – a definite benefit in a state where sudden warm spells can cause winter temperatures to go from pleasantly cool to surprisingly hot. The combination also means less equipment, which means a reduction in the number of parts that can potentially require repair.

As an added bonus, heat pumps tend to be much quieter than a traditional furnace, so your home stays both warm and quiet all winter long.


Advances In Heat Pumps

As technology advances in all industries, we have definitely seen some changes in the plain Jane heat pumps that have always been common. In recent years there have been some interesting improvements to heat pumps, allowing them to meet the needs of different households. One of our favorites is the mini-split heat pump system, which is similar to an air conditioning mini-split but with the ability to heat as well as cool. This is a great option for older homes that might not have ductwork, or for home additions that may not easily be added to existing ductwork.

There are also advances in the types of heat pumps you can purchase. Generally, heat pumps operate by pulling heat from the air, but there are now geothermal systems that will allow you to pull heat from the ground or water. Ground systems are especially energy efficient, but usually require a larger investment for installation.

Wondering what heat pump system might be right for you? We’re happy to answer any questions you might have – give us a call at (205) 871–8111 or send us an email here.