How Does a Heat Pump Work?

How Does a Heat Pump Work?


We are so lucky to live in Alabama. The climate here in Birmingham is fantastic, with mild winters that allow us to get out and enjoy the outdoors year-round. Did you know, though, that being in the South means that our heating equipment is just a little different? It is normal to see homes here running on forced air heating using a heat pump. In other areas of the country, these devices are virtually non-existent for winter heating. So, what the heck is a heat pump and why do they work so well in our area?


What is a Heat Pump?

The basic idea of a heat pump is simple – it moves heat from one location to the other. An air conditioner is a heat pump that runs in a single direction. It transfers heat from the inside of your home outside. In the HVAC world, a “heat pump” is an air conditioning system that can work in reverse as well. So, with the simple flip of a switch, the direction of the heat transfer is changed. Now, heat is pulled from the outdoor air and transferred indoors so that you can stay toasty warm during the winter months.


Why Do Heat Pumps Work So Well in Alabama?

For the heat pump to properly heat your home, the outdoor air needs to be above 32°F. If the air is colder than that, they do not work well. There isn’t enough heat in the outdoor air to transfer into your home, which means that a secondary heat source is needed to keep you warm. Most heat pumps have an electric coil (think space heater, but larger) that turns on as a backup on occasional cold days. However, that coil requires more energy to heat, meaning that the overall system uses more power on cold days. For people in colder climates, the cost of using a heat pump with a backup coil to heat their homes is more expensive than a fuel-burning system, such as a furnace.


Energy-Efficiency for Southern Climates

Lucky for us, we live in a climate where the temperature rarely stays below 32°F for long! Not only does it mean that we can simplify the HVAC systems in our homes, it means that our energy bills aren’t quite as high. Because of how heat pumps transfer heat, they are very efficient at heating your home. The amount of energy used (in this case electricity) to keep your space comfortable is much smaller than the amount of energy needed in a system that directly burns fuel to create heat. Plus, it helps to keep the air in your home a little cleaner, so that your air quality stays healthy all winter long.


Augmenting Your Heat Pump

There are a few ways you can improve your heat pump experience. Double check your windows and doors for any drafts – you don’t want heat escaping your home. Having great insulation also helps to boost the efficiency of your system by ensuring that warm air stays in your living areas, where it belongs. If there is a cold snap, it doesn’t hurt to have space heaters on hand to make up for the decreased efficiency of your HVAC system, just use them safely.


The Bottom Line: Heat pumps are systems that move heat from one location to another – in this case, into or out of your home. These systems are usually forced air and are an energy-efficient heating and cooling option for those living in the South.