Understanding Heat Pumps

heatpumpHeat pumps perform a double duty by not only warming your home in cold weather, but also cooling it in hot weather. That’s why sometimes you may hear a heat pump referred to as a central heating and cooling unit. In cold weather, it collects heat from the air outside your home and concentrates it for use inside. On those occasions when the outside temperature falls too low for the heat pump to do the entire job at maximum efficiency, a special supplemental heating system automatically provides any extra heat needed. In hot weather, the process is reversed by collecting the heat inside your home and effectively pumping it outside.

The two most common types of electric heat pumps in Warren RECC’s service area are the air-to-air and the geothermal, or ground loop heat pump. In the last few years, the geothermal heat pump has become very popular. This system uses a loop of plastic piping, which circulates water as the heat transfer median instead of outside air. Like the air-to-air heat pump, a geothermal also provides heating and cooling capabilities. Because the earth’s temperature is more constant- at six feet deep, the temperature averages 57 degrees Fahrenheit – than outside air, the unit performs better and is by far more efficient than any other heat pump system.

The cost of a geothermal heat pump system can be 60 to 100 percent greater than other types of heating and cooling systems. However, because it uses less electricity and is so much more efficient, the payback is usually less than five years, and the system can also provide some domestic water heating.

An Explanation of Terms:

As with any piece of equipment, whether an automobile or computer, it is always good to have some basic knowledge of terms. The same is true of heat pumps as well. Here are a few terms that describe heat pump performance, size and efficiency:

  • SEER – Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio: This is an efficiency term relative to cooling. The higher the SEER, the lower the operating costs. For example, a 13 SEER unit costs less to operate than a 10 SEER unit.
  • HSPF – Heating Season Performance Factor: An energy term relative to heating. The higher the HSPF, the lower the operating costs. For example, an 8.2 HSPF rated heat pump costs less to operate than a 7.5 HSPF unit.
  • BTU – British Thermal Unit: A BTU is relative to the size of the heat pump unit. The capacity of a heat pump is rated in BTUs, and there are 12,000 BTUs per ton. So, if you have a two-ton heat pump, it has the capacity to produce 24,000 BTUs of heating or cooling.

What to do if your heat pump unit goes out:

  • Check thermostat setting
  • Check filter
  • Check outdoor unit (some have a manual reset pressure switch)
  • Check breakers in main electrical panel
  • If needed, contact a professional HVAC service company