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What is a Heat Pump and How Does a Heat Pump Work?

Considering investing in a heat pump? Understanding what a heat pump is and how it works can help determine whether this HVAC system is suitable for your home.

The concept of a heat pump is confusing to most. It is not a furnace, but it is capable of warming your home. It’s not an air conditioner, but it keeps your home cool. Below is a quick rundown of what this mystifying system is, how it works, and how it could be beneficial for you to have one in your home. 

First of all, what IS a heat pump?

When someone asks, how does a heat pump work, many HVAC technicians respond – “it’s air conditioning in reverse.” Technically that’s true, however it doesn’t help explain things to someone who isn’t in the HVAC business. A heat pump is both an air conditioner (cooling) and heating system in one. You may have already known that, but many don’t as it’s not implied in the name “heat pump”. People frequently ask us if a heat pump provides cooling also – yes, heat pumps provide both cooling AND heating.  

Simply put, a heat pump is an electrical device that takes heat from one place and transfers it to another. It is part of the central heating and cooling system. It uses outside air to heat a home in the colder months and cool a home in the hotter months. They do not generate heat, they move—or PUMP—it. 

How does a heat pump work exactly?

A heat pump system consists of two main components: an outdoor heat pump and an indoor air handler. Think of it as a transporter—it is constantly moving warm or cool air from one place to another, where it is needed, depending on the time of year and the desired temperature of a home. But how exactly do they heat AND cool your home?  

How Heat Pumps Work in the Summer:

In the summer months, a heat pump works just like a standard air conditioner would. Standard air conditioners, use a refrigerant to absorb unwanted heat in your home and transfer it to the air outside. This happens by changing the pressure of the refrigerant fluid. At low pressures, the refrigerant will easily absorb any heat available in the air and evaporate from a liquid to a gas. At high pressures, a gas refrigerant is higher energy than the outside air, so it passes heat to the surrounding air and the refrigerant condenses back to a liquid when it cools. By controlling the pressure of the refrigerant, an air conditioner can extract heat from your home, even on very hot days.  

SOURCE: Energystar.gov

How Heat Pumps Work in the Winter:

A heat pump uses this same cycle “run in reverse” in the winter to extract heat energy from the outside and transfer it into your home. Even when it’s really cold out, there is still some amount of heat energy in the air. Because the outdoor air has higher energy than the cold, low-pressure refrigerant, the refrigerant absorbs that heat and evaporates. Just like the air conditioning cycle, the gas refrigerant can be pressurized, which raises the temperature. When the refrigerant is piped back into your home, it is used to warm up the air inside, until the heat is extracted and it condenses back into a liquid, and the cycle continues. 

SOURCE: Energystar.gov

Bottom line: A heat pump works by using a compressor, refrigerant circuit, and fans to move heat from one place to another.

How Does a Heat Pump Save Energy? 

Because it moves heat from one place to another rather than generating it, a heat pump uses less energy to warm your home than a conventional electric or gas system. In fact, many of them are efficient enough to earn the ENERGY STAR label. If you are replacing a central air conditioning system, heat pumps can work with the existing ducting in your home or are available as mini-split, or “ductless,” units, if your home does not have ductwork.  

Even if you aren’t replacing your existing heating system as you add air conditioning, a heat pump can provide cooling in the summer and more efficiently cover some of the heating load of your home. On the coldest days of Winter, even a small system can offset the operating cost of your main heating system.

Heat Pump Repairs, Service & Installations

Whether you need affordable heat pump repair services or a new heat pump installation, contact the experts at Pro-Tech HVAC Home. We provide heat pump repairs, service and installations for customers in Annapolis and the surrounding areas. No matter the brand or model heat pump you want or have we can install, repair, and maintain it. 


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Whatever type of unit you have, it’s a complex system. If your heating or air conditioning system has broken down, CONTACT US today!

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Whether you’re replacing an old HVAC system or installing a new one, we’re here to help. We provide free estimates to Annapolis residents.

Pro-Tech HVAC Home offers new installation, replacement, repairs and maintenance of heating and air conditioning systems in the Annapolis area. Our customers rely on us for honest and reliable service for air conditioners, heat pumps, gas furnaces, Mitsubishi systems, and more. We’re happy to answer questions, troubleshoot, and help you choose the best HVAC system for you and your family. We’re always happy to help answer your questions, so please give us a call or send us an email.

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About Us

Pro-Tech HVAC Home offers new installation, replacement and maintenance of heating and air conditioning systems in the Annapolis area. Our customers rely on us for honest and reliable service for air conditioners, heat pumps, gas furnaces, Mitsubishi systems, and more. We’re happy to answer questions, troubleshoot, and help you choose the best HVAC system for you and your family.