You may have heard of a heat pump before. Perhaps you assumed that it was a form of heating system, given its name. You wouldn’t be entirely wrong in this case. However, a heat pump is also an air conditioner.
If your air conditioner is struggling this season and you’re getting ready to replace it, you’d do well to consider the heat pump system. Then you can start enjoying the benefits of improved efficiency and performance throughout the remainder of summer.
How a Heat Pump Works
A heat pump actually works pretty similarly to a standard central air conditioner. AC systems depend on refrigerant in order to do their job, circulating in an endless loop that allows them to cool the air within the system.
A standard AC starts by shifting the refrigerant from gaseous to liquid form, and placing it under a high level of pressure. The process releases heat into the air, which is typically vented outside of your home via the outdoor portion of the AC.
From there, the liquid refrigerant enters the evaporator coils in a specific amount, where it shifts back into gaseous form. This process lowers the temperature in the surrounding air, which is then blown into your home via the ductwork. The gaseous refrigerant then returns to the beginning of the loop to start the whole process over again.
Heat pumps use this same method; however, there’s a unique twist. In addition to going through the process described above, you can actually reverse the direction of the refrigerant flow via the system’s reversing valve in order to heat your home in the winter just as effectively as it cools in the summer.
How Does a Heat Pump Benefit You?
Heat pumps make effective air conditioners, as we described above, and can provide you with reliable and efficient cooling power all summer long. The biggest benefit, though, is how it serves you in the fall and winter.
Since it relies on refrigerant to provide heat, using a heat pump costs less than traditional furnaces that consume gas or electricity to run. This can pay big dividends during the cooler months, enabling you to comfortably warm your home at a small percentage of the same operating costs.
What to Know about Refrigerant
As you can see, the heat pump system relies very heavily on refrigerant. You may have been told at some point (not by a trustworthy HVAC professional, though) that refrigerant is something that runs out and needs to be refilled—recharged—every maintenance session.
This is simply not the case, though. Ideally, your air conditioner is supplied with enough refrigerant during installation to last its entire lifespan, and is constantly recycled. If you are losing refrigerant from your heat pump system or any air conditioner that you have, then it means you have a leak that must be located and appropriately repaired. Neglecting a refrigerant leak could lead to a malfunctioning air conditioner, as the coils can freeze over and restrict the absorption of heat.