Heat pumps demystified

Georthermal heat pumps take advantage of the ground temperature.

Home heating and cooling is the largest energy expense for the average American home. According to Energy.gov, home heating bills account for approximately 45 percent of all energy bills. The type of heating system in your home depends on factors such as fuel (availability and costs), climate, efficiency and size. At some of Corvias’ locations in warmer climates, some of the  heating and air conditioning systems are heat pumps. Heat pumps have a number of benefits, ranging from lower energy bills to a more comfortable living environment.

What is a heat pump?
Traditionally mounted on the wall, heat pumps serve two functions: Keeping you warm in the winter and cool in the summer, thanks to their all-in-one capability.

Heat pumps work by transferring hot air to a warm space during the summer when you want to lower the temperature, leaving cold air in place. But during the winter, it does the reverse, extracting all the heat out of cold air and “shepherding” it, if you will, to the interior to keep conditions warm.

The difference between a heat pump and a common air conditioner or space heater is that there’s no conversion process that takes place. In other words, instead of generating heated or cold air, heat pumps efficiently transfer the opposing air temperatures to the appropriate locations. Because this process takes less electricity to do, it can leave you with more money in your pocket. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, heat pumps can cut electricity use by between 30 and 40 percent.

There are several different types of heat pumps that you can use, each one not necessarily better than the other. The most common types of heat pumps include geothermal, absorption and air-source. At our Corvias locations with heat pumps, three types of heat pumps are available:

  1. Air source.
  2. Geothermal.
  3. Split system.

“Heat pumps can cut energy use by as much as 40 percent, and still keeps things comfortable.”

Geothermal heat pumps have been around for almost 70 years. Instead of using the air as its primary vehicle, they function by transferring the ground’s constant temperature for climate control. This is part of the reason why they’re often referred to as ground-source heat pumps.

Absorption heat pumps are similar to ground-source heat pumps, but the main difference is that instead of using electricity for energy, they use a different form, be it natural gas – the most common type – solar or propane.

Air-source heat pumps are the kind that most people are familiar with, not only because of how they function but also because they’re extremely energy-efficient. They’re capable of delivering up to three times more heat than the overall amount of electrical energy it burns in the process, according to government data.

More than anything else, heat pumps help to keep the air temperature at a constant level, usually between 15 to 20 degrees different from what conditions are outside. For best results, keep these tips in mind:

Change filters regularly
Because heat pumps have automatic capabilities, it’s not uncommon to forget that they’re even on, never mind the fact that they make little noise. However, if there’s a nip to the air and you haven’t checked on your heat pump in a while, fixing the issue may be as simple as cleaning the air filters. Make it a point to change the air filters on a monthly basis so you don’t run into any problems. Corvias residents can get air filters at no charge from your Community Office or by calling in a service request.

Avoid adjusting thermostat
You may find that the air pumping out of the heat pump isn’t as warm as it usually is. Your first inclination might be to turn up your thermostat. However, the thermostat may not be the true cause. Check your vents first – they may need to be cleaned, or they could just be closed. If you do have a problem with either the vents or the thermostat, call in a service request.

For more information on heat pumps, visit the U.S. Department of Energy’s website.