The 3 Types of Home Heat Pumps and How They Work

November 2, 2023
The 3 Types of Home Heat Pumps and How They Work

Heat pumps are energy-efficient alternatives to traditional heating and cooling systems. As appliances, heat pumps work in a manner similar to refrigerators or air conditioners. During a single cycle, a heat pump uses energy to transfer heat from a cool space to a warm space. Specifically, this appliance uses electricity along with a refrigerant to “pump” or move heat from one area to another. Just like an air conditioner uses refrigerant and coils to move air, a heat pump uses energy and refrigerant to move heat.

Unlike furnaces or boilers, heat pumps do not generate heat. Instead, these appliances take advantage of the thermal energy already present in the air, ground, or water sources around your property. Most heat pumps come equipped with reversing valves that allow them to provide both heating and cooling mechanisms. This means that a heat pump can move heat from the cool outdoors into your warm house during the winter. Likewise, a heat pump can move heat from your house into the outdoors during the summer. Because a heat pump transfers rather than generates heat, this appliance can effectively sustain comfortable temperatures for your home.

Whether you are renovating your home or would like to replace an old furnace with an energy-efficient alternative, the heat pump is a popular option. But since there are several categories of heat pumps, how do you know which kind will work best for your home? An overview of the three main types of heat pumps can help you make an informed decision on which option can work best for your household.

What are the Three Major Types of Home Heat Pumps?

There are three primary types of home heat pumps: air-source heat pumps, ground-source heat pumps, and water-source heat pumps. Each type of heat pump operates on the standard refrigerant cycle. However, the types of heat pumps differ in that they each draw heat from different sources to complete the transfer process.

1. Air-Source Heat Pumps

An air-source heat pump extracts heat from the outside air and transfers this heat into your house. Also known as an air-to-air heat pump, this appliance is one of the most common types of heat pumps in the United States. According to the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, air-source heat pumps may lower electricity usage for heating by approximately 50% compared to electric-resistance appliances such as furnaces or baseboard heaters. During the summer, these heat pumps may also dehumidify better than standard central air conditioning units, resulting in less energy usage and more efficient cooling.

Standard air-source heat pumps connect to ductwork, but there are also ductless air-source heat pumps available on the market. The standard device uses an outdoor heat exchanger coil to extract heat from the air. It then uses an indoor heat exchanger coil to transfer this heat into air ducts for delivery to each of your rooms. During the summer, a technician can help you reverse this process so that the device can provide air conditioning as well. For homes without ducts, homeowners can install a ductless version in the form of a mini-split heat pump.

If your home already has a ventilation system or the home will be a new construction, many experts recommend the ducted air-source heat pump. Homeowners installing additions or who are unable to alter the ventilation system can consider the ductless variation instead. Some HVAC companies can also install applications for short-run ducts.

In simple terms, a short-run duct is a form of traditional large ductwork that only runs through a small section of the house. Homeowners can then complement short-run ducted heat pumps with ductless units throughout the rest of the house. Finally, you can also ask a home services technician about single-zone or multi-zone heat pump options.

Single-zone installations accommodate a single room with one outdoor condenser matched to one indoor head. Multi-zone systems connect multiple indoor coils to the outdoor condenser. The indoor coils can vary by size and style, each creating its own “zone” in which you can adjust settings to suit your individual preferences.

2. Ground-Source Heat Pumps

A ground-source heat pump extracts heat from the ground and soil around your home foundation and transfers it into your house. Also known as geothermal heat pumps, these appliances take advantage of the earth’s relatively constant ground temperatures. In other words, the ground temperature during the winter is consistently warmer than the surrounding air. This allows a ground-source heat pump to provide efficient heating during colder months.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, geothermal heat pumps may reduce energy usage by 30%-60%. These appliances can also help regulate humidity and fit into a wide range of homes. Ground-source heat pumps have a quieter operation process than air-source heat pumps, and customer satisfaction for the geothermal model tends to rank very high.

Choosing a ground-source heat pump depends on the size of your home lot, the type of subsoil, and the existing landscape. For the system to work correctly, a professional installer needs space to excavate the ground and insert long runs of plastic tubing underneath your home.

There are two primary types of installation: horizontal-ground coupled system installation and vertical-ground coupled system installation. For horizontal-ground coupled systems, a technician buries piping at least four feet underground and circulates warming fluid through the piping. Vertical-ground coupled systems work the same way, but technicians install the pipes vertically instead.

You can also ask a home services company about direct injection installation to simplify the process. Due to the high satisfaction with ground-source heat pumps, some homeowners also ask about hybrid heat pump models to get the best of both worlds. For example, an air-ground heat pump combo can extract heat from air during the summer but then switch to a ground source when temperatures drop. Similarly, a solar heat pump can connect solar panels to your existing ground-source system to help heat your entire home through renewable energy.

3. Water-Source Heat Pumps

A water-source heat pump extracts heat from a nearby body of water and transfers this heat into your home. Types of natural water resources include ponds, lakes, rivers, streams, aquifers, or groundwater wells. Since this type of appliance requires a nearby water supply, it is less common than other kinds of heat pumps.

If this is a viable option for your home, a technician can set up the water-source heat pump by installing a network of pipes directly at the water source. As the water cycles, it collects natural energy and delivers this heat to your home in the winter. During the summer, the reverse occurs and the pipes can carry heat away from your home and back to the water source. In this way, a water-source heat pump can provide efficient heating and cooling year-round.

Water-source heat pumps are common in commercial settings as large institutions are more likely to have access to a large body of water. Examples include schools, office buildings, churches, athletic facilities, and healthcare or rehabilitation centers. However, individuals with home businesses often report great satisfaction with this heating and cooling model when they live close enough to a sufficient natural water resource.

If you want this type of heat pump but live near a body of water that freezes during the winter, a technician may suggest installing a secondary heating source as a backup option. You can also talk to a technician about any hybrid models available for homes in your region.

Contact Us Today

A heat pump is a viable solution for homeowners interested in efficient ways to maintain a comfortable indoor environment. When deciding upon the type of heat pump, it is essential to call the experts. Brennan Heating & Air Conditioning provides heat pump installation services for homes in Lynnwood, Seattle, and surrounding areas. In addition to heat pumps, we offer AC and heater installation and repair services as well as help with ventilation. Our indoor air quality (IAQ) services include air scrubbers, air purifiers, humidifiers, whole-house fans, and complete diagnostics or maintenance services. Contact Brennan Heating & Air Conditioning for all heating, cooling, and air quality needs.

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