What is a Heat Pump, and is it Right for Me?

More and more we’re getting questions from homeowners about heat pumps.  What are they?  How do they work?  Are they right for me? While heat pumps are fairly common in the warmer states they are less well known in other parts of the country, but that is quickly changing.

What is a Heat Pump?

Heat pumps are simply central air conditioners that provide cooling in the summer and heating in the winter.  During the winter months they literally run in reverse to heat your home. A heat pump can be one of the most efficient methods to heat and cool your home, and a good choice for a number of reasons.

Heat Pump Benefits

  • By having one system that provides heating and cooling you can save on upfront equipment costs by not purchasing a furnace
  • Combining the mechanical efficiency with off-peak seasonal electricity rates in the winter months means lower energy costs for heating.
  • Because heat pumps use electricity efficiently rather than burning fossil fuels, they are generally cleaner and less harmful to the environment.

Heat Pump Caution

While heat pump technology is becoming more and more efficient at heating and cooling, there are still circumstances where a furnace or secondary heat source will be necessary.  In areas of the country that routinely get below 15°F for extended periods of time it might be beneficial to use the heat pump with an auxiliary heating solution such as a conventional gas furnace.  Ask your contractor about the latest high efficiency heat pumps and duel fuel systems available for your region of the country.

Using a heat pump air conditioner that does both heating and cooling can provide a low cost, high efficiency and environmentally-friendly solution for your comfort needs all year long.

Do you know anyone that has recently installed a heat pump? Let us know if you’re considering one!

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21 thoughts on “What is a Heat Pump, and is it Right for Me?

  1. For more info on the benefits of heat pumps check this out http://www.sweeneyrenewables.com/products/air-to-water-heat-pump

  2. I am in Nebraska and have three water source heat pumps. On a 4000 square ft house the monthly electric bill is rarely over 150 dollars. A member of the family insists on augmenting his area with an electric space heater. What is the efficiency of the water source heat pump relative to an electric space heater?

    • The water source heat pump will typically be much more efficient than a resistance heater. However, if the resistance heater is only used for a small space for spot heating, the total increase in energy usage might be small. It might depend more on how much you plan to use the resistance heater.

  3. I need specific information and nobody provides it.
    I need to find the make and model of the ductless heat pump that is most efficient at 15 degrees “F”.
    In western Washington it seldom gets lower than that overnight (usually mid- 20s) and usually is back above 30 in the day time.
    I’m looking for reliability and low temp capability.

    • Hi Dennis,

      Unfortunately we cannot recommend or comment on specific makes and models. We would suggest that you contact a qualified contractor to discuss equipment sizing, types and efficiency levels. The ACCA – which is a national contractor organization has a contractor locator tool which may also help you find a qualified contractor in your area.

      Here’s the link: http://www.acca.org/locator

  4. I have air/heat pump, the air will not come on is it something I need to do so the air will come on. set the t-stat on what?

    • Hi Janice – Here are a few suggestions. Make sure the fan switch or button on your thermostat is set to “auto” (fan comes on when the AC comes on) and the “cool” button should be selected, or switched from “heat” to “cool”. Then you can drop the thermostat room temperature set point to at least 5 degrees lower than the actual space temperature. Cool air should be coming out of your system after a few minutes. If the fan does not come on or if the air coming out is not cool then you might have other problems which might require an HVAC contractor to help diagnose.

  5. Can a heat pump be installed in a fully finished home that does not have an existing heat pump, central air or a furnace, only electric baseboard.

    • Yes. You can install a heat pump. There are several ways to do this. One is to install a central AC system for your whole home or part of it but you would have to install ductwork as well. There are ways to do this in existing homes without existing ductwork but you might have to call a few different contractors before you find one that comes up with a good, low cost way to get the ductwork installed. Another way is to use a ductless mini-split Heat pump. A third way would be to use a central ducted heat pump for part of your house and some small ductless minisplits for parts of your home that are difficult to install ductwork. In addition to heating you will get air conditioning in the summer with either hear pump system. One other suggestion is to leave your baseboard heat there along with the new heat pump to help your overall system to keep up on the coldest periods. Depending on where you are and how cold it gets you might want to use both for a while until you are sure you don’t need the baseboard heaters anymore. A good contractor can advise you about all these options. Good luck!

  6. it looks like a reddish liquid is running out of outside unit. its frozen and only on the ground in front of the unit

    • Hi Donna,

      My guess is that it might be rust from the metal surfaces of the outdoor unit, mixed with snow and ice.

      Hope this helps,
      Scott

  7. Hi Bob,

    One option might be for you to replace your existing thermostat with one that allows for a lower heating set point. Typically modern thermostats will be able to set back down to 45°F. These thermostats are available at many retail hardware stores, if you want to try to change it yourself or call a qualified contractor to do it for you.

  8. HI,

    IS THERE ANY WAY TO HAVE THE TEMPERATURE SETTING LOWER THAN 60 DEGREES WHEN USING THE HEAT CYCLE? I AM IN CT AND DO NOT NEED THE HOUSE AT 60 WHEN AWAY FOR EXTENDED PERIODS. I USUALLY LEAVE THE OIL FURNACE AT 45 DEGREES.

  9. Have a mobile home in Phonex Az. and have existing air conditioner which compressor failed and unit is old so want to ditch my gas fired water heater and furnace and go with all electric heat pump and water heater. 1300 s.f.mobile and install a air handler in furnace unit to match heat pump system. Does this sound like a good plan. Thank you for any reply. Geo.

    • Here are a few things to consider. I would first look at how electricity rates and gas rates compare in your location throughout the heating and cooling seasons. If electricity is cheaper overall, your plan should make economic sense. You might also want to consider using a dual fuel heat pump that runs on electricity most of the time but it can switch to using a gas furnace for backup heating. This might also give you flexibility if either gas or electric rates spike up for some reason. In fact, if your furnace is still working you might just keep that and add the heatpump system to get the same effect. You can ask your contractor about those options. There are also some new, high efficiency electric heat pump water heaters out now too so you might consider those. Hope this helps. Happy Thanksgiving!

  10. why would there be frost on the outside unit when the thermostat is set to heat, inside set to 72, outside is about 65. There are two units in my home because it used to be a duplex, one unit frosts up outside, while the other unit seems to be just fine, both thermostat’s are set to 72?

  11. If the indoor fan continues to run when the outdoor unit is off and set to auto, there might be a minor problem with either the thermostat or the wiring, etc to the fan. You should probably call a contractor to check it out. There might also be something else going on that is causing it to run longer than normal to reach your set point like low refrigerant charge so you might ask the contractor to check that out too. As for comparing energy bills from one region and one system type to another there are many variables that affect your energy bill – run time, electricity prices, system efficiency, etc. so it is difficult to compare unlike systems in different environments.

  12. Moved to SC end of July. Heat pump is a Tappan FT3BA-036KA. No handbook left by owers. Noticed that fan (on automatic) constantly runs with cool air coming out of vents. Temp set at 80. Questioning why the fan constantly runs. Had heat pump in PA and the fan ran when the outside unit clicked on. One month electric bill was here was 185. for 2 people. Hse. approx., +1300 sq’. Unit is about 10 yrs. old. Sure would appreciate your input, Thanks Charmaine

  13. That is a little far north to get by with only a heat pump. Most heat pump systems in cold climates also have electric resistance heaters to use on the coldest days. You could also use a heat pump with a gas furnace to give you what is called a “dual fuel” system. You would use the energy savings from the heat pump all through the heating season but the gas furnace would provide more heating on the coolest days. The same heat pump then could run in reverse as an air conditioner in the summer cooling season. Hope this answers your question but a good contractor can probably tell you more about specific equipment options.

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