What Is A Heat Pump?
Hello all, Fall is here, and you've probably had to turn on your heater in your home, apartment, condo-or wherever you live. Chances are you've had to consider the functionality of the heating system in your office, or place of employment as well. Unless you are the owner of the business or the building, then you probably have little choice concerning the manner of heating in your place of employment, so I'll primarily talk about your residential heating system. Forgive me should you think that I'm only talking to homeowners here-should you live somewhere in which you've had to purchase a window air conditioner for air conditioning needs-then this hub concerning heat pumps will apply to you, as well as home owners, and persons owning small commercial buildings.
Just what on Earth is this thing called a "heat pump?" In order for me to answer that question, you'll first have to understand what an air conditioner is, and some basics about how it operates, for a heat pump is simply an air conditioner that is able to work in reverse, and supply heat in exactly the same manner, but opposite, as it provides cooling.
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Your air conditioner consists of four primary parts, and it's a very rare refrigeration system that deviates from this four part design, consisting of an evaporator, a compressor, a metering device, and a condenser. Heat is absorbed through your evaporator, and transferred to the refrigerant flowing within, the compressor compresses the refrigerant into a liquid, at the condenser, and there the heat is transferred through forced convection to outside ambient air , then the refrigerant is metered through the metering device back into the evaporator as a gas, where forced convection forces air laden with heat into the evaporator once again.
Note: Albert Einstein invented something called "the absorption chiller," a unique, but not so often used mode of refrigeration. I've actually had my hands on one, but only as a helper, and long ago. I'd have to further investigate the operation of this type of system to know if it fits the four part design listed above, or not.
So you see, an air conditioner doesn't add cold air to your home, it removes heat from it. It is important to realize that "cold" does not exist, but that heat is always present. There is, however, something called "absolute zero" which is the temperature at which there is said to be no heat present. You'll never encounter such a temperature unless you've volunteered in some cryogenics program . . .following your life.
Okay, so following the logic established above, that there is always heat present in ambient air in livable habitats, then an evaporator, logically, can always absorb heat to transfer through refrigerant gasses into another area via a condenser, compressor, and metering device.
Finally, should you have absorbed the information above, I can answer the question: "What is a heat pump?" Answer: A heat pump is an air conditioner that employees a three way valve, also known as a "reversing valve" in order to change the direction of the refrigerant flow within a system, thereby making an indoor evaporator a condenser, and an outdoor condenser, an evaporator. Another simple answer would be, "a heat pump is an air conditioning system with not four, but five major components, the four usual ones, plus a reversing valve to change the direction of refrigerant flow in order to provide heat to the same conditioned space that it also can provide air conditioning to."
"So Todd, what you seem to be telling me here is that with a heat pump, even though it's ten degrees outside. . . .I can take the little heat that there is outside, and use it to heat my home?"
"So Todd, why would I do that? Why would I want a heat pump, when my gas furnace heats my home just fine?"
You can have a heat pump working in conjunction with your gas furnace-when it gets too cold outside for your heat pump to keep up with the demand for heat in your home, the gas furnace will take over. When it's warm enough that the gas furnace isn't needed-your heat pump can handle the load.
It is at this point that it has become prudent for me to explain that operating a heat pump would require a heat pump thermostat, as most thermostats can not operate a heat pump. However, I should also say that in this day and age of expensive, mostly digital thermostats, that you may already own a thermostat that CAN operate a heat pump. The other thing, besides the actual heat pump itself, and the thermostat able to run a heat pump is the thermostat wiring. A heat pump requires more actual thermostat wires in order for it to be wired in and operate. Again, you may already have thermostat wire installed, with additional, unused wires, that will handle this application. . . .or maybe not. Thermostat wire is probably the least expensive concern here, and besides expense, and heat pumps are all about saving you money, heat pump heat is also the safest form of forced convection heating for residences or small commercial buildings.
I'm going to break from my typical stance here for just a second, and straight up advertise: Operating a heat pump in conjunction with a gas furnace, as I've mentioned up above. . . .isn't really the typical way of doing things here in Texas. I'll allow that it's a union, the gas furnace and heat pump, that is much more likely to be more common the further North one travels. More common in Texas is the union of a heat pump with an electric furnace, no worries at all. When it comes time to purchase a thermostat-should you be interested in a high quality digital thermostat, than I'll "pimp" the Honeywell Vision Pro 8000, a thermostat that can absolutely run any residential application imaginable, and one that I also happen to be familiar with, and have a great deal of confidence in. I've an image imported of the Vision Pro 8000 for you above. Simply owning a heat pump thermostat in no way guarantees that the thermostat will run a "duel fuel" application such as a gas furnace combined with a heat pump. Most often, a heat pump thermostat is designed to run an electric furnace combined with a heat pump, and one can not be used for the wrong application with any degree of safety involved.
Note: Should you be a "do it yourself" type individual. . . .then I want to discourage you in regards to a complicated thermostat such as the Honeywell Vision Pro 8000. I prefer the Vision Pro to other, comparable thermostats because of the reliability of the brand, and my familiarity with it; but programming one of these isn't going to be an easy thing for someone who is not a professional. Hey, my friend Ken did his by his self, but Ken is someone with exceptional ability. I've seen professionals spend hours trying to decipher the manual for thermostats able to run duel fuel applications and/or two speed compressor applications.
"Todd, my gas furnace has been doing an exceptional job of heating my home for many, many years. I see no reason at all to ever want or own anything BUT a gas furnace, so no thank you, Todd."
Your gas furnace is a thousand times more dangerous than a heat pump could ever be. The older your gas furnace is, then the more likely it is to have developed a hole in it's "heat exchanger," and should it have even the smallest crack in it's "heat exchanger," then you, and whoever enters your home or residence is being exposed to toxic and deadly carbon monoxide gasses. Once, when I worked at the Dallas Independent School District there was a librarian at Reinhardt Elementary School who was seeing a doctor for chronic headaches. I found a crack in the Libraries heat exchanger, and without needing or asking for anyone's permission or authority-I completely dismantled the system and left the library without heat. I did not need to have a dead librarian, or sick children on my conscious, understand? Sometimes where a medical doctor lacks an explanation, a competent hvac professional will have THE answer AND explanation.
"Todd, my electric furnace is WAY safer than a gas furnace; why would I want a heat pump, and that expensive, complicated thermostat you mentioned?"
Your electric furnace costs you many dollars a month more than a heat pump would, and there is no safer source of forced convection heat than heat pump heat.
"Todd, my flat has window units for cooling, and central oil or gas heat-I'm not sure, how does any of this apply to me?"
Window air conditioners can also be heat pumps, which can provide you with plenty of heat on mild Fall or Winter days. I even included some pictures of window air conditioner/heat pumps in this hub, check it out.
In conclusion, heat pumps are safer than gas furnaces, and cheaper to operate than electric furnaces-and there is no safer mode of forced convection heat than a heat pump. I hope I've done a decent job of explaining what a heat pump is, and provided a few reasons for why you might prefer to own one than whatever you own and operate now. As always, thank you very much for reading, and never fear any sort of question that you might have-ask it. Thanks again!
It's Got To Be Hard To Make A Great HVAC Video. . . this isn't one of the great ones, but it's accurate
kristen on January 17, 2017:
I have a heatpump furnace. Its recently had 2 new thermostats replaced by an hvac dude but I still have to shut it off in order to stop heat from blowing or ut will run till its 90°…
Nora Moore on January 14, 2015:
So a heat pump takes any heat outside and pulls it inside the house. I hadn't known how it worked before. I'm guessing that it would have to work hard to pull heat out of the winter air outside, but I'm not an expert. As long as it works, that's fine with me. I wonder if I have a heat pump. http://www.dandrservicesinc.com
Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on January 25, 2013:
Sounds like you might have employed a less than terrific contractor, Sir. I wonder how many KWs of electric heat are in your furnace?
Or...heat pumps can and sometimes are installed with a gas furnace, which in your area would probably be the more likely way to go about it.
The heat pump heat isn't meant to keep your home warm in the conditions you are describing - it is meant to keep your home warm for less money in less cold temps, the "emergency" heat should always kick on when the heat pump (primary heat) isn't able to keep up with demand.
email@example.com on January 25, 2013:
Heat pumps in temps warmer or higher than 45-50 degrees..MIGHT be ok..BUT, modern times, NOW, in Virginia, winter temps down as low as mid to high TEENS ...Heat pumps DO NOT work with a fig..
THEN, the placement of the registers by windows and doors..ALL that warm air, coming out of vents..turns cold from any drafts from windows/doors..(EVEN though, you have winterized them properly).
CLosing off fireplace/or plugging it..DOnt keep out cold drafts either..Been there, done that too..
GO back to Steam heat/radiators, ..coal or something for pete sakes..MOdern way of heating is retarded..
Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on June 03, 2012:
Gideon great on June 03, 2012:
Pls. how do i get all this book to buy it? For my use. am a plumber thank's
Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on February 17, 2011:
Well, I suppose I can let you advertise on my page.
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Elefanza from Somewhere in My Brain on October 25, 2010:
Possibly. Right now, my mom's trying to get out of the condo by selling. The people that run the association are crooks and uptight about the most random things. For instance, my mom can't even plant a tomato plant "because this is a city." She lives in a midwest town in Ohio and it's definitely not the city. Near good old Cinci, in fact. Ha. So she has no reason to get double paned windows, I don't think...esp if she sells.
As for me, I will be sure to ask for help if the window unit goes out again. Thanks. :)
Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on October 25, 2010:
hmmmm.......Where does you're Mom live, or, which State? Not having proper insulation pretty much makes everything else irrelevant. If she doesn't own the place. . . .then she's really not in a good position to negotiate, but she can still try. Double paned, gas filled windows help A LOT, but they are expensive-those would help, and she could possibly recoup the costs by informing the management about how she's improved their property.
Oh wait, you said condo-so that means that she DOES own it, right? So yeah, the expensive windows would help a lot, they can come with various gases between the glass, and sealed inside-and I've seen amazing demonstrations showing how they insulate, or block out heat coming in, or escaping out of them.
I have zero experience with oil burning furnaces-those are the norm up north. . . .but in Texas-it's gas furnaces that provide the best heat, for cheap, and sheer temperature. Gas heat is hotter than electric heat, and heat pump heat is cooler than either-but the thing is, heat pump heat is for when it's warmer, and the oil, gas, or electric furnace isn't needed; and with heat pumps there is always a secondary form of heat that will automatically kick in when it gets so cold that the heat pump can't keep up.
Here's the deal with window unit thermostats-they suck, they are cheesy, and sometimes go out. Let me know when your window unit won't do nothing no more-I might be able to explain to you how your husband, or you can "jump out" the thermostat, which is usually one of the first things to go.
On the face of your window unit there should be a little bulb, or what looks like a thick wire-but it's not, it's the sensor for your thermostat. If you can't get the a/c to come on-you can pull that thing out, and hold a cig lighter underneath it, and if your window unit is a heat pump, then holding that thing with ice in your hands will kick it in.
Maybe some of that helped. I hope!
Elefanza from Somewhere in My Brain on October 25, 2010:
Okay, so I'm not sure if I've read a similar hub of yours like this (it kinds of runs together in my mind), but I'm still lost on a few things. So here's my questions/situation.
1. My mom lives in a condo without insulation or a basement. She FREEZES each winter. She also works for Scrooge. So (and i'm not sure if she has a heat pump) should she not have one, would getting one help her to warm her frozen condo while still saving on her bills? If not a heat pump, do you have other recommendations for keeping her Antarctica warm?
2. We have a window unit in our "apartment" (it feels like a condo in some ways) and when its hot or cold, its hard to find the right temp. because even on the lowest setting, the heat feels like you're baking. So you might have already stated the solution in your article, but playing with the thermostat (it's the knob, I think) did not help. Any thoughts?
Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on October 18, 2010:
Yeah, thanks, Christopher. . . a lot of the concepts involved in heating and refrigeration are difficult for those who've never dealt with them.
Shit, their difficult for me.
Chistopher on October 18, 2010:
I tried once to explaine absolute zero to someone, no good.
Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on October 17, 2010:
See, I can't really argue with you there because I just don't know.
Here's what I do know-should you have solar panels and be a total "greenie," then you can operate a heat pump and not burn fossil fuels.
If something isn't cost effective there's no reason for doing it. . . .usually.
We Texans never have oil burners. Bug gas furnaces are abundant. I'm nearly positive that heat pumps CAN be used in conjunction with an oil burning furnace-thermostats these days, like the one I "pimped" in the hub are "intelligent" enough to know what's best if they are programmed correctly. If you had a heat pump combined with your oil furnace, then your t-stat would automatically switch over to oil furnace mode when the demand for heat is too great for the heat pump to keep up with.
Modern Primate on October 17, 2010:
Let me rephrase. It's not that I don't think it would function, but the cost of an electric appliance pulling heat out of the near-freezing environment and pumping it into my ~67 degree apartment is probably substantially more expensive on a degree for degree basis than the oil heating system I have now.
Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on October 16, 2010:
Ah, but it can, does, and will-investigate this a bit further. I know, you are a brilliant mind if ever I've known one. . . .so you should be thinking,. . .
"if my condenser becomes an evaporator, and it's ten degrees outside, the thing will freeze, and no longer be able to absorb heat through the flowing refrigerant-it'll just make more ice, dumbass."
Here's why you are wrong: a device known as "hot gas bypass," and the defrost cycle on the print circuit board that operates the heat pump-defrost the outside condenser(an evaporator in heat pump heating mode) per the input of outdoor temperature sensors.
Modern Primate on October 16, 2010:
I really doubt this would work well in PA.
Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on October 15, 2010:
It's true, if you shake me-you can hear things rattle around in my head.
Evelyn Anne on October 15, 2010:
If I could understand all you have written above I would be fully educated on the subject of heat pumps. Since I've hardly the mind to contain all that information, I'll just call you any time I have air conditioning/heating problems. Thanks for the education and for writing in such an informative, concise manner. Regards ;-)
Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on October 15, 2010:
THERE YOU ARE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Now go read that one about guns, where I thought I was so damn impressive, and brought up the history of the U.K. a dozen times!!!!!!!!
(the woman above is my favorite person! :-D)
Acid Rahne on October 15, 2010:
oh damn. When you said "heat pump" I thought this was going to be about sex toys.