Heat pumps are a relatively new type of HVAC unit, and as such, there is a lot that most people don't know about them. At Blue Ribbon Cooling & Heating, one question we hear quite often is people wondering whether heat pumps can provide air conditioning in addition to heating. The answer to this is yes. Not only can heat pumps provide both heating and air conditioning, but they are also by far one of the most cost-effective and energy-efficient options available. To understand why, it's first necessary to take a closer look at how heat pumps work and what makes them different than other heating and cooling equipment.
Heat Pumps VS. Central Ait Units
A heat pump can be used with any forced-air central HVAC system. At first glance, you probably won't be able to tell the difference between a heat pump and a central AC unit as they look virtually identical. A heat pump and an AC system both sit outside of the building, and they are connected to an air handler unit inside via copper refrigerant lines. Inside the air handler is an evaporator coil, and it is this coil that works to cool the air inside the building. The only difference is that with a heat pump, the evaporator coil can also be used to provide heating as well as air conditioning. During the summer, heat pumps and central AC units function exactly the same. Both systems work on the principle of heat transfer. Due to the laws of thermodynamics, heat energy always flows from a heat source (warmer area) to a heat sink (cooler area). Heat pumps and air conditioners use this principle to absorb heat from the air inside to cool the air off before it is circulated through the building. The outdoor unit works to provide cold refrigerant to the evaporator coil. As the blower fan runs, it creates negative pressure in the return-air ducts, which draws air into the system and over the evaporator coil. As the warm air hits the coils, the cold refrigerant acts as the heat sink, and heat energy is transferred from the hot air to the refrigerant. This instantly cools the air, and the cooled air is then pumped throughout the supply ducts and circulated throughout the building. As you can imagine, the refrigerant could eventually absorb so much heat that it is the same temperature as the air. At this point, the heat transfer process would stop. Air conditioners overcome this by constantly pumping cold refrigerant inside and taking the heated refrigerant back outside to the compressor. The refrigerant inside an AC system is a liquid when it is cold, but it turns into a gas as it absorbs heat. When the heated refrigerant reaches the outdoor unit, it is compressed back into a liquid. This process releases the heat so that the refrigerant is again cold enough to absorb heat from inside the building. The cold refrigerant is then pumped back into the building, and the process continues.
How Heat Pumps Provide Heating
Heat pumps also utilize this same process of heat transfer when providing heating. The only difference is that the flow of refrigerant is reversed, and heat is absorbed from the air outside and pumped into the building. As long as the temperature of the refrigerant is lower than the outdoor air temperature, the system will continue to work. When set to heating, heat from outside is transferred to the extremely cold refrigerant. This quickly heats the refrigerant so that it is warmer than the air temperature inside the house. The heated refrigerant is then pumped into the evaporator coil. In this situation, the heat transfer process is reversed so that the hot refrigerant is the heat source and the cold air inside is the heat sink. As cold air flows over the heated evaporator coil, the heat energy is automatically transferred to warm up the air. The heated air is then circulated throughout the building just as with a furnace or other type of central heating. Heat pumps are extremely effective at cooling the refrigerant to a point where it can absorb heat even if the temperature outside is quite cold. Most heat pumps can continue to work even if the outdoor air temperature is well below 0 degrees. That said, their energy efficiency does decrease the colder it is outside. Heat pumps are at their most efficient when the temperature is above freezing, which makes them a fantastic choice for Texas homeowners since we usually experience fairly mild winters.
How Efficient Are Heat Pumps?
Since heat pumps and central air conditioners work the same way, there is generally no difference in terms of energy efficiency. The energy efficiency of heat pumps and central ACs is measured in SEER (seasonal energy efficiency ratio). A heat pump and a central AC that are the same size and have the same SEER rating will always use the same amount of energy as long as they are working properly. The big difference is when you compare heat pumps to furnaces and other heating sources. Gas furnaces usually have an AFUE (annual fuel utilization efficiency) between 80 and 98%, which is the percentage of energy the unit uses that it converts into heat. Modern electric furnaces usually have a 100% AFUE, which means that zero energy is wasted. Heat pumps run solely off of electricity and are extremely effective at converting it into heat energy. When the outdoor air temperature is above freezing, many heat pumps can be as much as 300% efficient. This means that every one unit of electricity the unit uses is converted into three units of heat energy. No other heating source can even come close to matching this level of energy efficiency. Even if the outdoor air temperature is below freezing, a heat pump will generally be at least twice as efficient as a furnace. The only real drawbacks to heat pumps are that they typically cost a bit more to purchase and have a shorter lifespan than other HVAC equipment. However, the higher upfront cost of a heat pump is canceled out by the fact that you won't need to purchase a separate AC and furnace. The fact that heat pumps generally won't last for as long as a furnace or AC also isn't a big deal since, again, you only have to purchase one unit instead of two.
Reliable Heating and Cooling Services In Bastrop
If you're considering upgrading to a heat pump, the knowledgeable HVAC technicians at Blue Ribbon Cooling & Heating can answer any questions you might have. We carry a range of energy-efficient heat pumps and other HVAC equipment, and we offer flexible financing options for new AC installations on approved credit. Our technicians also specialize in maintaining and repairing all types of heating and cooling equipment. We have been providing reliable, professional HVAC services to customers in Bastrop, Round Rock and the surrounding areas for more than two decades, and we are proud to be the number one HVAC company in the region. Give us a call today if you have any questions or need any type of HVAC service.