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What is a Heat Pump? How they work?

On this page:
  • Air source and geo-thermal heat pumps
  • Types of air source heat pumps
  • Benefits of installing heat pumps at home

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How Does a Heat Pump Work?

A heat pump system works by extracting heat from the outside air and transporting it to the inside when heating a home. It is an HVAC unit that is very energy efficient and best for areas with moderate climates to be an effective heating  and cooling unit. A heat pump system also has a reversing valve so the system is capable of switching directions to bring heat into your home during colder months.

They are one of the most cost effective and efficient heating systems available today. The two most common heat pump system types are an air source heat pump and a geothermal heat pump in-ground system. Though they are both classified as types of heat pump units they have two very different methods of operating and associated installation costs.

What is an Air Source Heat Pump?

An air source heat pump is a heating and cooling system that works by installing an outdoor unit called a heat pump compressor or condensing unit, and an inside unit referred to as an evaporator or air handler. Because an air source heat pump system is capable of producing one to three times more heat than the electricity used to produce it, they are one of the most energy efficient heating and cooling systems available. Some of the top air conditioner brands offer quality heat pump options for your home.

Air source heat pump system installation costs an average of $3,625 to $5,200. Heat pump pricing will vary based on the number of units needed in each room to create the multi zone temperature in your home. You will also see a difference in costs based off of the type of air source heat pump you have installed.

There are a few different types of air source heat pumps you can have installed based on your home’s heating and cooling needs listed here:

  • Split system air source heat pumps are the most common type of heat pump system with both an inside and outside component. You can have a single split system often used for only one room or installed for a sunroom or garage. However, most homeowners have a mini-split heat pump (one temperature across all rooms – each handler set to one temperature) or a multi split heat pump which allows for multiple air handlers each with the ability to have different temperatures controlled by the air handler in each room.
  • Ducted air source heat pumps are the same as a split system mentioned above but are connected to a series of ducts or ductwork, which provides an efficient means to transport the conditioned air throughout your home. This is a great heating unit replacement option if your home currently has ductwork installed. Otherwise you will incur higher installation costs for your local heat pump contractor to install new ductwork as well.
  • A packaged heat pump system uses a single unit container housing the condenser, compressor, evaporator, and blower system. They are often seen placed on rooftops or on concrete slabs located near the home outside.
  • A ductless air source heat pump requires zero ductwork replacement or installation. They consist of an outside unit (the condenser and compressor) and an inside unit (the evaporator and blower assembly) connected by suction tubes and wiring rather than being pushed through home ventilation ducts. The indoor evaporator (air handler unit), responsible for air circulation, usually hangs on the wall or is suspended from the ceiling and heats and cools a room through the air handler often through a thermostat and remote system to control the multiple heating and cooling zones.

ducted air source heat pump costs

How Does a Geothermal Heat Pump Work? 

A geothermal heat pump system uses the earth’s constant ground temperature to provide both heated and cooled air. Some models are also capable of producing domestic hot water, which is a valuable add-on option.  These highly efficient systems sometimes include variable speed fans and two speed compressors, which further increase their efficiency in both energy use and performance.

Ground source heat pump installation is more expensive than an air source heat pump installation. A 2,500 square foot home installing a geothermal heat pump will cost on average about $20,000 to $25,000 often due to excavation service costs associated with getting the land ready for installation. This is twice as much as the typical heating, cooling, and hot water system. However, geothermal heating and cooling systems can reduce utility bills by 40% to 60%. They are best installed when constructing a new home so that you can plan accordingly for the underground installation.

geothermal heat pump costs

Geothermal Heat Pump Lifespan

These systems are the tanks of the heat pump world, with expected equipment life spans of 25 to 50 years. They also are much quieter than their air source heat pump counterparts and require less maintenance. However, these added benefits do not come without an initial installation cost as you can expect to pay significantly more for a geothermal heat pump system versus an air source heat pump.

geothermal heat pump

Benefits of Heat Pumps

No matter which type of heat pump system you choose, you should notice benefits almost immediately. A heat pump system provides reduced energy consumption which means you will benefit from smaller utility bills and also be helping the environment by reducing your production of greenhouse gases. Since heat pump systems use electricity, there is no danger of being exposed to carbon monoxide gas, as is so often the case with combustible heating systems. Carbon monoxide is extremely dangerous and can cause severe injury and health complications. You and your family can also sleep easier at night without worrying about the fire hazards associated with combustible fuel systems.

A heat pump system will provide your home with years of uninterrupted service providing it is maintained and serviced properly. Heat pump systems require annual maintenance, service, and cleaning to maintain their high efficiency performance. This requires the services of a professional heating and air conditioning technician. However, you can also do your part in maintaining your heat pump system by changing the filter and cleaning the return and vent registers regularly.