The ultimate guide to heatpumps for homeowners

Understanding how heat pumps work

Heat pumps “pump” heat from where it’s hot to where it’s cold.

When we want to warm our house, it takes heat from outside and pumps it inside. When we want to cool the home, it takes heat from inside and pumps it out. It’s that simple. The mechanism of heat transfer is using heat to change a special fluid – refrigerant from gas to liquid. What facilitates the transfer of heat is one indoor unit and one outdoor unit connected by convoluted tubes through which the refrigerant moves.

The tube is convoluted to allow sufficient time for heat exchange: whether to absorb the heat or to release the heat through the fan.

The refrigerant is a special fluid.

  • It can change from liquid to gas and from gas to liquid at very low temperatures. Compare this to water, which can only change between gas and liquid at 100 degrees Celcius.
  • It can absorb or release a significant amount of heat energy.
  • By changing the pressure of the refrigerant, we can manipulate the temperature. So using compressors to change the pressure, we can achieve desired levels of temperature.

Now that we know the basics of what makes a heat pump, let’s go over how each component works for heating and cooling.

Heating a home

The refrigerant is in liquid form when it’s cold. When we turn on a heat pump to heating mode, the refrigerant absorbs heat from outside and gets converted into a gas. It moves inside and heats the air in contact with the coil on the inside. The fan moves the hot air, and your home starts to heat from the inside.

Cooling a home

The refrigerant is in gas form since it’s hot inside. When we turn on the heat pump, the refrigerant is moved to the coil outside, where it heats the outside air and gets cooled in return. The outside fan then blows the air outside. In this way, the heat from the inside is pumped outside. This goes on as long as the heat pump is on.

Why are heat pumps so ‘hot’ right now?

Apologies for the bad pun.

Two main reasons why heat pumps are important:

  1. Heat pumps are more energy efficient as we only transfer the heat or cold, instead of creating heat or cold (e.g. by heating coils like a room heater would do or creating cold as an Air Conditioner would do). We need more energy-efficient appliances to reduce energy demand, and subsequently reduce energy-related emissions.
  2. Heat pumps can be used to both heat and cool homes, making separate appliances for heating and cooling redundant.



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