How do Heat Pumps Work?

Heat pumps use a simple and efficient process to move heat from one area to another, which can keep you comfortable all year.

What is a Heat Pump?

A heat pump is a high-efficiency heating and cooling system that is powered by electricity to move — rather than create — heat to keep your home at a comfortable temperature year-round. 

These systems come in a variety of different models and options.

Depending on the size of your house and the type of heat pump you install you can either use a heat pump to heat and cool your entire house, or to supplement an existing heating system.

How heat pumps work

Heat pumps use refrigeration to transfer heat from one area to another, rather than burning fossil fuels to create heat. This allows them to both heat and cool your home, and can make them more efficient than furnaces or air conditioning units.

In the winter, these systems extract heat from either the air or the ground outside and distribute it inside. During warmer months, this process is reversed to provide cooling.  

Types of Heat Pumps

Heat pumps are a versatile technology, and there are many different types available today. 

  • Air source heat pumps extract heat from the air outside and distribute it inside in the winter. During warmer months, this process is reversed to provide cooling. These systems can be installed either with or without ductwork and can heat and cool either an individual room or your whole home.
  • Air to water heat pumps are designed to provide year-round space heating through hydronic distribution, such as radiators, radiant floors or baseboard water systems.
  • Ground source heat pumps use the earth’s constant temperature to provide heating and cooling. In the winter, fluid circulating in underground pipes carries the earth’s heat to your home, and in the summer, the process is reversed so heat from your home is carried back to the earth to provide cooling. Ground source heat pumps are the most efficient type of heat pump and are a great option for properties with sufficient outdoor space.

Ducted heat pumps vs. ductless mini-split heat pumps

If your home has ductwork for heating and cooling, a centrally-ducted heat pump can use it to heat and cool your home more efficiently than propane, electric, and oil heating systems.

Alternatively, ductless heat pumps, also known as mini-splits, are an efficient alternative for heating and cooling areas where ductwork doesn’t exist or can’t be installed.

  • The outside unit uses fans to blow air over cold refrigerant. This transfers heat from the outdoor air into the refrigerant and heats it up.
  • The indoor unit does the opposite action of the outdoor unit, by using fans to take heat out of the refrigerant and disperse it throughout your home. 
  • Refrigerant circulates through coils in a heat pump system, absorbing heat from one area and moving it to another. 
  • The reverser valve allows you to reverse the flow of the coolant and switch your system from heating to cooling.