If you need to replace your furnace and/or air conditioner, a heat pump may be the ideal choice as it can save you quite a bit of money compared to installing separate cooling and heating systems. Heat pumps are continuing to grow in popularity because they can provide cooling and heating and because they are extremely energy efficient and effective. However, many people are under the impression that heat pumps won’t work very well in places like American Fork where the winters can sometimes get extremely cold. While it is true that the effectiveness of a heat pump can decrease in cold temperatures, it can still be an effective option for cooling and heating your home.
Cooling Effectiveness of Heat Pumps
Heat pumps work identically to central air conditioners when cooling. In fact, the only real difference between the two types of units is that heat pumps can switch the direction that the refrigerant flows through the system in order to provide both cooling and heating. If you were to compare the effectiveness and energy efficiency of a heat pump and a central AC unit, they would be exactly the same—provided the two units are the same size and have the same SEER rating. This means that either type of unit will be fully effective at keeping your home cool on even the hottest summer days as long as you have a professional HVAC technician calculate the proper size of unit for your home.
How Heat Pumps Provide Heating in Cold Weather
All cooling units function by removing heat energy from the warm air flowing through the system using cold refrigerant. The outdoor unit first compresses the refrigerant to make it extremely cold and then pumps the cold refrigerant inside where it flows into the evaporator coil. At the same time, the blower constantly pulls warm air in through the return vents and forces the air over the evaporator coil. This process causes much of the heat energy to flow out of the air and into the refrigerant, which results in the air being blown out of all of the supply vents being around 20 degrees cooler than the air being drawn into the system.
Heat pumps also use this same process to absorb heat energy from the air outside and transfer it inside to provide heating. One thing many people don’t realize is that there is always some heat energy in the air even when the air temperature is well below freezing, which ensures that a heat pump can continue providing heat unless the temperature gets extremely, bitterly cold.
When heating, the heat pump compresses the refrigerant to make it extremely cold and then pumps it through the coil in the outdoor unit. At the same time, the fan in the outdoor unit draws air in from the surrounding area and blows it over the coil, which again results in the heat energy flowing out of the air and into the refrigerant. The refrigerant then flows through an expansion valve, which instantly decreases the refrigerant pressure and causes it to transform from a warm liquid into a hot gas. The heated refrigerant is then sent to the coil inside, and most of the heat energy then flows out into the cool air, flowing over the coil and resulting in the air becoming much warmer.
Traditional heat pumps generally don’t work all that well in cold temperatures, but there are cold-climate heat pumps that can continue to function at almost 100% effectiveness in temperatures as cold as -13 to -20 degrees Fahrenheit. However, when using a heat pump in a colder climate, it is always necessary to have some other type of backup or supplementary heating. This is partly because there is always a risk that the outdoor temperature will become too cold for the heat pump to continue heating your home effectively. Another reason is that a heat pump will always need to occasionally run in defrost mode during cold weather, during which time it will stop producing heat.
Many people simply rely on their old gas furnaces or even baseboard or space heaters to supplement their heating whenever the weather is too cold and also when the heat pump is defrosting. However, there are also more advanced heat pumps that have their own internal supplementary heating option in the form of electric strip heaters. These electric heat strips are located within the heat pump and will work to provide additional heat to the refrigerant so that the unit can continue heating effectively in below-freezing weather and also so that the unit can defrost much more quickly.
Factors That Impact the Effectiveness of a Heat Pump
The fact that heat pumps can continue to heat your home even in below-zero temperatures makes them a great choice for Utah homes. In fact, heat pumps are continuing to become increasingly popular even in extremely cold places such as north of the Arctic Circle in Alaska. There may be some times when it will still be necessary to run your gas furnace or use whatever other supplementary heating you have. Nonetheless, upgrading to a heat pump can still potentially lower your annual heating costs by around 40% or more compared to using a gas furnace or any other electric heating option.
That said, heat pumps aren’t always the best choice for all homes. For instance, if your home is poorly insulated and/or has old single-pane windows, you’re probably best off with a gas furnace. This is because all of the cold air seeping in through the windows and walls can make it so that a heat pump won’t be all that effective and may never be able to keep your home as warm as you want. In this situation, you would also need to rely on your supplementary heating much of the time. As such, it probably isn’t worth the added expense of a heat pump, so you might be better to stick with a furnace and central AC instead.
Another thing to consider is that heat pumps do heat more slowly than a gas furnace. If you were to turn your heating system on when the temperature in your home is more than 7 to 10 degrees colder than the temperature your thermostat is set to, the thermostat will usually switch over to auxiliary heating mode automatically and run your furnace or turn on the heat strips in the heat pump. In this situation, it could take several hours to fully heat your home using only the heat pump itself. This is obviously not ideal since the electric heat strips or whatever supplementary heating you have will use far more energy than the heat pump would. Nonetheless, the advantage of this is that your home will be heated more quickly so that the heat pump can then take over again and continue maintaining a consistent indoor temperature.
At Gunthers Heating, Cooling, and Plumbing, we are your local heat pump installation experts. Our technicians can help you choose the best unit for your home. We can also help if you need a new furnace or air conditioner or if you require any heating or cooling repairs or maintenance services. For more information or to schedule a consultation to see if a heat pump is a good choice for your home, contact us today.