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How do heat pumps work?

Breaking down what they are, how they work, and, most importantly, how they could save you big money on your energy bills

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If you’re a homeowner and you’ve spent literally any time on the internet, you’ve probably seen something about heat pumps. If you’re confused as to why you’re hearing about heat pumps everywhere and wondering if it’s actually something that would work for you, keep reading, because we break it all down for you in this blog post.

What are heat pumps?

In basic terms, heat pumps are basically extremely energy-efficient systems for both heating and cooling your home. From the outside, they pretty much look like a regular air conditioner, but the inner workings are a little different.  

Instead of burning oil or gas to create heat when it’s cold out or using coolant to create cold air when it’s hot out, it simply pumps heat (get it?) from one place to another. In the winter, it finds heat outside the house and pumps it in. In the summer, it finds the heat inside the house and it pumps it out.   

When it’s cold outside, the heat pump takes the heat from the outdoor air (turns out that even when it’s cold outside there’s still warm air out there!) and brings it inside to keep your home warm. And when it’s too hot inside, the heat pump works its magic again by sending the excess heat outside so your home maintains a comfortable temperature.  

The great part about it is that heat pumps use way less electricity than a standard air conditioner and they don’t use oil or gas like a furnace or a boiler would. Kiss those high energy bills goodbye!

The different kinds of heat pumps

If you read the above and you’re thinking a heat pump might be right for you, now it’s time to start thinking about what kind of heat pump you want to get. Rather than making you learn the ins and outs of what every heat pump does and what its pros and cons are, we’ll just break it down by what kind of home you have.

Ground-source heat pump

If you live in a house that already has central air AND your house sits on a fairly large plot of land... Then you probably want a ground-source heat pump.  

Pros of a ground-source heat pump:

  • They are the most efficient kind of heat pump, so they will give you the biggest savings on your energy bills
  • They are also the most durable, so you’ll probably never need to replace it

Cons of a ground-source heat pump:

  • Like it says in the name, the source of the heat is the ground, so the installers will need to dig a very deep hole in your yard
  • These tend to be more expensive than other kinds of heat pumps

Air-source heat pump

If you live in a house that already has central air and your house DOESN’T sit on a large plot of land… Then you probably want an air-source heat pump.  

Pros of an air-source heat pump:

  • They work with the existing ductwork of your house
  • The compressor is the exact same footprint as your existing AC compressor, so it’s a simple switch.  

Cons of an air-source heat pump:

  • They are less efficient than the ground-source heat pumps, so you won’t realize as big energy savings
  • They don’t always work as well in freezing temperatures, so you may need to keep your furnace or boiler as a backup

Ductless air-source heat pump

If you live in an older house that doesn’t already have central air OR if you live in an apartment… Then you probably want a ductless air-source heat pump a.k.a a mini-split.  

Pros of a ductless air-source heat pump:

Cons of a ductless air-source heat pump:

  • Instead of one air compressor outside your house, you’ll need a separate air compressor for each room

The upsides

Heat pumps aren’t just shiny new gadgets; they pack in a ton of benefits for your household. Here are a few that make them stand out:  

Energy Efficiency
The ingenious thing about heat pumps is that they don’t create heat; they merely transfer it. This quality makes them supremely energy-efficient. The U.S. Department of Energy says that air-source heat pumps can supply your home with up to three times more heat energy than the electric energy they consume. That’s a victory for our planet and for our utility bills!  

Cost Savings
Lower energy consumption translates to savings on our utility bills. Yes, the initial investment might be steeper than traditional heating and cooling systems, but the savings can be substantial in the long haul.  

All-Season Comfort
Heat pumps aren’t just your winter buddies! Their versatility ensures they provide warmth in winter and cooling in the summer, guaranteeing your comfort all year round.  

Quiet Operation
Heat pumps operate quietly, unlike other heating systems that may produce noticeable noise. Many heat pumps operate between 35 to 50 decibels, similar to the sound of a refrigerator hum. This ensures your home remains a peaceful haven regardless of the season.  

Reduced Carbon Footprint
Heat pumps significantly cut down on greenhouse gas emissions. Traditional heating and cooling systems burn fossil fuels, which release harmful gases into the atmosphere. However, heat pumps leverage the ambient heat in the air or ground to heat or cool your home. By doing so, they lower your home’s carbon footprint.  

Supports Renewable Energy Integration
Heat pumps are an excellent match for homes powered by renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind. During periods of excess electricity production, surplus energy can be used to power your heat pump, further decreasing your reliance on fossil fuels and paving the way for a more sustainable future.  

Responsible Cooling and Heating
While being environmentally conscious might require an upfront investment, the long-term benefits are worth it. Lower utility bills, decreased greenhouse gas emissions, and the satisfaction of making a responsible choice for the environment are compelling reasons to consider installing a heat pump in your home.

Important considerations: Are heat pumps the right fit for me?

While heat pumps sound like the perfect solution (and they often are!), they’re not one-size-fits-all. They work most effectively in moderate climates. They might not offer the same efficiency if you live somewhere with extreme cold or heat.  

Also, let’s not forget the initial cost. Even though they can help save money in the long run, the upfront cost of installing a heat pump system can be heftier than other heating and cooling options.  

At WorkMoney, we’re committed to helping you afford a good life. Our resources can guide you toward making better decisions about your home’s energy efficiency and other money-saving tips for groceries, car insurance, and repaying student loans.   

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