Making your home climate comfortable is among the first things that every homeowner thinks about after moving in. There are various sources for home heating and cooling, but the one that piques most people’s interest is the heat pump. Here are some of the frequently asked questions about heat pumps.

What Is a Heat Pump?

A heat pump is an appliance that heats and cools your home by pumping heat to where it is needed. It works on the principle that moving something from one place to another is much easier and more efficient than creating something new.

Heat pumps use electricity to transfer warm air to cool places and cool air to warm places. For instance, in winter, a heat pump will extract heat from outdoors and bring it inside. And in summer, it will take the warm air indoors and exchange it with cool air outside.

How Does a Heat Pump Work?

To understand how a heat pump works, you should first know its important components. A typical heat pump has an outdoor unit with a fan and a coil. The coil can function as either an evaporator in heating mode or as a condenser in cooling mode. The fan blows the cool or warm air to the required spaces. Then, there is the indoor unit (the air handler unit). It also contains a fan and a coil that function the same way as the outdoor unit.

Other important parts include the compressor, which pressurizes the refrigerant, and the refrigerant, which absorbs or rejects the circulating heat. An expansion valve regulates the flow of refrigerant as it moves within the system, and a reversing valve reverses the flow of refrigerant, making it possible for the system to switch between heating and cooling.

Heat pumps work by taking advantage of the fact that heat naturally moves from a region of high temperature and pressure to an area with low temperature and pressure. So, to cool a room, the system will pump a liquid refrigerant through the expansion valve, creating very low pressure and thus making it cooler. The hot air coming from your room is blown across the coil with the refrigerant, which will absorb its heat energy. The fan will then blow the resulting cool air into your room.

The liquid refrigerant turns into gas after absorbing the heat energy from the air that passes over it. Now in its gaseous form, it is moved through the compressor, which pressurizes it, heating it up more. This hot, pressurized refrigerant is taken to the outdoor unit, where the relatively cooler outside air absorbs its heat.

When this happens, the refrigerant will change back into a liquid state with much lower pressure. It is then pumped to the expansion valve, where pressure is further significantly reduced, making the refrigerant cool enough to absorb heat from air coming from your room. The process is a continuous cycle.

In heating mode, the flow of refrigerant is reversed by the reversing valve. The source of heat now becomes the outside air (even when it is freezing outside) instead of the indoor air, as we saw in cooling mode. Also, the roles of the outdoor and indoor unit reverse. The outdoor coil now becomes the evaporator (pressure reducer), and the indoor coil becomes the condenser (pressure increaser).

The outdoor unit absorbs the heat energy using the cold liquid refrigerant in the coil, turning it into gas. This gas is passed through to the indoor condenser, where it is pressurized until it becomes very hot. When the cold air from your room passes over this hot refrigerant in a gaseous state, it absorbs its heat energy, becoming warm. It’s then pumped back into the room. When the gaseous refrigerant loses its energy, it turns into liquid. Then, it is transported back to the outside unit, where the cycle starts again.

What’s the Average Lifespan of a Heat Pump?

The lifespan of your heat pump varies depending on how well you take care of it. With regular maintenance, services, and usage frequency, it will last for about 15 years on average.

If you live in a coastal area, your heat pump will last for a shorter time, usually about seven to 12 years. This happens because the breeze from the ocean carries salt, which corrodes the metallic part of the condenser and compressor. It’s important to conduct regular maintenance and repairs when living in coastal areas to prevent the heat pump from breaking down faster than expected.

How Often Should You Change Your Air Filters?

The frequency of changing your filter depends on the usage. During peak use, like in summer or winter, you should check your filter every month. If it looks dirty, then replace or wash it. Washable filters like electronic air cleaners and electrostatic filters can be cleaned as often as you wish. However, disposable filters that can only be used once are designed to last six to 12 months, after which they must be replaced. If they are dirty enough to impair airflow before this time is up, you should still replace them.

Should You Leave Your Heat Pump on All the Time, and What’s Its Toll on the Electricity Bill?

You have probably been advised that leaving your heat pump running at the lowest possible temperatures is more efficient and convenient than switching it off completely. This is because it takes less energy to maintain a warm temperature than heating it from a cold temperature. Well, this is not as economical as it sounds. A turned-off heat pump uses zero energy, and when you want to heat your room again, it will only take a few minutes.

Regardless, heat pumps will save you a lot of money on electricity bills. This is because, unlike other heating and cooling appliances, a heat pump doesn’t generate heat; instead, it transfers it from one point to the other. Doing this doesn’t take much energy.

How Do You Know When Your Heat Pump Is Experiencing Problems?

It is easy to tell if your heat pump is malfunctioning. For instance, if after setting your thermostat for heat mode, the heat pump produces cold air, there’s probably an issue. A heat pump that constantly runs even in moderate weather is also likely experiencing a problem. It is normal for the heat pump to run constantly at extreme temperatures because it is trying to extract as much heat as possible from within your house or outside. But, if it still works the same way in moderate temperatures, then something must be wrong with it.

Another sign of problems is a frozen outdoor unit. Of course, it is normal for some frost to develop on the outdoor unit during winter, but if you see ice, that’s a red flag. A blocked outdoor unit will cause issues as well. As mentioned earlier, heat pumps work by moving heat (with air) from one point to another. Even though it is not supposed to, sometimes you will find debris blocking the outdoor unit. If you remove this excessive debris but it is still obstructed, you should call Oak Island Heating and Air Conditioning for professional help.

At Oak Island Heating and Air Conditioning, our team provides a full range of heating and cooling services to residents of San Marcos and the surrounding areas. We can also assist with your indoor air quality needs. Call us today for heat pump services or to get information about our other offerings.

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