Is A Heat Pump An Efficient Way To Heat Your Home?

In warmer climates, such as the lower south, a heat pump is an extremely efficient way to heat and cool your home. I have a heat pump in S. Florida, and although it takes awhile to get used to the "cold heat" that a heat pump puts out, it is a better alternative economically for me than a conventional electric furnace. In colder climates, it can be expensive, and is usually not your best choice.

Heat pumps work by pulling the warm air out of the cold air outside. Because of this, the air that comes out of your vents, while warmer than the inside air, may seem cold to someone used to an electric, gas, or oil furnace.

A heat pump is an air conditioner that contains a valve that lets it switch between "air conditioner" and "heater." When the valve is switched one way, the heat pump acts like an air conditioner, and when it is switched the other way it reverses the flow of Freon and acts like a heater.

Heat pumps can be extremely efficient in their use of energy. But one problem with most heat pumps is that the coils in the outside air collect ice. The heat pump has to melt this ice periodically, so it switches itself back to air conditioner mode to heat up the coils. To avoid pumping cold air into the house in air conditioner mode, the heat pump also lights up burners or electric strip heaters to heat the cold air that the air conditioner is pumping out. Once the ice is melted, the heat pump switches back to heating mode and turns off the burners.

On really cold days, a heat pump must work especially hard to collect heat—that's when the supplemental heater switches on to boost warmth.

Some heat pumps can heat a home's water, too. The Hydrotech 2000 Heat Pump by Carrier is a system that utilizes the warm air that a heat pump gives off to help heat water, as well. Adding to its performance is a built-in microprocessor that varies fan speeds and output depending on need. This greatly improves a heat pump's efficiency.

EFFICIENCY

Heat pumps are most effective at saving energy when in the heating mode. The problem with an air-source heat pump in a cold climate, however, is that your household needs more heat as the temperature outside goes down, but the heat pump works less efficiently at lower outdoor temperatures.

Below a temperature known as the "balance point," normally 30 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit, supplementary heat is required--and that means expensive electrical-resistance heating kicks in. In my experience, this is why heat pumps are not good for cold climates, as electric heat can be very expensive. When I lived in SC, even keeping my thermostat on 65, I had $200 heat bills in the winter (this was in the late 70's. It would be more like $400 today).

Read more about heat pumps here.

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