Emergency service needed? We're ready to help! Request Service


Heat Pumps 101: Guide to Get You from Amateur to Expert

Man and woman sitting on a couch together looking at a laptop screen, smiling as their children run and play in the background.

Whether you’re a new homeowner or hope to be a homeowner in the future, the idea of having a heat pump probably sounds confusing. How does it work? Do you need one? What are the maintenance needs? We’ve got answers to all your frequently asked questions about heat pumps so that you can be an expert in no time. Keep reading to learn more!

The Basics of a Heat Pump

Heat pumps are designed to keep your home comfortable during both the winter and summer months and can provide cost savings compared to other types of heating systems.

What is a heat pump?

A heat pump is a type of HVAC system that utilizes electricity to transfer heat from one place to another through refrigeration. Your refrigerator cools the interior by removing the heat energy from the inside and blowing it out the bottom. Essentially, heat pumps do the same thing as your refrigerator, drawing heat from the outside air and moving it inside your home in winter. This process is reversed in the summer, drawing heat from inside your home and moving it outside. By extracting heat from your home in cooling mode and reversing the process for heating mode, your home maintains a comfortable temperature year-round.

How Heat Pumps Work

Heat pumps use refrigerant to absorb heat from the outside air and then move it into your home in the winter or vice versa in the summer. This process is called heat transfer. Refrigerant turns from liquid to gas as it absorbs heat. In the winter, to heat your home the refrigerant is pumped to the outside unit via the line set, where it absorbs heat from the air and turns into a gas.

The now gas refrigerant is then returned to the inside unit of the heat pump system. As the air  from the house passed over the indoor coil surface, the heat from the refrigerant is released. The heat is then distributed throughout your home using air-handling equipment (known as a blower) and ducts. As the heat is released, the refrigerant in the indoor coil turns back into a liquid, heads back to the outdoor unit and starts the cycle over again. In the summer this process is reversed, taking heat from inside your home and moving it outside and expelling the heat into the environment.

What are the different kinds of heat pumps?

There are several types of heat pumps available, each offering its own unique set of features and benefits. Two main categories of heat pump technology are: standard/traditional heat pumps or mini split heat pumps (often referred to as ductless heat pumps). 

To do their job, heat pumps are a “split system.” This combines an indoor unit with an outdoor unit. A split HVAC system can include an AC unit or heat pump outside your home, paired with a fan coil or furnace installed inside your home. The two units are connected by refrigeration line sets made of copper tubing surrounded by insulation. The line sets are about the size of a baseball. 

Air Source vs Geothermal Heat Pumps

The most common type of heat pump is air-source, which uses the air outside your home to transfer heat inside. This option is ideal for milder climates, as it takes advantage of warmer air temperatures outside to keep your home comfortable.

Geothermal heat pumps are another option that uses the temperature underground or in a body of water nearby to regulate temperatures inside your home. These are often quieter than air-source heat pumps and can be used in any climate. 

How Energy Efficient is a Heat Pump?

Heat pumps have a higher coefficient of performance (COP) than a standard electric heater. COP is the ratio of how much cooling or heating an HVAC system provides against the amount of energy used. Their ability to transfer heat instead of generating it makes them more efficient than traditional heating and cooling systems. Because heat pumps are very efficient they can save you money on your energy costs.

What are the Pros and Cons of a Heat Pump?

The advantages of heat pumps are that they’re extremely energy efficient in mild weather regions and when regularly maintained can last 12 to 20 years. Newer technology also allows for colder climate heat pumps operating in very low temperatures. As heat pumps move heat rather than generate it, the electricity required for operation is significantly lower compared to other HVAC options. Heat pumps also take the role of both heating and cooling units, being a workhorse HVAC system that can be used year-round.

On the other hand, heat pumps aren’t generally recommended for colder climates due to their reduced efficiency in below-freezing weather. The heat generated by a heat pump isn’t as intense as the heat produced by a furnace. However, newer mini split heat pump options can run at 100% capacity down to about 20 degrees and this can replace a current AC/Gas Furnace system with ductwork. Additionally, heat pumps can be expensive upfront and may require additional insulation or venting systems to maximize their potential.

Installing a Heat Pump

It is important that a professional calculate the right size heat pump for your home.. The experts usea series of measurements that include number of windows, number of occupants, height of the ceilings, square footage, foundation type and more to get the right size heat pump for your home.

Once these are conducted you can discuss best heat pump options. You will need to consider existing ductwork, current HVAC system, and electrical wiring. Depending on the size of the space and area you live in, you’ll need to decide if a single or multiple-zone system will work best. Additionally, consider the efficiency rating of each model and how much maintenance it requires to ensure you can maintain its optimal performance.

Maintain Your Heat Pump for Optimal Performance

If you want your heat pump to keep working optimally throughout the season, maintenance is key. Four times per year, take the time to check air filters and make sure they are clean so that airflow is not restricted.

Additionally, remove any debris or overgrown plants that may be near your outdoor unit, ensuring there’s plenty of room for air to circulate around the unit. Finally, it is good practice to get a professional in to give your heat pump an annual service. Following these easy steps will ensure you get the most out of your heat pump and enjoy efficient performance all year round.

Additional Heat Pump Information

  1. How Do Heat Pumps Work?
  2. Heat Pump Sizes
  3. Heat Pump Costs
  4. Heat Pump Installation
  5. Heat Pump Maintenance
  6. Heat Pump Myths & Facts
  7. Inverter Technology
  8. Ducted vs Ductless
  9. Replace your AC or Replace your Furnace with a Heat Pump
  10. Why Heat Pumps are Perfect for Portland

Heat Pump Installation & Replacement in Portland

Jacobs Heating & Air Conditioning is a well-known and trusted local Portland company. We’ve been installing residential HVAC systems in Portland, Beaverton, and Vancouver homes since 1952. We have your back for all things HVAC. Jacobs Heating & Air Conditioning will evaluate your home and help find the best system for your home and lifestyle.

Find out more about heat pump options and the HVAC services we offer. Get in touch with any questions or to schedule a consultation.

If you aren’t ready to get a new HVAC system but need an expert eye, you can schedule your next tune-up and keep the stress and hassle out of maintaining your system. No matter what you need we’re always just a phone call away.

About the Author

Amanda Jacobs portrait

Amanda Jacobs, Internal Project Manager

Amanda Jacobs is an Internal Projects Manager and 3rd generation member of Jacobs Heating & Air Conditioning. She received her MBA from Seattle University and has worked for a leading HVAC training and consulting firm. When not talking HVAC on the Jacobs Blog, you can find her on the golf course or whipping up her famous vegan chili.