Heat Pumps: Frequently Asked Questions

You need to upgrade your HVAC system and, after some research, you come across heat pumps. Your first thought is probably, “What in the world is a heat pump?” Heat-pump technology has been around for decades and is used by homeowners across the country in all climates to keep their home cool in the summer and warm in the water.

Learn the answers to a few questions you may have about heat pumps.

What Exactly Is a Heat Pump?

Traditional HVAC systems use fuel or electricity to create heat or cool your home. Heat pumps don’t create warm or cool air. Instead, the unit either forces warm air that is naturally found outdoors, underground, or in water into your home in winter or forces the warm air out of your home in the summer. Two different types of heat pumps are used throughout all climates of the United States: geothermal heat pumps and air-source heat pumps. Geothermal pumps trap heat from the ground or water and air-source pumps capture heat from the outdoor air. Heat pumps are comprised of two main components: an indoor air handler and an outdoor heat pump. Models have two settings: air-conditioning mode and heat mode. Air-conditioning mode works by pulling warm air out of your home. Refrigerant pulls the heat out of the air, and the pump recirculates the cooled, dehumidified air throughout your home. Switching the unit to heat mode reverses this process. Heating your home in subzero temperatures is possible because even if it is frigid for days and weeks on end, there is still heat in the outdoor air or underground.

What Are the Advantages of a Heat Pump?

Installing a heat pump is a big decision, especially when you consider the initial investment. However, once you learn about the advantages of heat pumps, you’ll quickly discover that the expense is worth it. Here are a few of the pros of residential heat pumps:

  • Lower energy costs. Transferring rather than creating heat requires less electricity or fuel.
  • Decreased emissions. Utilizing less electricity and fuel creates fewer dangerous carbon dioxide emissions.
  • Fewer appliances to care for. Maintaining a single heat pump unit requires less time and money than caring for a furnace and a central air conditioner.

An electric model is a good option if the cost of electricity is cheaper than the cost of natural gas or propane in your area.

What Are Some Heat-Pump Operating Do’s and Don’ts?

Running your heat pump properly in the summer and winter will help you conserve energy and avoid damaging the unit. Here are a few do’s and don’ts of enjoying your heat pump:

  • Don’t set the thermostat below 65 degrees Fahrenheit in winter. Turning the temperature down too low will impact the heat pump’s efficiency.
  • Don’t set the thermostat below 70 degrees Fahrenheit in summer. Setting the thermostat too low in summer can damage the indoor coils.
  • Do maintain a constant temperature. Unlike a traditional HVAC unit, heat pumps are most efficient when the house is kept at the same temperature.
  • Do avoid using the thermostat’s auto mode. Keep the fan running throughout the day and night to improve the heat pump’s efficiency.

Ask your technician about some of the available features that make operating a heat pump easier. For example, some models come equipped with a remote control that allows you to change the direction of the indoor fan from your living room couch.

How Do I Maintain a Heat Pump?

Scheduling a yearly inspection is the best way to ensure that your heat pump remains functional. You can do several things to maintain your heat pump, including:

  • Check the air filter. Replace the air filter according to the technician’s recommendations or the manufacturer’s instructions. Depending on the type of filter, this could be every few weeks or months.
  • Check on the exterior heat pump during winter. Remove any snow or ice from the exterior unit immediately. Use caution when removing the ice and snow to prevent damaging the coils.
  • Clean the exterior heat pump periodically. Remove any dirt, mud, or leaves from the outdoor component with a soft-bristled brush or your garden hose.
  • Cut back foliage. Prune any shrubs, trees, or bushes at least 18 inches back from the outdoor heat pump. This allows air to flow around the unit, which is necessary for proper functioning.

Contact a technician immediately if you notice any strange noises or smells coming from your heat pump. For example, a musty odor is often caused by bacteria or fungus that grows inside the coils, drain pan, or air filter. Installing a heat pump allows you to save money on your monthly electric bills while providing you with reliable warmth in the winter and cool air in summer. If you have any other questions, contact Magnolia Plumbing, Heating & Cooling.