In 2021 it is more important than ever to try to lower our carbon footprint. This starts with making sure that our houses are set up to be as eco friendly and sustainable as possible. This usually starts with a call to a solar company to have panels installed which lower electricity bills dramatically.
There is another way, and one that works very well with solar energy, which is to use a heat pump to cool and heat your home in a very efficient way. Even without connecting to solar, a heat pump is one of the most efficient ways to control your home temperature.
This isn’t to say that a heat pump is the best solution for everybody, however. There are some cases in which a heat pump will not be any more efficient than a traditional boiler. In this article, we will go over the important things to know about heat pumps so you can decide if one is the best solution for you.
How does a heat pump work?
Heat pump technology has been around for a very long time but many people are only just hearing about it lately. In fact, many are already quite familiar with it without even realizing. Anybody with a refrigerator is witnessing the essence of what a heat pump does.
There is a pump that removes warm air from an area and then compresses it and uses it to heat another area. In the case of a refrigerator, it takes warm air away from the inside of the fridge and pumps it out. Feel the backside of a fridge and you will feel warm air. This is air that has been taken from the inside of the fridge so it stays cool.
The same basic concept is at play with a heat pump but with some modifications.
In the case of a heat pump, a refrigerant under pressure is pumped through coils that heat up from the air around it. In this case it is outside the home. As the volume of air that passes over it increases, the liquid is able to absorb a lot of the heat from the air and then it comes into the home. A heat exchanger is used to heat the air further and then that air is pumped into the house through a system of air ducts.
Some heat pumps will use hydronic heating in which a liquid, sometimes water, sometimes refrigerant, is heated by compressed air and then pumped to radiators around the house.
Why are they more efficient?
The key thing to remember is that a heat pump does not create heat. It only moves it around. When you understand this then it becomes clear why it is so much more efficient than other types of heating systems.
A traditional boiler needs to use a fire or heated coils to bring water up to the right temperature to use it to heat a space. An electric heater needs to use electricity to heat coils and then run a fan to disperse the heat created by them to heat a space.
In both cases, there needs to be a lot of energy to make that heat. Many condensing style heaters are very good at heating efficiently because a lot of the exhaust from heating the water is captured. This also illustrates how inefficient these systems are. Even the best of them still produce excess heat that gets wasted through the exhaust to the outside.
A heat pump doesn’t waste any of the energy used to heat a space because it doesn’t actually create any of the heat. It simply absorbs it from the outside air and then moves it to the inside. The energy it uses is to compress and pump the air that is heated.
When a heat pump is connected to a solar panel system then you can theoretically have free heating or air conditioning. The reason it is theoretical is that if you don’t have a battery then at night when the sun isn’t producing energy it will need to use electricity from the grid.
How efficient it can be depends on the temperature of the air outside that will provide the heat for the pump.
When shouldn’t a heat pump be used?
There are some areas that would not do well with a heat pump as a heat source. The reason is that the temperature may be too cold for it to work efficiently. There is enough heat in just about every area in the air for a heat pump to use, but the compressing and pumping requires more energy to extract it which then makes it about the same as a traditional boiler.
Generally, a heat pump should be used in areas in which the winters are fairly mild. If the temperature is consistently under 30°F, then you won’t see as much savings as you would expect.
In areas where the temperature is consistently low, there are some types of heat pumps that use low temperature water to heat the space. The ambient temperature will be a bit lower but still comfortable as it uses the heat well to fill a space.
How the pump will be used also has a direct bearing on how efficient it will be. For instance, as a source for in floor heating it is very efficient as in floor heating does a fantastic job of heating a space with ambient heat. A radiator system requires more energy to heat the water or liquid.
Although not everybody should use a heat pump, those that can will be delighted with how it works. It is simply one of the best ways to heat and cool a house using very little energy. These days, this is the single biggest factor in reducing the greenhouse gases we cause as individuals.
When combined with other sustainable efforts, it can be a real game changer.