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What is a heat pump and how do they work?

October 20 2015, 09:35 AM

What is a heat pump and how do they work?

Heat pumps are a hot topic in New Brunswick these days, and with good reason.  A heat pump that is ENERGY STAR certified, CEE Tier III rated cold climate (-20°C and lower) can save you, on average, 40% more on heating costs than a model that is simply ENERGY STAR rated. Those numbers are pretty enticing for any homeowner to hear!

But what exactly is a heat pump and how does it work?

Put simply: a heat pump is an extremely efficient method of heating and cooling for your home. In the winter, heat pumps draw in outside air and extract heat for the home. In the summer they do the same but remove heat from the inside and dump it outside instead, giving you air conditioning.

With electric baseboards you pay for 1 kWh of electricity and you get 1 kWh of heat.  That sounds pretty good – 100% efficient.  But what if you could heat your home with something that is 200% or 300% efficient?  That is the case with ductless heat pumps. 

When you buy 1kWh of heat you can actually get 2kWh or 3kWh of heat.  That’s because heat pumps do not generate heat from electricity.  They use the electricity to extract heat from the outside air and bring it into your home, using a series of pumps and compressors.

There are two kinds of air-source heat pumps: ducted and ductless.

Fully-ducted heat pumps heat and cool the whole home via air ducts, whereas ductless (also known as mini-split) heat pumps heat and cool single rooms only. Ducted heat pumps sit outside the home, while ductless units are found on the inside and outside wall of a home.  A heating contractor will help you determine which system is the best fit for your home and its layout.

In our climate, with its chilly ‘shoulder’ seasons (fall and spring) and cold winters, there aren’t many drawbacks to having a home with a heat pump. But you do need to keep your current heat source, just in case the temperature becomes extremely cold and the heat pump can no longer work efficiently.

Even before you install a heat pump, it is a good idea to consider your home’s energy efficiency. You’ll want to check insulation levels throughout your home and make sure it is well sealed for air-tightness. With well insulated walls, attic and basement and a high level of airtightness, your home will need less energy to heat or cool and it will stay that way for longer, no matter what type of heating system you have.

Check out our Total Home Energy Savings Program to learn how we can help you save energy and money on your bills this winter.

Would you install a heat pump in your home? Tell us about it in the comments below. 



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