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An introduction to heat pumps

Cooling Solutions, Heat Pump, Heating Solutions Updated: July 29, 2022

Efficient heating and cooling, all in one

Get to know heat pumps, the all-in-one heating and cooling solution that’s a great fit for almost any climate, especially here in the Pacific Northwest. Heat pumps not only deliver energy-efficient heating in the winter, they also provide air conditioning to keep you cool when summer temperatures rise.

What is a heat pump?

A heat pump is a heating and cooling system that operates in a more efficient and cost-saving way than electric furnaces, baseboards and wall heaters. The system uses electricity to transfer heat rather than generate it, which reduces the carbon footprint and delivers year-round comfort and energy savings. The process moves heat inside to warm your home in the winter and removes heat while providing air conditioning in the summer.

Heat pumps come in various shapes and sizes, but commonly include the following components: 1) An outdoor unit, typically cube shaped and mounted on a pad. 2) An indoor box with a fan to blow heated/cooled air through the home. 3) A pair of pipes/tubes to connect the outdoor and indoor units.

How does it work?

During the winter, heat pumps can absorb heat energy from the outdoor air, even in freezing temperatures, and transfer that heat inside your home. This process can reduce the amount of electricity used for heating by up to 50% compared to electric resistance systems such as electric furnaces and baseboard heaters.

When cooling, heat pumps work much like other cooling systems. They pull hot air from inside your home and pass it through refrigerant coils, which cool the air before blowing it back into your home.

Whether heating or cooling, heat pumps rely on refrigeration, a technology that has been around since the 19th century and is used in other common household appliances including refrigerators and freezers.

The heat pump circulates refrigerant between an indoor coil and an outdoor coil through a sealed loop of pipes. It adjusts the pressure and state of the refrigerant, which can either create an extremely cold fluid that is able to absorb heat or an extremely hot gas that is ready to release heat. As the refrigerant moves through the interior-side of the heat pump, it either removes heat from the air (if cooling is needed) or it releases heat to the air (if heating is needed). A heat pump is capable of switching between heating and cooling by reversing the direction of the refrigerant.

What types are available?

Ducted heat pump

  • All-in-one solution for homes with ductwork (air ducts used to transport air from HVAC equipment throughout a home)
  • Saves energy by moving heat in or out based on the season
  • Reduces heating costs by up to 50%
  • Most commonly used heat pump system

Ductless mini-split heat pump

  • Ideal for smaller spaces and open floor plans
  • Includes two main components – an outdoor compressor/condenser unit and an indoor air-handling unit
  • Delivers warm or cool air directly to the targeted area without ductwork (no wasted energy or heat loss through leaky ducts)
  • Compact, quiet and efficient
  • Flexible heating and cooling capable of serving multiple zones of a home

Geothermal heat pump

  • Transfers heat through pipes buried underground
  • Takes advantage of stable temperatures below the surface regardless of outdoor air temperatures
  • More expensive, but delivers greater energy savings
  • Safe, clean eco-friendly operation

Ducted mini split

  • Hybrid version of ductless mini-split heat pump
  • Distributes heat through combination of ductless indoor heads and short duct runs supplying conditioned air to rooms through vents
  • Ideal option for homes without existing ductwork and multiple smaller zones

Extended capacity heat pump

  • Similar to standard ducted heat pump while achieving a higher level of heating output at lower temperatures
  • Increased performance capability prevents or reduces the use of expensive backup strip heat or electric furnace in freezing temperatures

For more information on the different heat pump types and additional options, check out our article on choosing the right home heating solution.

Should I consider a heat pump system?

Heat pumps are a great option for Oregon homes heated with electricity, with or without existing ductwork. They offer outstanding heating and cooling efficiency, low energy costs, safe operation and ease of installation. If you’re looking to replace your current heating system or want to add air conditioning, ask your contractor about possible heat pump solutions.

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Heat pump savings

Find incentives for ducted and ductless heat pumps.

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