What is a heat pump?
A heat pump is a system used to heat domestic water or enclosed space; it does this by transferring thermal energy, much like your refrigerator. Heat pumps transfer warm air from the outdoors into your home. Heat pumps essentially “pump heat” from one place to another.
Heat pumps are also known as “air source heat pumps” too.
Types of heat pumps
There are 3 main types of heat pumps—air to water, water source and geothermal. Heat pumps collect heat from the air, water, or ground outside and transfer the heat into your home. Water source heat pumps require a well or lake to transfer heat from the water to the building.
Geothermal is the most efficient due to the constant temperature of the ground; however, the work involved to install geothermal is expensive and more complex. The most common form of a heat pump is air to water.
This is the cheapest form of heat pump and the easiest to install. The heat is pumped into the house via air ducts, or it heats water which is then used to heat your radiators and water tank for your shower and sinks. Heat pumps can also be used to provide heat to the home via radiant floor heating, otherwise known as underfloor heating.
How do heat pumps work?
Unlink the standard gas boiler, and heat pumps do not generate heat; they transfer heat. According to thermodynamics, heat flows from a high-temperature area to areas with a lower temperature.
Heat pumps work in reverse, pulling heat out of a low-temperature area e.g., the ground or the air and pumping it to a high-temperature area. Heat is transferred from the heat source like the air or the ground and pumped into a heat sink such as your home or office.
Air to Source, the most common type of heat pump, generally consists of two parts, an outdoor unit to absorb the air and an indoor air handler unit. Heat is taken from the air outside the building, and it is pumped inside.
Heat pumps can even absorb heat from outside in extremely cold weather. The outdoor unit contains a coil and a fan. The coil condenses the air, which is then blown over a fan to facilitate the heat exchange.
The indoor unit, much like the outdoor unit, also has a coil and fan, there it condenses the air and transfers the heat across the house or office.
How heat pumps save energy
They are proven energy savers, transferring 3 units of heat energy for every 1 unit of electricity consumed. As mentioned previously, heat pumps don’t generate heat like a gas burner, and they transfer heat.
Heat pumps use electricity to run the compressors and fans. Heat pumps operate much like an air conditioning unit but in reverse. In winter, there is enough latent heat in the air outside to be used by the heat pump to transfer heat from outdoors to indoors.
Heat pumps can even work below freezing; however, if the temperature drops further, a small electric coil is activated to supplement heat.
Are heat pumps sustainable?
Heat pumps are a form of renewable energy and heat. As heat from the air, water or ground is provided by the sun, heat from heat pumps is classified as renewable even though the electricity running the pump itself may not be from renewable sources.
They are best installed in well-insulated buildings ensuring that warm air remains within the building. Compared to other forms of heating, heat pumps can reduce your bills in a well-insulated building by approximately 50 per cent.
They require minimal maintenance and last for approximately 20 years, unlike traditional boilers. Heat pumps can also be installed to run using your solar panel system, ensuring the electricity that is used by the pump comes from a 100 per cent renewable source.
Advantages of heat pumps
Heat pumps are growing in popularity across the globe, and many governments provide tax benefits or grants to help cover the cost of installation. With lower running costs, heat pumps can ensure your home is kept warm without resulting in high bills.
Heat pumps are also safer than other forms of home heating as they produce no carbon monoxide, and the risk of a fire is significantly reduced compared to a solid fuel fireplace or log stove. With their long life span and low maintenance costs, heat pumps make an excellent alternative to traditional oil or gas home heating.
They can also increase the resale value of your home. With governments across the globe pushing for more environmentally friendly forms of housing, a home heated by a heat pump will ensure you have a higher environmental rating on your house.
They do translate to substantially lower energy bills well as lower carbon emissions.
Disadvantages of Heat Pumps
The upfront costs of a heat pump can be off-putting for some families; it is this reason many governments give grants to reduce the cost of installation.
The biggest put off for heat pump installations is the upfront cost although the coefficient of performance is impressive.
Air source Heat pumps also require some renovation work to install the units, and if the home is poorly insulated, most homeowners will need to insulate their home before installation to ensure their pump works efficiently and economically.
Underfloor heating is expensive and difficult to install in existing homes, so your heat pump can be used to heat your radiators. Your heat pump installer will inform you of what changes are needed as you may need to swap your old radiators for newer aluminium radiators.
While technically, the heat used by the heat pump is renewable, the electricity to run the heat pump may not be from a renewable source. Nevertheless, this type of heating can reduce the carbon footprint as it is energy efficient.
In rural areas with semi-frequent power cuts, it may result in the homeowner not having a heating source until their electricity returns. The only source of heat may be that is run by electricity.
However, if the house is well insulated, it should hold the heat inside for many hours.
Types of heat pump & heating systems:
- Air Source Heat Pumps
- Ground Source Heat Pumps
- Central heating
- Electric Boilers
- Oil boiler
- Electric heater
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