Residential Heat Pumps – How they Work & What they Do

By In Heating and Air Conditioning Questions and Answers On March 26, 2016


Whether you are relaxing in a nice warm home in the winter months, or beating the heat in our hot Texas summers; your homes heating and air conditioning system plays a key role in keeping you and your family comfortable! A key component to your HVAC system is the heat pump, so we thought we would take a moment to explain how your home’s heat pump works.

Residential heat pumps are mechanical systems that are commonly found on the outside of one’s home. One common misconception is that the large fan attached to the side or rear of your home is the air conditioner, it is in fact just one piece of the overall system (and a highly important one at that!)

A heat pump is designed to move heat from one space (where it is not needed) to another in order to heat or cool as needed. An indoor unit, also known as an air handler, often accompanies the heat pump. A key component of a heat pump is the refrigerant which a fluid with unique properties, that is circulated between the indoor and outdoor components of your HVAC system in order to control your home’s temperature. By controlling the temperature of the refrigerant the system allows for heat to be transferred into or out of the home, depending on the season.

In the cooler months of the year, the Heat Pump is in heating mode. During this time the refrigerant inside the heat pump is actively extracting heat from the outdoors and is transporting it indoors to air handler, which then moves the heat from the refrigerant to the air, by blowing air across the refrigerant lines before distributing it throughout the home’s ductwork. The cooled refrigerant is then pumped back outside to the heat pump where it will repeat this process.

In the warmer months of the year, the system is reversed to cool the home. Similarly, indoor air is cycled through the air handler, passing over the cooler refrigerant lines, resulting in heat being transferred from the air to the refrigerant, which in turn is pumped back to the heat pump, where the heat is then rejected to the outdoor air. The resulting cooler air is then distributed throughout the home.

A properly operating heat pump provides energy efficient heating and cooling. However, like any other system in your home, proper care and maintenance needs to be performed in order to keep the system operating at its peak and to ensure a long lifespan. Proper maintenance includes:

  • Replacing the filters on the air handler once a month or as needed – a dirty filter reduces the airflow, thus decreasing the performance of the system.
  • On the outdoor unit, it is imperative to keep the coils and fan clean – When you notice the parts becoming dirty, turn off the fan and clean it.
    Also, be sure that nothing is blocking air from entering or leaving the heat pump, as it’s important to have unrestricted airflow.
  • Inside the home, you can verify all vents and grilles are clean.
  • Additionally, you should have your heat pump serviced at minimum, once a year by a technician. As they will verify your system is running to its full potential.

If you have any questions or concerns about your home’s heat pump or air conditioning system, contact Heat Mechanical today to speak with one of our highly trained technicians.


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