How does a heat pump work?

When it comes to heating homes in Canada, the use of a heat pump is probably one of the best kept secrets. Widely used in Europe and Asia, a heat pump draws heat from the air or from the earth and transfers it into the home. While at first thought one might think there is little heat available from these sources in the dead of winter, the reality is that a modern heat pump system can draw enough heat to keep the average home warm even on the coldest day of winter and with little need for backup heating. This is because heat pumps do not rely on energy forms, such as natural gas or oil, to provide heat. Given that, they can be tremendously energy efficient and economical to operate.


There are two basic categories of heat pumps – those that draw heat from the ground or water and those that draw heat from the air.


How do they Work?

An air-to-air heat pump looks and operates similar to an air conditioner. It does this by taking heat from the outside air, which is extracted via a refrigeration cycle, and distributing it through ductwork into the home just like a conventional furnace. Likewise, a ground source or geoexchange heat pump draws heat from the earth or a body of water and releases it into the home, also through heating ducts.

The operation of a heat pump is, in many ways, similar to your household refrigerator. If you put your hand behind your refrigerator while it is operating, the back of the refrigerator will be quite warm. This is because the unit’s refrigeration compressor extracts heat from inside the refrigerator. In its simplest form, a heat pump pulls heat from the air, the ground or from a body of water and discards that heat into your home.

Most heat pumps have some form of backup heat for extra cold days when they cannot provide enough heat for the home, usually in the form of electric heating. Today’s heat pumps can provide 75 percent of a home’s heating needs. Additionally, the majority of heat pumps can reverse in the summer to provide cooling.

The problem, in Canada, is that the heating load is much higher than the cooling load. Therefore, while it would be possible to size a heat pump large enough to cover the home’s entire heating requirements, it would be oversized for cooling. Of course, in regions where air conditioning isn’t needed, this issue does not arise.

Learn more and locate a qualified contractor to service your air conditioners and heating systems by going to the Heating, Refrigeration & Air Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI) Contractor Locator page, or calling 1-877-467-HRAI (4724). All HRAI member contractors have been pre-screened and have the required trade licences, technical certifications and insurance coverage to service on your system.



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