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How Does A Heat Pump Work?


How do heat pumps work?

Have you ever sat in a warm and comfortable home, wondering how exactly your heat pump works? Well, we’re glad you asked that question.


In heating mode, a heat pump operates like a reverse refrigerator. This is because they don’t generate heat – they simply move heat from one place to another.


During the winter, your system absorbs heat from the outdoor cold air and uses a refrigerant as the heat transfer medium to move it indoors. It essentially transfers heat energy from the surrounding environment. Using cold air as a heat source might seem counterintuitive, but even in very cold temperatures, there’s still heat energy present.


In the summer, when your heat pump is set to cooling mode, the process is reversed, and it acts as an air conditioner. It extracts heat energy from the air inside your home and uses the same heat transfer medium to move it outdoors.


What is a heat pump?

A heat pump is an energy-efficient and cost-effective home cooling, refrigeration, and heating solution.


Heat pumps are truly remarkable technology. During the depths of winter, when many of us are complaining about the cold, heat pumps are out there searching for warmth. This is because even when outdoor temperatures are below freezing, heat energy still exists, and your heat pump will find it, convert it into heat, and deliver it to your home.


Heat pumps are also eco-warriors. Your heat pump is environmentally friendly and knows how to reduce, reuse, and recycle. It doesn’t generate new heat; instead, it transfers existing heat to heat your home.


This can reduce home heating or cooling energy consumption by up to 40%. Less energy use means lower electricity bills. We all like the sound of that!


Air Source Heat pumps are also anti-sweat heroes. In the summer, when your heat pump operates in cooling mode, it removes excess moisture and reduces indoor humidity. In heating mode, as warm air circulates around it, it removes moisture from the room.

heat pump installation

What are the types of heat pumps?

Residential heat pumps mainly come in three types: high-wall single split systems, multi-split systems, and ducted systems.


High-wall Single Split System

Single unit high-wall heat pumps are the most common systems in New Zealand, consisting of two components: an outdoor unit and an indoor unit. In heating mode, the indoor unit acts as a condenser, while in cooling mode, it acts as an evaporator. Conversely, the outdoor unit does the opposite, acting as an evaporator in heating mode and a condenser in cooling mode.


The operation of a heat pump in heating mode is similar to its operation in cooling mode, with the difference being that the flow of refrigerant is reversed through appropriately named reversing valves. This flow reversal allows outdoor air to act as a heat source (even at lower outdoor temperatures) and release heat energy into the indoors.


Multi-Split System

A multi-split system connects one outdoor unit to multiple indoor units, providing heating for different rooms in your home. These systems are great choices for larger homes or spaces where multiple indoor units are desired but not multiple outdoor units. For multi-split systems, you can choose indoor units like high-wall, ceiling cassette, or ceiling concealed units.


Ducted Heat Pump

A ducted heat pump system is a heat pump unit that works by delivering conditioned air throughout your entire home or specific areas through vents or ducts. They’re usually installed in the ceiling space of your home and circulate heated or cooled air throughout the house. This system provides incredible flexibility in terms of duct and vent placement, offering a discreet and aesthetically pleasing solution for whole-home comfort.


The ability of the ducted system to maintain healthy airflow brings some additional benefits to you and your family. By removing moist air and promoting circulation throughout the home, ducted air conditioning systems help keep condensation buildup to a minimum, reducing the risk of mold and other issues associated with overly humid home environments.


What is the lifespan of a heat pump?

On average, a well-maintained heat pump system can last around 10 to 12 years. However, with proper care and maintenance, they can last longer.


The lifespan of a heat pump depends on various factors, including the unit type, the quality of installation and maintenance, and operating conditions.


Regular maintenance, such as cleaning or replacing air filters, and regular servicing by qualified HVAC technicians, can help extend the system’s lifespan.

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What are the drawbacks of heat pumps?

As a means of providing warmth in the winter and coolness in the summer, heat pumps don’t have many drawbacks.


It’s important to choose an energy-efficient model suitable for your space to avoid increased electricity bills. Refer to the manufacturer’s heat pump calculator to find the right option for you.


Another consideration is ongoing maintenance costs – if you regularly clean filters, these costs average around $100 per year.


When are heat pumps ineffective?

The performance of a heat pump can be affected when the outdoor ambient temperature drops below 2°C. They can still operate, but it might be challenging for them to provide the desired heating capacity under cold conditions.


The efficiency and heating capacity of heat pump systems are not constant; they vary with the temperature difference between indoor and outdoor air. The rated efficiency and heating capacity of a heat pump apply to specific outdoor temperatures and heating/cooling loads.


As the difference between outdoor and desired indoor temperatures increases, the efficiency of the heat pump system decreases.


Therefore, standardized testing is conducted at specific temperature and humidity levels – this is called the H2 rating.


The EECA introduced the H2 rating scheme to help customers make more informed decisions about the performance of their heat pump units, especially in the central and southern regions of New Zealand. The H2 rating system measures the heat pump’s heating performance output under 2°C outdoor conditions, which are more realistic average temperature conditions for these regions.


Where do heat pumps provide heating?

When it comes to how heat pumps operate and the heat transfer process, one of the most important things to understand is that heat energy naturally wants to move to areas of lower temperature and pressure. Heat pumps rely on this physical principle to make contact with heat and colder, lower-pressure environments, allowing heat to naturally transfer.


So there you have it. Heat pumps are a truly remarkable invention, an indispensable and highly valuable addition to any New Zealand home, regardless of the season.

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