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Heat pump

Heat Pumps 101: Answers to Common Questions About Heat Pumps

When it comes to HVAC, the goal of any homeowner should be to heat a home as reliably and efficiently as possible. Many residents in Maine are turning to heat pumps as the answer to an efficient and money-saving heating method, and it’s a smart move. Before you call an HVAC company, let’s go through the benefits and cost savings that a heat pump will provide, as well as answer some other common questions about heat pumps.

What Is a Heat Pump?

A heat pump – sometimes called a ductless or mini-split system -- is a unit that can provide both heating and cooling using electricity. It has two components.

  • The condenser sits outside of the home and uses a motor to produce either hot or cold air.
  • The indoor unit, which is installed on the floor, ceiling, or most often, on the wall.

With heat pumps, the refrigerant line “splits” the condenser and air handler, hence the term ‘mini-split.’ A heat pump doesn’t rely on ductwork to operate, instead it uses electricity and refrigeration technology to heat or cool your home – hence the term ‘ductless.’

Note: Ducted heat pumps do exist, however, for this purpose of this article, we are discussing ductless heat pumps.

How Does a Heat Pump Work?

Heat pumps rely on both electricity and refrigerant, moving heat from one location to another. 

  • To heat your home, a heat pump extracts heat from the outside air and transmits it to refrigeration coolant.
  • Then, it compresses the coolant, which boosts the temperature of that air.
  • The heat pump then transfers the coolant to the indoor unit, which passes air over the hot coolant.

This process increases the temperature to match the temperature that the user is asking for. Essentially, heat pumps are air conditioners that work in reverse – by spinning condensers in the opposite direction – to produce heat rather than cool air.

The heat pump’s two components – the indoor unit and the outdoor condenser – work in tandem to provide heating and cooling. Connected by a refrigerant line, the heat pump responds to a call for heat – a user turning on the thermostat or remote – by turning on the fan of the outdoor unit. The hot air travels through the refrigerant line to the indoor unit.

What Are the Benefits of a Heat Pump?

  • No ductwork required. When an HVAC system requires ductwork, a lot can happen. Dust and debris can get trapped in the ducts, which means that any air that travels through becomes dusty and dirty. Clogged ductwork can also require an HVAC system to work harder to cool or heat a home, reducing efficiency. Ducts – if not cleaned properly -- can also be a breeding ground for mold and mildew. Heat pumps, on the other hand, don’t use ductwork – which eliminates all these issues. Heat pumps are relatively easy to clean and maintain.
  • Efficiency. Heat pumps use electricity to generate heat, which is a more efficient medium than oil or gas. While gas furnaces are rated at nearly 98% efficiency, heat pumps regularly attain more than 300% efficiency, making them the most efficient heat source compared to oil, gas, and electric HVAC systems. Since heat pumps are installed in a room, homeowners can also isolate the heat to where they are spending most of their time. For example, you can turn on the heat pump in the bedroom when you go to sleep and turn it off when you’re no longer in your bedroom, which prevents the HVAC system from working needlessly – and saving you money.
  • Flexibility. Heat pumps only require a condenser and an indoor unit. Additionally, the indoor units come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and you can choose to install them on a ceiling, wall, or floor. This opens up a lot of possibilities when it comes to designing and structuring the interior of your home. Since heat pumps don’t need a giant furnace or boiler, they are a good fit for homes that do not have a basement. Many Maine homes – typically beach houses or lake houses – just have a crawl space, and heat pumps are a great option in those cases.
  • Versatility. Perhaps the best part about a heat pump or ductless system is that it both cools and heats a home. For homes without ductwork, it’s a significant step up from a window unit AC.

Are Heat Pumps Worth It?

Since heat pumps rely on electricity, they are far more efficient than many other heating systems that homeowners typically employ. For example, heat pumps are far more efficient than oil or propane-based systems.

Heat pumps are generally worth it, especially in Maine, because they provide vast savings compared to oil furnaces or boilers. Heating your home with a heat pump is equivalent to spending $1.44 per gallon on oil. That is nearly half of the cost of what Maine homeowners pay for oil.

Purchasing a heat pump makes even more sense once you factor in rebates. Efficiency Maine offers rebates of up to $1500 on specific heat pumps for homeowners of any income.

Can You Heat a Home in Maine Using Only Heat Pumps?

It’s very possible to heat a home with only heat pumps – especially for homes in Southern Maine or on the coast, where it doesn’t reach negative temperatures too frequently.

Heat pumps have evolved significantly, and today’s heat pumps can handle much lower temps than older models. The Mitsubishi Hyper Heat, for example, works in temperatures of up to -15 degrees. However, the heat pump has to work much harder in lower temps, which means that the efficiency is lower in negative temperatures. In Southern Maine, we rarely experience temperatures of -15, however; the coldest recorded temperature was -20 in December of 1980.

That being said, it’s probably best to supplement a heat pump with another heating source, whether it’s a propane fireplace, woodstove, or electric baseboards. Although it’s possible to use heat pumps as your only heat source, you never know how cold it will get during a New England winter, and you want a heating system that works regardless of the outside temperature.

Heat pumps are an excellent complementary heating system that can reduce the amount of time you use on a more expensive heating element, which can significantly cut costs.

Schedule a Heat Pump Installation Today

A heat pump installation is no small undertaking and requires a licensed professional. HomeWiz is licensed to work in Maine and New Hampshire, and our technicians can walk you through every option to make sure that heat pumps are the right decision. Once you decide that a heat pump is the best way to go, our expert technicians can handle a heat pump installation with ease. Schedule an appointment today by calling 1-844-RINGWIZ.

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