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Heat Pumps and Heat Pump Systems, A Blossoming Field

These days, there’s much more to heat pumps than meets the eye. Have a look at some of the great new developments in the field that keeps you comfortable.

Variations in Heat Pumps

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  • Heating only. Some are dedicated to heating only. In colder climates, in fact, many designs that work well at heating don’t also cool well because of the way they are set up.

  • Cooling Only. There are heat pumps intended specifically for cooling. In this case, the name “heat pump” is misleading because it only refers to the way it moves heat and not to its application.

  • Combination. These pumps have a reversing valve system allowing change in the direction of heat movement, thus the ability to either heat OR cool the intended spaces.

Heating, Cooling and Combo Heat Pump Variations:

  • Air to air. Simply put, the air is used as a medium from and to which heat is exchanged. Just as your refrigerator draws heat from the air inside and pushes it to the air outside, heat pump systems can move heat in either direction to effect cooling or heating.

  • Air to water. Heat is taken from the air and pushed to a water system. These are used for heating swimming pools and also to heat buildings through imbedded floor or ceiling and through baseboard radiators.

  • Water to water. This is an application of geothermal technology where the water used is found in a local lake or subterranean well or reservoir. Heat is passed between environmental water and a water system inside the building, similar to the air to water system above.

  • Water to air. This is another variation, also designed to exchange heat, but in this case between environmental water and the air within the building.

Geothermal variations can go two ways:

  • Closed loop. A completely sealed water pipe is buried underground horizontally in “slinky” coils or straight lengths, or may be placed vertically into a well. The water inside is re-circulated.

  • Open. In this case, water from the actual water source is freely circulated into and out of the system, with no attempt at reusing the same water.

Primary energy used to drive heat pump systems:

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  • Electrical. Most people are familiar with the idea that heat pumps operate on electricity to run the pump and fan systems. However, heat pump designs exist for two other power sources, as follows.

  • Natural Gas.Efficient versions use an engine powered by natural gas to run their systems. The advantage of a natural gas system is that:

  • It reduces the need to bolster or upgrade electrical service in order to run it

  • It can be used off the grid so long as there is a natural gas line available

  • It is financially very competitive with electricity

  • Propane. Similar systems can also run off the alternate gas, propane. Advantages are:

  • Propane is more eco-friendly as it is found not to affect the ozone layer

  • As a fuel, it is a purified gas and produces over twice as much energy as natural gas, a variable mixture of several naturally-occurring gasses

  • It can be used completely off the grid since it is delivered and stored in high-pressure tanks and needs no natural gas or electrical lines

Cold Weather Heat Pump Systems

Due to limitations in efficiency in extracting heat from very cold air, conventional heat pumps have been most useful in areas having relatively moderate winter conditions and have needed to be offered as hybrid systems or supplemented by alternate heat sources in colder areas. However, recent technological advances have resulted in new versions considered effective to temperatures as low as -22 Fahrenheit!

To find out more about any of these heat pump systems, consult your local HVAC professional for guidance as to which heat pumps are best suited and most reliable for your needs.

Creative Commons Attribution: Permission is granted to repost this article in its entirety with credit to Alley and Co. Heating/Air and a clickable link back to this page.

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