Heat Pump

By Deane Barker

This is basically a device that moves heat around. It’s installed outside your home, like an air conditioner. It takes heat from the air or the ground, and pumps it inside your home.

There are different ways they acquire heat.

  • Air: heat is extracted from the air (I feel like this would only work when it was warmer outside than inside?)
  • Ground: heat is extracted from the water heated underground; also called “geothermal”
  • Exhaust: heat is extracted from air exiting the building
  • Solar: heat is generated by solar panels
  • Water: heat is extracted from water taken from a source; also known as an “open-loop ground heat pump”

The key is that it doesn’t actually heat or cool the air. It just moves it around – it takes hotter or colder air from one location, and “pumps” it to another.

That’s an interesting way of looking at it – the desired hot or cold air always exist somewhere, just not in the place you need it.

Why I Looked It Up

I had heard the term often. I was just curious how they worked.

They apparently don’t work well in extreme cold temperatures, so they’re not a great option in Sioux Falls.


Added on

This article on the expansion of heat pump usage includes an explainer:

The idea relies on the very principle by which heat pumps operate: If you can seize heat, you can use it. What makes heat pumps special is the fact that instead of just generating heat, they also capture heat from the environment and move it into your house – eventually transferring that heat to radiators or forced-air heating systems, for instance. This is possible thanks to the refrigerant that flows around inside a heat pump. When the refrigerant encounters heat – even a tiny amount in the air on a cold day – it absorbs that modicum of warmth.

A compressor then forces the refrigerant to a higher pressure, which raises its temperature to the point where it can heat your house. It works because an increase of pressure pushes the refrigerant molecules closer together, increasing their motion. The refrigerant later expands again, cooling as it does so, and the cycle repeats. The entire cycle can run in reverse, too, allowing heat pumps to provide cooling when it’s hot in summer.

So it’s not just moving air around. It performs some physical process on the air to heat it. (There’s a helpful graphic on the page as well.)

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