How Does An Electric Heat Pump Work?

How does an electric heat pump work? Electric heat pumps have a compressor and a refrigerant system that absorbs heat from one place and transfers it to another. Electrical heat pumps can be a great asset...

Electrical heat pumps can be a great asset to any home. How do they work? Our heat pump expert, Pete Peterson, owner of Geothermal Supply Company, with more than 35 years experience in the heat pump industry, says it's a simple system that works efficiently.

"It's got a compressor and a refrigerant system that absorbs heat from one place and puts it out in another one. It also has the ability to reverse that cycle," Peterson says.

Electric resistance heaters operate like an electric stove. They are efficient at turning electricity into heat. But turning fossil fuels into electricity is incredibly inefficient. In a typical coal-fired power plant, only about a third of the energy content of coal is actually turned into electricity; the rest is wasted. The newest types of gas-fired power plants are more efficient, but still waste about 45 percent of the energy content of the natural gas they burn. Then, transmitting electricity to your home wastes additional energy.

Peterson says, "so all things considered, it makes far more environmental sense to heat your home with gas directly than it does to burn the gas to produce electricity, transport the electricity to your home, and then use it to power a baseboard electric heater."

But electric-powered heat pumps, which work sort of like refrigerators in reverse, use electricity for home heating. Unlike resistance heaters, heat pumps don't actually change electricity into heat. Instead, they move heat from place to place, which is much more efficient; one kilowatt-hour of electricity in a heat pump may produce two to three kilowatt-hours of usable heat.

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council has identified heat pumps as the second most important source of electricity savings in people's homes. Heat pumps beat just about every other heating method in terms of the amount of greenhouse gases produced per unit of heat generated - even in British Columbia, where virtually all of the electricity comes from hydropower. And unlike gas-fired furnaces, heat pumps can be completely greenhouse-gas neutral, provided that they're powered with electricity that wasn't generated from fossil fuels. Even the new generation of high-efficiency gas furnaces can't say that.

Electrical heat pumps could be the right choice for you. If you have any questions, you can always contact your local heat pump dealer. They can give you advice on the best heat pump systems for your home.

When looking for a heat pump, Peterson says one of the most important decisions you can make is checking references on the company you decide to go with. Ask about warranties. Tell them to give you some material on the heat pump you are looking to buy. The more information you have, the better decision you can make for your home and family. You will want to consider monthly costs and the lifespan of the heat pump. Initially you may have to pay more money, but you'll save money in the end.

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