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How Does a Heat Pump Work?

Do you know how an air conditioner works? If you’re like most homeowners, you likely probably don’t, and that’s okay. Air conditioners are complex devices that utilize various types of technology to transfer heat from inside your home back outside (or vice versa during the winter when you fire up your central heater). However, the one critical component of the entire system is a device called a “heat pump.” On this blog, we’ll explain what they are and how they keep your home cool during the hottest and most-humid days of summer.

What Is a Heat Pump?

The typical air conditioner consists of two different parts: an indoor unit and an outdoor unit. The indoor unit primarily contains your blower fan and your evaporator coils, while your outdoor unit, more commonly known as a “heat pump,” contains your condenser coils, a compressor, and a large fan. The two different units are connected by a network of small copper tubes that conduct a fluid known as “refrigerant,” which is a chemical compound that’s highly-proficient in transferring heat and changes between a gas and liquid state fairly easily. The heat pump is what causes this state change in a reaction that either extracts or gives off heat, thus allowing it to move from one place to another, depending on the direction your heat pump is running.

Instead of burning energy to create heat, heat pumps are an ideal solution because they simply use a smaller amount of energy to transfer it from one place to another, making them a remarkably efficient and cost-effective solution for heating and cooling everything from homes to large industrial complexes.

The Refrigerant Cycle

To better understand a heat pump’s function, let’s take a look at the cycle your refrigerant follows. Once refrigerant has been used in your evaporator coil to cool the air in your home, the refrigerant then makes its way out towards the outside of your home, where it reaches your compressor. The compressor takes the refrigerant, now in a gaseous state, and compresses it, creating an exothermic reaction, or one which gives off heat.

The resulting gas is extremely hot, is then fed into your condenser, which is a coil located in your outdoor unit below the giant fan that spins whenever your system turns on. This fan is designed to take ambient-temperature air from the outside and run it past this coil, causing it to cool and the gas inside to condense back into liquid form. This is why the air that comes out of the top of your outdoor unit is usually quite warm to the touch: it’s literally extracting heat from extremely-hot refrigerant.

From this point, the now-liquid refrigerant travels through a drier and back into what’s called an “expansion chamber” which is a chamber that allows the refrigerant to re-expand, triggering an “endothermic” reaction, which is one that requires heat. As a result, the expanding fluid pulls heat from the air around it, making it cold and causing the water vapor in the air around it to condense and then re-evaporate as air is forced over it. This process, known as “evaporative cooling” is what creates the cool air that we enjoy in our homes.

A Brief Summary

To put it simply, a heat pump simply transfers heat from one location to another, depending on where you want it, which is an energy-efficient way to both heat and cool your home using the same climate control system. The heat pump is a common, collective term used to describe your outdoor unit, which either gives off heat obtained from your home during the summer months, or extracts heat from outside and moves it indoors during the winter, causing it to travel along a series of lines known as “refrigerant.”

Of course, your heater and air conditioner both require a substantial amount of things to all work in sequence in order to do their job effectively. If you’re experiencing an issue, such as a lack of heat during winter or cool air during summer, your heat pump may be in need of a repair or maintenance service. When this is the case, we strongly recommend reaching out to a Palm Beach County HVAC professional who can both diagnose the problem accurately and provide you with experienced and reliable repair services that will get everything running smoothly once again.

If you need a heat pump repair or replacement service in Palm Beach County, call Phoenix Air Conditioning, LLC today by dialing 888.660.4337 to request a service appointment!