The HVAC industry has evolved in many ways over the years.
And now, the game will forever change with the evolution of heat pumps and mini-split systems.
This guide will cover everything you need to know about heat pumps, including what they are, how they work, their benefits, and how much they should cost.
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What is a Heat Pump?
A heat pump is an HVAC system that utilizes refrigeration and electricity to cool and heat your home.
This is different from a conventional central split system that uses natural gas and refrigeration to cool or heat your home.
Heat pumps can either be central units, mini-split systems, or ducted or wall-mounted.
How Does a Heat Pump Work?
A heat pump works the same way as your conventional AC system (without the heating). The main difference is that it can work backward.
Typically your ac unit operates where the indoor coils are cold and the outdoor coils are hot.
This cools the air in your home as it flows through it and exhausts the hot air to the outside.
A heat pump has what's called a reversing valve. This valve allows the refrigeration to flow in the opposite direction.
When the refrigeration flows the opposite way, the indoor unit will be hot, and the outdoor unit will be cold.
So when the air flows through the hot indoor coils, it will absorb the heat as it flows through your home.
It’s that simple.
Of course, a lot more goes into how it works.
A heat pump must have the refrigeration lines charged with the proper pressures to do its job correctly.
Furthermore, many electrical components ensure each part of the system operates properly.
What’s unique about a heat pump or mini-split system is how you can design the system within your home.
A single outdoor unit can work with multiple indoor units.
Let’s walk through a hypothetical situation to understand the concept better.
Imagine a home with three bedrooms, a kitchen, and a living room.
Four people are living in the home. Each one follows their schedule.
One person is in their room for most of their day, studying and sleeping in their room.
The other two people work outside the home and only occupy it for 8 hours of the day when they are sleeping.
And the fourth person is home most of the time but is in the living room for most of the day.
With a typical central heating and cooling system, when the system is on, it will work throughout the entire home whenever the system is on.
With mini-split systems, that is not the case.
Each room will have a separate air handling unit (with an indoor coil).
The air handling unit circulates the air in the dedicated room or zone to facilitate heating or cooling.
Each room has its air handler, so every room can be on or off independently.
You can apply this same concept to different zones with a ducted heat pump mini-split system.
For example, you can have a zone for the upstairs and downstairs.
Another example would be having a zone for the bedrooms and a zone for the common areas.
You can design it according to your needs.
This has many benefits, such as energy efficiency and reduced operating costs.
Let’s discuss more below.
The Benefits of Heat Pump (Mini Split Systems)
Heat pump mini-split systems come with many benefits.
First, these systems are much more energy-efficient than conventional systems.
Although they could be, they are not necessarily more efficient regarding SEER rating.
The ability to control different zones independently makes them more efficient.
You will only cool or heat the parts of the home that need heating or cooling at any given time.
This leads us to the next point.
Increased energy efficiency means reduced utility costs.
Although gas is cheaper than electricity in direct costs, a heat pump can output up to 300% more energy than it consumes. In contrast, a high-efficiency furnace transfers about 95% of energy.
Gas furnaces release carbon monoxide into the environment.
This is harmful to the environment and can even be deadly if you have a cracked heat exchanger in your gas furnace.
A cracked heat exchanger can leak carbon monoxide into your home through the vents.
You can complete your HVAC project in phases with heat pump mini-split systems.
For example, you can install a single outdoor unit compatible with up to 8 separate zones.
You can start by installing a few zones in your home and adding more.
This will significantly reduce your upfront costs and allow you to complete the project gradually.
A heat pump mini-split system can seamlessly achieve total home comfort when appropriately designed.
This can be done with the help of smart thermostats such as a Nest.
These thermostats can learn your heating and cooling routine and maintain comfort levels for each zone according to your schedule.
This optimization allows for comfortable home temperatures at minimum energy consumption.
Another less thought benefit is that your other zones may still function if you have a problem with one zone.
That way, you can still enjoy comfortable temperatures in all the functioning areas in your home.
Occasionally, your outdoor unit will be the source of an issue.
Unfortunately, if that is the case, you won’t have warm or cool air from any of your zones.
This is no different than conventional hvac systems, however.
So still, a mini-split heat pump system is more beneficial in reducing potential issues with your HVAC system.
Furthermore, because a heat pump mini-split system operates using refrigerant and electricity, there is less room for errors in your HVAC system.
Typical furnaces have built-in safety switches because they operate with gas and fire.
If any of these safety switches are triggered, it will cause your furnace to stop working.
Heat pumps are the future of HVAC; there is no doubt about that.
They are more efficient when cooling or heating your home.
They are less environmentally harmful and prevent dangerous mishaps such as carbon monoxide poisoning.
You should always consult with an HVAC professional when debating purchasing a new HVAC system. They will be able to guide you in choosing the right system for your needs.