The Main Types of Heat Pumps Explained

Choosing a home heating system in Wisconsin is essential because the winter days range from single digits to below zero. On days like that, you need reliable heat that won’t cost you a fortune to run. Heat pumps are hyper-efficient, reliable, and environmentally friendly. However, it’s essential to know that not all heat pumps are the same. Here’s a guide that explains the three main types of heat pumps and their variants so that you can make a more informed home heating choice.

Air-source Heat Pumps

Air-source heat pumps are the most common variety on the market today. As their name suggests, they draw heat from the outside air to heat your home. In many ways, they work like refrigerators, but in reverse. They take advantage of heat energy’s natural tendency to gravitate to colder temperatures, allowing them to extract heat from the outdoors, amplify it, and carry it into the rooms where you need it.

The process begins in the air source heat pump’s outdoor unit. A super-cold refrigerant passes through a heat exchanger, absorbing heat from the outside air. As it does, the refrigerant changes from a liquid to a gas state. The gas then passes through a compressor, reducing its volume, and making it far hotter.

The now-hot refrigerant travels into your home, passing through another heat exchanger. At the same time, a blower fan circulates frigid air from inside your home through the heat exchanger, warming it up. Next, that warm air moves through your home and raises its temperature. Then, the entire process repeats itself.

If you haven’t noticed, an air-source heat pump requires no fuel to heat your home. It uses a small amount of electricity to power its compressor and blower, but that’s all. This is the secret to air-source heat pumps’ outstanding energy efficiency, reaching up to 300% in ideal conditions. Unfortunately, their efficiency declines as the outdoor temperatures do. Even on cold nights, however, air-source heat pumps remain more efficient than gas, electric, or oil-powered heating systems.

Ground-source Heat Pumps

Ground-source heat pumps can deliver as much as 600% efficiency, even when outdoor temperatures plunge. The reason is that they don’t capture heat from the outdoor air. Instead, they capture it from under the ground.

Just a few feet below the ground, temperatures remain stable all year round. Here in Wisconsin, the underground temperatures down to about 20 feet deep hover between 42 and 52 degrees. A ground-source heat pump takes advantage of that to deliver ultra-efficient heat whenever needed. To do it, they circulate refrigerant or water through a pipe loop installed below the ground. The loop may be vertical or horizontal, depending on how much property you have for their installation.

From there, ground-source heat pumps work like their air-source cousins. They carry captured heat into your home and warm the indoor air. The major difference is that ground-source heat pumps remain efficient at all times, no matter how cold it gets outside. The tradeoff for that is that they cost a significant amount more to install, owing to the need to drill or dig to install their underground pipe loops. The good news, however, is that their pipe loops last up to 50 years, so you won’t have to spend money on new pipes very often. That means you can reap the energy savings from a ground-source heat pump system for far longer than an equivalent air-source system.

Water-source Heat Pumps

The third major type of heat pump system is a water-source heat pump. They’re identical to ground-source systems in every way except one. They use pipe loops running through nearby water sources instead of underground. For that reason, they’re the least common variety of heat pump systems you’ll encounter.

To install a water-source heat pump, you need to have a nearby body of water like a pond or a lake, or a well with sufficient water flow running through it. In those cases, a pipe loop similar to that found in a ground-source system gets installed below the water. Most of the time, the loops get submerged in the water to a depth of eight feet or more, so they’ll function properly. There, the water temperature remains stable and won’t freeze in the winter or heat up too much in the summer.

It’s also possible for water-source heat pumps to use the water itself as a heat transfer medium. In that case, they’d use an open-loop pipe system. One pipe would draw in fresh water from the source well or body of water and carry it through the heat pump. Then, the heat pump’s heat exchanger would capture the water’s heat before returning it through a separate open loop away from the inlet.

Heat Pump Variants

Now that you know about the three main types of heat pumps on the market today, you’re closer to making an informed decision for your home. However, we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out that there are some additional options. One is a dual-fuel heat pump. It’s a popular option here in Wisconsin because of how cold it gets here in the winter.
A dual-fuel heat pump combines an air-source heat pump with a small, conventional gas-powered burner. They use efficiency sensors to decide how to deliver the most efficient heat to your home at all times. That way, you’ll never have to worry about having insufficient heat on bitterly frigid days when air-source heat pumps lose efficiency. In those cases, a dual-fuel heat pump augments its heat production by turning on its gas burner.

Conventional air-source heat pumps, by comparison, deal with those situations by using an auxiliary electric resistance heater. Unfortunately, while that ensures you’ll never run out of heat in freezing weather, it can lead to far more expensive operation, robbing your heat pump of its cost benefits.

Count on the Heat Pump Experts

Choosing a heat pump to heat your home is a wise choice. No matter which type you choose, you’ll realize substantial savings compared to traditional heating systems. And now that you’re aware of the main types of heat pumps available, you’ll be an informed consumer when the time comes to choose the right heat pump for your home.

When you’re ready, consult the heat pump experts here at Southport Home Services. We offer a complete range of HVAC and plumbing solutions, which means we’re perfectly positioned to deal with any heat pump you desire. Since 2005, we’ve delighted customers with our expertise and commitment to quality work. Our 80-strong team of technicians has the tools, training, and experience to handle any heating, cooling, or plumbing issue you have. We’re so confident in our work that we even offer a 100% money-back guarantee on everything we do.

So, don’t hesitate to contact Southport Home Services today for all your heat pump or other HVAC and plumbing needs!

Meet the Author
Thomas Suchla
Thomas Suchla


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