The Ultimate Guide To Heat Pumps And How They Work

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Heat pumps are inexpensive and effective, potentially helping your bottom line. But did you know they can also save the planet and advance equity?

As more and more businesses commit to sustainability, your eco-conscious company stands poised to take advantage of growth, innovation, and climate progress opportunities. But unfortunately, knowing where to start is challenging. Luckily, growing technologies like heat pumps offer loads of benefits to environmentally friendly corporations for early adoption. Read on to explore what they are, how they work, and what they can do for the planet and you.

What on Earth is a Heat Pump?

Heat pumps are part of an integrated heating and cooling system that moves heat between areas. For example, heat pumps can move heat out of your workplace during the sweltering summer or move it into the office in the dead of winter. What differentiates heat pumps from other heating mechanisms is that they do not burn gas or oil to warm the air. Instead, they operate entirely off the electric grid. Air source heat pumps move heat from the outside into your office, while ground source or geothermal pumps draw heat from the soil. However, both types of pumps leverage the same physics to bring you climate control.   

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The Components of a Heat Pump

Heat pumps operate like a traditional air conditioner. The pump uses a long metal coil that runs from inside to outside and back in a loop. The coil contains a refrigerant with a low boiling point that flows through it. A compressor accounts for most of a heat pump's electric draw, and an expansion valve releases the pressure that builds up in the coil.

Finally, there are indoor and outdoor units, each with a fan that blows air across the coil. What differentiates heat pumps and air conditioners is that pumps can usually reverse the flow of refrigerant on demand, changing from heaters to air conditioners and back.

Heat pumps are part of an integrated heating and cooling system that moves heat between areas.

How Heat Pumps Operate

In the part of the coil that is outdoors, the refrigerant boils and evaporates, drawing in heat rapidly. The phase change could be due to the fluid's low boiling point, low pressure in the system, or both. The refrigerant can absorb heat from relatively cold air at low enough pressures.

As the refrigerant moves indoors, it passes through a compressor that forces it back into a liquid state, releasing energy. The metal coil in the indoor unit is a conductor that transfers this heat to the surrounding air. From there, a fan blows the warm air into your workspace.  

The refrigerant proceeds outside and depressurizes as it passes through the expansion valve. The drop in pressure causes it to evaporate and absorb heat again. A fan blows outdoor air across the coil to help with heat absorption, and the process starts all over again.

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Heat Pumps: Functional, Economical, Sustainable

Heat pumps are not just a laboratory theory; they work. However, they work most efficiently where there is more heat to move from inside to outside and vice versa. Therefore, traditional furnaces may supplement heat pumps in cold climates. This hybrid arrangement is a "dual fuel system." Although they are not as efficient as a bona fide heat pump, they have much lower emissions than a fossil fuel heat source.

Heat pumps are much more economical than legacy heating. There are no fossil fuel costs, and it requires much less electricity to move heat than to create it ex nihilo. Moreover, the maintenance costs are negligible due to the lack of burning and simple construction. 

In addition, many states and provinces offer tax rebates for green infrastructure upgrades; these can defray installation costs and reduce the time until the system pays for itself. Finally, a recent study has shown that at least 32% of households in the U.S. would see a substantial economic improvement by switching to a heat pump. How significant would the difference be for a big corporation, especially upgrading to a geothermal unit?  

Heat pumps should be an integral part of any green initiative. They cut emissions in every state, particularly in areas where sustainable energy already powers the electrical grid. According to the Sierra Club, the average U.S. household could cut emissions from heating by 45% over 10 years. There is even more room for growth in areas that have not yet started to power their grid with wind, solar, or other alternative energy sources.

Finally, urban areas, particularly those housing poor, non-white residents, tend to be the most polluted and inefficiently powered. Installing heat pumps in urban areas will reduce emissions, lower costs for the underprivileged, and promote better public health, advancing climate equity. Moreover, heat pumps provide a can't-miss opportunity to spread sustainable, equitable heating for environmentally-conscious businesses. 

Marketing Takeaways:

  • Heat pumps drastically reduce costs due to simple engineering, low maintenance, and lower power requirements than traditional heating methods.
  • Heat pumps will have a tremendous positive impact on underprivileged populations, particularly in urban areas. They will advance climate equity by bringing inexpensive, clean, and efficient heating to the historically disadvantaged.
  • Heat pumps drastically lower carbon emissions. By avoiding fossil fuels, these systems pollute less, particularly in areas with a green energy grid. Indeed, they offer the best sustainable heating source yet developed.

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