January 9, 2024
How Does a Heat Pump Work in Winter?

If you’re considering a new heating system for your Champaign, IL home, there’s a good chance that heat pumps are on your radar. They’re not new, but until recent technical innovations, they weren’t a good fit for homes here. Today, however, they offer one of the most efficient heating options on the market. However, they don’t operate anything like other heating systems you may have owned in the past. Instead of consuming fuel to produce heat, they rely on existing heat energy in the outside air to heat your home. Here’s everything you need to know about how a heat pump produces heat in the winter.

What Is a Heat Pump?

A heat pump is an HVAC system that can heat your home in the winter and cool it in the summer. It uses technology similar to what you’d find in an air conditioner or a refrigerator. A compressor manipulates the pressure of the refrigerant, which changes both its state and its temperature. Then, it uses the refrigerant to absorb heat and carry it from one place to another. This is possible because of the second law of thermodynamics, which, among other things, states that heat naturally flows from a warmer body to a colder body.

How a Heat Pump Works in the Winter

Although you may not realize it, heat energy is always present in the outdoor air, even on sub-freezing days. It’s just that humans aren’t very good at perceiving it. We begin feeling cold at the balmy temperature of 77 degrees Fahrenheit. This is because our body temperature normally hovers at about 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Due to the very same second law of thermodynamics, our bodies begin losing heat in that situation. If it weren’t for the clothes we wear, we’d be quite uncomfortable, even in what we consider warm weather like that.

Heat pumps, however, can collect heat energy from even very cold air. This is because they rely on refrigerants with a very low boiling point, typically somewhere around -15 degrees Fahrenheit. The process begins with the refrigerant in its liquid form, right below its boiling point. The liquid refrigerant gets pumped through a heat exchanger in the heat pump’s outdoor unit. At the same time, a fan circulates outside air across it.

Since the refrigerant is far colder than the outside air, it begins absorbing heat energy from the air, raising its temperature. Once the refrigerant reaches its boiling point, it turns into a warm gas. That warm gas then travels through a compressor, which increases its pressure. That amplifies the heat contained in the refrigerant, raising its temperature to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

The now-hot gaseous refrigerant then travels into your home. That’s where it passes through yet another heat exchanger. This time, however, a fan circulates air from inside your home across the heat exchanger. Because it’s colder than the refrigerant, it absorbs heat and carries it into your home, raising the temperature in the process. As this happens, the refrigerant reverts into a liquid and passes through an expansion valve to lower its temperature so it may begin the process again.

Can Heat Pumps Work in All Winter Conditions?

If you’re familiar with older heat pump technology, you may think that heat pumps struggle in very cold temperatures. While that used to be true, modern cold climate heat pumps work fine down to temperatures as low as -15 degrees Fahrenheit. Their refrigerant can’t boil at that point, preventing it from absorbing enough heat to remain effective. However, heat pumps have backup heat sources to deal with the unlikely event of the temperature dropping that low. In most cases, this involves using electric resistance heat strips that supplement the heat produced through the refrigeration cycle and keep your home warm.

If you’re interested in installing a heat pump in your Champaign, IL home, Bash Heating & Air Conditioning, Inc. can help. We’ve served the local community since 1952, offering complete HVAC installation, maintenance, and repair services. We also offer indoor air quality solutions, humidifiers, and sheet metal fabrication. We even offer financing on approved credit to help you better afford the heat pump you want. So, if you’re ready to upgrade to a new heat pump in your Champaign home, call the experts at Bash Heating & Air Conditioning, Inc. today!

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