How Does a Heat Pump Work in the Winter?

Furnaces are the most common heating system choice in homes throughout the Indianapolis area, but a considerable number of homeowners rely on heat pumps for efficient winter heating along with the trusted cooling they offer all summer season.

Since heat pumps don’t generate heat by burning fuel as furnaces do, many people question how a heat pump works in the winter. B&W Plumbing, Heating, Cooling and Drains shares how these HVAC systems work to keep your family warm and safe, even when it’s cold outside!

Heat Pump Basics

Before discussing how a heat pump works in the winter, let’s first explain how a heat pump works – period. As mentioned above, these HVAC units don’t generate heat. They don’t combust fuel to produce heat energy as gas furnaces do. Instead, they transfer heat energy from one place to another.

In Indianapolis area homes, heat pump systems may be air source or geothermal. 

  • Air source heat pumps transfer heat between the indoor air and the outdoor air. In the winter, they pull heat energy from the outdoor air and add it to the indoor air to raise temperatures within your home.
  • Geothermal heat pumps transfer heat between the indoor air and the ground. In the winter, heat energy is extracted from within the Earth, and that energy is added to the indoor air for warmth.

How Does a Heat Pump Work in the Winter?

Heat pumps are HVAC systems that provide both heating and cooling. To heat homes in the winter, heat pumps simply operate in reverse from their summertime operation. A component called the reversing valve activates, switching the course of refrigerant through the system. The air source heat pump’s outdoor coil extracts heat from the outdoor air; a ground loop pulls heat from the ground in geothermal systems. Heat energy is carried by the refrigerant inside the coil through the refrigerant lines and into the indoor unit’s indoor coil. Circulating air passes over the coil as the refrigerant releases heat energy. Air absorbs that heat before cycling through the ductwork and back into the home’s living areas.

Using Heat Pumps in Cold Conditions

When operating a heat pump during the winter, many people are concerned with the system’s ability to pull enough heat from outdoor air or below ground to heat an entire home when the outdoor temperature is quite cold. Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about there not being enough energy! Even when it’s chilly, there is heat energy in the air that can be absorbed and transferred. The temperatures below ground keep steady around 55 degrees all year long, so geothermal systems always have a plentiful source of heat to pull from.

However, air source heat pumps can experience struggles when Indiana temperatures fall below 40 degrees or so. At this point, conventional heat pump units do use more electricity as they work to move enough energy to keep the home at a comfortable temperature. Once temperatures drop to 25 degrees or less, their energy efficiency is rather poor, and using the backup heating system is a better option if available. New heat pump units designed for use in cold climates offer much better energy efficiency in colder outdoor temperatures and may be an option for your home if you struggle to maintain comfortable temperatures when it’s really cold outside.

Heat Pump Service in Central Indiana

If you have more questions about how heat pumps operate, feel free to ask the experts at B&W! Our team is always available to share answers about HVAC system options like these. Ready to install a new heat pump in your home? Contact us today to request an estimate.