heat pump devices

Devices in your house that function like heat pumps

Heat pumps are an efficient way to both heat and cool your living space – simply put, they use electricity to move heat from one area to another to moderate the air temperature. Overall, heat pumps are able to provide 1.5 to 3 times the amount of electrical energy they consume in the form of heat energy for your home! Many different devices throughout your home use a similar closed loop mechanism that mirrors the functionality of heat pumps. In this article, we’ll explain what these devices are and how they work.


Key takeaways


  • Heat pumps are a two-in-one temperature regulation system that both heat and cool your living space. 
  • Devices in your home such as ACs, dryers, refrigerators and even electric vehicles function similarly to heat pumps.
  • Heat pumps pair naturally with solar panels, offering energy efficiency, savings, and emission-free heating and cooling for your home.
  • Want to power your heat pumps with solar? Visit the EnergySage Marketplace to receive free quotes from local installers.

What’s in this article?

How do heat pumps work?

Whether your home currently has ductwork for central AC or is completely ductless, you’re probably a good candidate for heat pumps. Heat pumps consist of indoor and outdoor units, each of which has a coil and a fan. These systems don’t create any hot or cool air – rather, they simply redirect the heat in the air from outside to the inside of your house and vice versa. Let’s put on our physicist hats for a minute: heat energy moves from areas of high pressure (high temperatures) to areas of lower pressure (lower temperatures). Heat pumps rely on this mechanism to drive the cooling or heating process. 

Cooling with heat pumps

When it’s hot outside, your heat pump works just like a traditional air conditioner. Warm air from your home passes over a cool refrigerant coil, which absorbs the air’s heat and evaporates. The now cool air is released back into your house via a fan, keeping it nice and cool. The gas refrigerant then travels through a compressor, which concentrates the absorbed heat and passes the hot, pressurized gas through an outdoor coil. The heat is then transferred to the outside air and the refrigerant condenses back to a warm liquid. The liquid refrigerant moves through an expansion valve to reduce pressure – as the pressure reduces, so does the temperature of the liquid and it can be used to repeat the process.

Heating with heat pumps

When it’s cold outside, your heat pump will operate as the reverse of an air conditioner in order to heat your home. A fan draws outside air into the heat pump, which passes over a cold refrigerant fluid. Because the fluid is colder than the outside air, it heats up and evaporates into gas. A compressor then pressurizes the gas, concentrating the heat, and it passes it through a heat exchanger. The hot gas transfers its heat to your home’s air and returns to a cold liquid to repeat the process. 

What devices are similar to heat pumps?

There are probably a number of devices already in your home that work similarly to heat pumps – here are some similar products you might own:

Air conditioners

ACs and heat pumps are both HVAC systems, which means they regulate the temperature, pressure, and humidity of an enclosed space, such as a house or building. They both have cooling functions that work in the same way: refrigerants serve as a mode of heat transfer to extract heat from the house and transfer it to the outside air. They also both use mechanisms of evaporation and condensation to transfer heat to the outside and use fans to distribute the cold air across the room. However, unlike heat pumps, ACs can only work in one direction.

Dryers

Like a heat pump, some dryers work as a closed loop system. Dryers can use ambient air to extract moisture from the clothes and then send it through an evaporator. The water is then collected and discarded while the now warm air circulates in the dryer. Choosing a dryer that uses this mechanism can lead to great savings on electricity costs! These types of dryers are also easier to install and can be placed almost anywhere in the house because they don’t require a vent fitting.

Refrigerators 

Similar to a heat pump in cooling mode, fridges transfer heat from the inside to the outside to keep your food cold. In a refrigerator, a refrigerant runs through your fridge and absorbs heat as it passes through the evaporator loops, just like in a heat pump. Both heat pumps and refrigerators also have condensers: in the fridge, the condenser is external and is used to release heat, whereas in a heat pump it’s in the room to warm the air.

Electric vehicles

Did you know most electric vehicles (EVs) also use a similar mechanism to heat pumps or may even have heat pumps in them? To save on energy and increase efficiency of the car, heat generated by an EV’s battery is redistributed throughout the car, keeping it warm. When it’s cold outside, refrigerants circulate your car’s cooling system where they are compressed and become hot. The heated air then moves around the car’s system, warming up places where heat is needed such as the around battery. This mechanism is especially important because most batteries have a specific temperature range in which they function most effectively – by acting like a heat pump, an EV is able to regulate and maintain this temperature.

Power your heat pumps with the sun

Now that you understand how and why heat pumps work efficiently, you might be hoping to install a system. Because heat pumps run on electricity, the best way to save on all utility costs is to power them with solar! Connect with pre-screened installers in your area on the EnergySage Marketplace to receive solar quotes today – just leave a note to let installers know you’re interested in heat pumps so installers can size your system accordingly. Still have questions? When you sign up for the Marketplace, we’ll connect you with an Energy Advisor from our team (free of charge) to help guide you through every step of the way. 


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About Ananyaa Mehra

Ananyaa Mehra is a rising junior at Tufts University pursuing a bachelors of science in Environmental Studies as well as a minor in entrepreneurship. On campus, she is involved with the Energy club, sustainability council, and helps plan the annual Tufts Energy Conference. She is passionate about and has expertise in electrification, renewable energy, and green technology, with a focus on policy and equity. In her free time, she loves spending time in the ocean, trying new coffee shops, and traveling.

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