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Best Heat Pumps

Best Heat Pump: What Makes It Different from an Air Handler?


Heat pumps are efficient and versatile heating and cooling systems that can save you money on your energy bills. But what makes a heat pump the best? And how does it differ from an air handler?


How Does a Heat Pump Work?


A heat pump works by transferring heat from one place to another. In the summer, it removes heat from your home and sends it outside. In the winter, it does the opposite, extracting heat from the outside air and bringing it inside.

Heat Pump vs. Air Handler


An air handler is a component of a central heating and cooling system. It is responsible for circulating air throughout your home. An air handler cannot heat or cool your home on its own; it needs to be paired with a furnace or heat pump.


The main difference between a heat pump and an air handler is that a heat pump can heat and cool your home, while an air handler cannot. If you’re looking for a system that can both heat and cool your home, a heat pump is the best choice.


How to Choose the Best Heat Pump for Your Home


There are a few factors you should consider when choosing a heat pump for your home:

  • The size of your home: You need to make sure that the heat pump you choose is the right size for your home. A heat pump that is too small will not be able to heat or cool your home effectively, while a heat pump that is too large will waste energy.
  • The climate you live in: The climate you live in will also affect the type of heat pump you need. If you live in a cold climate, you will need a heat pump that is designed to operate in cold weather.
  • Your budget: Heat pumps can range in price several thousand dollars. It’s important to set a budget before you start shopping for a heat pump.

How Do Heat Pumps Work?

Imagine heat as a transferable form of energy, not just warmth. Just like your refrigerator moves heat away from its interior to keep things cool, a heat pump can move heat in the opposite direction, providing warmth to your home.


The key component is a refrigerant: a special liquid that easily changes its state (from gas to liquid and vice versa) depending on pressure and temperature. This cycle happens in four stages:

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In the outdoor unit, liquid refrigerant absorbs heat from the air (even cold air), turning into a gas. This process cools the surrounding air, similar to how sweating cools your body.

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The gaseous refrigerant is then compressed by a compressor, significantly increasing its pressure and temperature. This concentrated heat is similar to steam coming out of a pressure cooker.

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The hot, high-pressure gas travels to the indoor unit, where it passes through coils. These coils transfer the heat to the air inside your home, warming it up. The refrigerant condenses back into a liquid in this stage.

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The cooled, low-pressure liquid refrigerant then travels back to the outdoor unit. As it expands through a special valve, its pressure and temperature drop again, allowing it to absorb more heat from the air and start the cycle anew.

Frequently Asked Questions

A heat pump becomes less efficient as outdoor temperatures drop below a certain point, typically around the freezing mark or slightly above. At these temperatures, the heat pump has to work harder to extract heat from the outside air, reducing its effectiveness and potentially increasing energy costs. While newer models have improved performance in colder climates, supplementary heating methods may still be necessary during extreme cold spells to maintain comfortable indoor temperatures efficiently. Regular maintenance and proper insulation can also help optimize the heat pump’s performance in colder conditions.

Heat pumps are generally efficient in their energy consumption, utilizing electricity to transfer heat rather than generating it directly. Their energy efficiency largely depends on factors such as the climate, the specific type of heat pump, and proper installation. While they can reduce electricity usage compared to traditional heating methods like electric resistance heaters, they may still contribute to higher electricity bills, particularly in colder climates or if they’re not appropriately sized or maintained. However, advancements in technology and the use of renewable energy sources can further enhance their efficiency and reduce overall electricity consumption.

The most common problem with heat pumps is inadequate maintenance, which can lead to issues such as dirty filters, frozen coils, or low refrigerant levels. Neglecting regular upkeep tasks like cleaning or replacing filters, as well as failing to schedule professional inspections, can result in reduced efficiency and increased wear and tear on the system. Additionally, improper installation or sizing can cause performance problems, including short cycling or difficulty maintaining desired temperatures. Regular maintenance and proper installation are essential for ensuring the longevity and effectiveness of heat pump systems.

The lifespan of a heat pump typically ranges from 10 to 15 years, though factors such as regular maintenance, usage patterns, and the quality of installation can influence its longevity. Ensuring proper upkeep, such as annual inspections and filter replacements, can help extend its lifespan toward the upper end of that range. Additionally, advancements in technology and manufacturing may result in newer models boasting improved durability and efficiency compared to older ones.

Leaving a heat pump on all the time is not necessary for efficient operation. It’s generally recommended to adjust the thermostat based on your schedule, turning it down when the house is empty or at night, and up when occupants are present or active. Modern heat pumps are designed to efficiently heat or cool your home quickly when needed, so there’s typically no benefit to leaving them running constantly. Additionally, cycling the heat pump on and off can help save energy and reduce wear and tear on the system over time. Regular maintenance and proper usage habits are key to optimizing energy efficiency and comfort levels.

Heat Pump Vs. Furnace

Let’s dive into a face-off between heat pumps and furnaces, considering key factors to help you choose the ideal heating system for your home:

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1. Efficiency:

Heat pump wins for low energy use, furnace for consistent performance in cold.

2. Environment:

Heat pump wins for eco-friendliness, furnace less so (especially gas/oil).

3. Cost:

Furnace cheaper upfront, heat pump saves on energy bills long-term.

4. Features:

Heat pump heats & cools, furnace just heats (needs separate AC).

5. Climate:

Heat pump good for mild/moderate, furnace for all climates.

6. Maintenance:

Heat pump requires more, furnace less.

7. Fuel:

Heat pump electric only, furnace offers gas/oil/propane flexibility.

8. Incentives:

Heat pump often gets rebates/tax credits, furnace less so.

Heat Pumps in Cold Climates

Heat pumps often face skepticism when it comes to cold climates, but they’ve come a long way, and with the right approach, they can be a viable heating solution even in regions with frigid winters. 


Here’s a dive into this category:

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Myth: Heat pumps don't work in cold weather.
Reality: Modern heat pumps, especially cold-climate models, can efficiently extract heat from the air even at temperatures below freezing, sometimes as low as 25°F.

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Myth: Heat pumps require backup heat constantly in cold climates.
Reality:While backup heat might be necessary during extreme cold snaps, newer heat pumps can handle most winter days efficiently, minimizing reliance on backup systems.

Are Heat Pumps Worth It?

The answer depends on your specific needs and priorities. Consider the following:

If you live in a moderate climate:

Heat pumps are a great choice, offering high efficiency, dual functionality, and environmental benefits.

If you live in a very cold climate:

Carefully evaluate the performance of newer models in your specific region. Consider the cost of backup heating and potential maintenance needs.

If upfront cost is a major concern:

Furnaces might be a more budget-friendly option initially, but their lower efficiency could lead to higher long-term energy costs.

What are the Disadvantages of a Heat Pump?

Despite their advantages, heat pumps have some drawbacks:

Reduced performance in extreme cold:

As mentioned earlier, efficiency drops significantly in very cold climates.

Higher upfront cost:

Generally more expensive than furnaces initially.

Potential noise concerns:

Outdoor units can generate noise, especially older models.

Maintenance requirements:

Regular defrost cycles and potential need for additional maintenance in colder climates.

By implementing these energy-efficient measures, you can significantly reduce your heating costs and enjoy a more comfortable living environment.

Troubleshooting Checklist:
  • Ensure regular filter cleaning or replacement.
  • Schedule annual professional inspections.
Temperature Efficiency:
  • Check thermostat settings for optimal operation.
  • Verify outdoor temperature compatibility, especially in colder climates.
Refrigerant Levels:
  • Monitor for signs of low refrigerant such as insufficient heating or cooling.
  • Schedule professional inspection for leaks and recharge if necessary.
System Performance:
  • Look for signs of short cycling or difficulty maintaining desired temperatures.
  • Verify proper installation and sizing to avoid performance issues.
Energy Consumption:
  • Assess electricity usage patterns and bills for anomalies.
  • Consider energy-efficient practices such as adjusting thermostat settings based on occupancy.

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