Heat Pump Thermostats

Homeowners are always looking for a way to reduce their energy consumption either to do their part for the environment or just to save money on their utility bills.  Installing an energy saving thermostat called a set-back thermostat or programmable thermostat is a popular alternative for energy conscious homeowners.  These thermostats can be programmed to raise or lower the temperature setting in your home to cut down on energy costs at night and while the house sits empty during the day. 

Programmable thermostats are an excellent energy saving alternative for many types of home heating and cooling systems, but if your home is heated and cooled with a heat pump, you should probably think twice before investing in a programmable thermostat.  You may not see much of a savings when your heat pump is operating in the heat mode, and it’s even possible that you could end up using more energy to heat your home rather than saving energy.

A heat pump works just like a central air conditioning system in the summer and a programmable thermostat will produce a similar energy savings when the heat pump is operating in cooling mode.  However, when the heat pump is operating in heating mode, it is very energy efficient but slow to respond to changes in your thermostat temperature setting. 

When your programmable thermostat calls for a sudden increase in the temperature, most heat pumps use expensive electric auxiliary heating strips to meet the sudden demand for heat.  The result is a quick increase in the temperature, but the high energy use of the auxiliary heating strips will wipe out and energy savings from the programmable thermostat.

For energy efficient heating with a  heat pump, most experts agree that the best policy regarding the thermostat is to “set it and forget it.”  You can still save on your air conditioning costs using a programmable thermostat with your heat pump, but the savings from just the air conditioning may not be enough to offset the cost of the thermostat.

Posted on behalf of James Smith, ClimateSmith LLC


Strange Heat Pump Behavior

Heat pumps are a popular home heating and cooling alternative in many parts of the country where very cold winter temperatures are uncommon.  A heat pump works just like a standard central air conditioner in warm weather.  In cold weather, a heat pump operates in reverse and uses electricity to extract heat from the outside air and move it inside the home.  Since heat pumps move heat rather than create heat like a gas or oil furnace, they are very energy efficient.  However, they are not very effective in very cold weather and are not a good option in areas that regularly see temperatures below freezing unless they are paired with a backup furnace or other heating system.

If you have not had a heat pump before, you will find that they take a little getting used to.  One of the first things you will notice is that the warm air coming out of the register is not as hot as you may be used to with a traditional gas or oil furnace.  Heat pumps make up for the lower warm air temperature by running for longer periods than a gas or oil furnace.  As a result, heating is more even throughout the day.

You may also notice that, from time to time, your heat pump will make “whooshing” noise and you may see what looks like steam coming out of the top of the outside unit.  This behavior is part of the normal de-icing operation for a heat pump.  In order to prevent ice from accumulating on the coils, the heat pump will periodically reverse operation to melt any accumulated ice and frost from the coils.  The “whoosh” noise is the sound of the reversing valve and what looks like steam is water vapor from the melted ice and frost.  

Posted on behalf of James Smith, ClimateSmith LLC


What Do HVAC Systems include?

The acronym “HVAC” stands for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. HVAC systems are the combination of various separate components. The typical HVAC system includes a:

  • Central Air-Conditioning Unit
  • Heating System
  • Ventilation System

Central Air-Conditioning Unit

A major component of HVAC systems is the central air-conditioning unit. It cools and dehumidifies the air before it circulates it throughout your home. These units are typically located outdoors due to the noise generated during the cooling process.

Heating System

Heating systems consist of either a furnace, heat pump, or a boiler.  Some homes located in colder climates have both a heat pump and furnace.

  • The heat pump warms the home during times when the weather isn’t extremely cold (temperatures above freezing).
  • The furnace warms the home when outdoor temperatures fall below freezing.

Heat pumps generate up to three times more heat than the energy they use. The reason is that heat pumps draw heat from the outdoor air and pull it into your home. They are a much more efficient way to warm your home than boilers or furnaces.

Furnaces draw their power from heating oil, natural gas, propane, or electricity. Considering the ever-rising price of electricity nowadays, propane and natural gas are typically more economical sources of energy than heating oil or electricity for heating your home.


Ventilation systems consist of:

  • ductwork
  • intake registers
  • outflow vents (enabling the circulation of heated/cooled air throughout your home)

Heating and air-conditioning units depend on your home’s ductwork system to provide a flow of incoming air and to distribute conditioned air.

For more information on HVAC systems, contact your local HVAC service company.

Posted on behalf of James Smith, ClimateSmith LLC


Frequently Asked Heat Pump Questions

Whether your home is already equipped with a heat pump, or you are considering getting one, you’ll find the following questions and answers helpful.

Is Annual Heat Pump Maintenance Important?

To keep your heat pump working safely and effectively, yearly scheduled maintenance is very important. Your heat pumps’ outdoor coils need cleaning no less than once each year. Additionally, be sure to have its electrical system inspected.

Proper maintenance helps to ensure your heat pump performs efficiently. Maintenance cuts down on the quantity and costs of future repairs.  In addition, annual heat pump maintenance results in the extended life of the system.

How do heat pumps provide heating and cooling?

Heat pumps absorb heat and transfer it from one place (location) to another.

Therefore, during the summer season, heat pumps work like air conditioners. Heat from inside your home is absorbed using refrigerant, and then it is vented outside in order to maintain a cool home.

This process is reversed during the winter season. Warmth from outside is absorbed and transferred into the home. A heat pump is ideal for effectively heating your home while temperatures outside remain above freezing.

With some heat pumps, why does it sound like my furnace is running?

Most heat humps distribute air throughout your home by making use of your furnace’s fan. In addition, heat pumps use your furnace as a backup source of heat when temperatures drop below freezing. In such instances, your heat pump is assisted by your furnace to achieve the desired temperature in your home.

For more information about heat pumps, contact your local heating and air-conditioning service company.

Posted on behalf of James Smith, ClimateSmith LLC


Heat Pumps

Heat pumps are a very popular HVAC system in use throughout the United States due to their effectiveness in heating and cooling, as well as their being very cost effective to operate.  In general, heat pumps work by transferring heat from the air or the ground to create either heating or cooling for the home, depending upon if the mode that the system is operating in.  The reason for their efficiency is that they are not burning any fuel create heat, but  use just enough energy to facilitate the transfer of the heat found in the air or ground.  Heat pumps are an excellent choice for homes found in a warm to hot climates. 

There are a two type of heat pump systems, which are defined by the means which backup heat is provided.  The first is a dual-fuel system, which utilizes a gas furnace as a backup, while the second is a traditional heat pump that utilizes electric heat as a backup.  In a dual-fuel system, when temperatures fall below freezing the gas furnace kicks in, but at times when the temperature is above freezing the heat pump is providing the heating.   In a traditional heat pump, when temperatures fall below freezing the electric heater kicks in, but at times when the temperature is above freezing the heat pump is providing the heating.  Many qualified HVAC contractors are going to recommend the dual-fuel heat pump, because they are by far the most efficient when temperatures fall below freezing. 

A qualified and licensed HVAC contractor will be able to provide their professional opinion as to the suitability of a heat pump based HVAC system for your home and if it is the right choice to meet your family’s needs.

Heat Pump Icing Up In Winter

It is normal for outdoor unit of your heat pump to accumulate some frost or even a light layer of ice in the winter.  The coils get very cold when the heat pump is operating in heat mode and it is normal for the coils to accumulate a layer of frost or ice. 

However, when the coils are iced up, heat transfer cannot occur efficiently and the unit will not operate properly.  To remove the ice build-up, a heat pump periodically enters a defrost mode.  While in defrost mode, the unit will switch to air conditioning mode but the outside fan will not run.  This allows warm refrigerant to circulate through the oudoor unit and melt the ice and frost.  When the cycle is complete, the unit will return to heat mode and you will hear a “whoosh” sound and see a cloud of water vapor coming out of the outdoor unit.

If your heat pump is not defrosting and instead allows ice to build up, you should have the system checked out by a good HVAC technician.  You could have a faulty reversing valve, low refrigerant levels, or other issues.  An ice build-up will cause the unit to lose efficiency and heat poorly.  If too much ice builds up, you may hear a loud grinding noise as the fan blades hit the ice. 

In some cases, an ice storm or freezing rain can cause a healthy system to ice up.  You should remove the ice to help the system operate properly and prevent damage to the fan blades.  Turn the system off and carefully remove the ice using a garden hose or a hair dryer.  Avoid the temptation to pour hot water on the ice  – this can damage the coils.

Advanced Features for Heat Pumps

Unlike standard heap pump compressors that are only able to operate at full capacity, heat pumps using “two speed compressors” may in fact operate much closer to a heating or cooling capacity needed at any time. This saves large amounts of electrical energy and reduces compressor wear. Two-speed heat pumps also work well with zone control systems. Zone control systems, often found in larger homes, use automatic dampers to allow the heat pump to keep different rooms at different temperatures. 

Another advance in the technological development of heat pumps is called a “scroll compressor.” A scroll compression consists of two spiral-shaped scrolls. As one scroll remains stationary, the other scroll spins around it. This has the effect of compressing the coolant uses and forces it into a smaller area. This means that scroll compressors have a longer operating life and are quieter than normal compressors. 

Some models of heat pumps are built with  motors on their indoor fans, outdoor fans, or both. These fans run at either varying speeds or in a dual speed setting. Variable speed controls for these fans keep the air moving at a measured, consistent velocity in order to maintain cool air and to keep the cost of running the unit low. Some heat pumps are even equipped with something called a “desuperheater,” which uses extra, wasted heat from the heat pump’s cooling setting to heat water. A heat pump with a desuperheater can heat a home’s water 2 or 3 times more efficiently than an ordinary water heater powered by electricity. 

Most heat pumps use a backup device called a “electric resistance heaters” for cold weather. These backup burners  solve the problem of the heat pump pumping cold air during cold weather, and has a bonus of reducing electricity use.


The Different Kinds of Heat Pumps

The most common type of heat pump used is an “air source heat pump,” which moves or transfers heat from inside your house to the air outside of it. For those homes without ducts for channeling air, there are also ductless air source heat pumps available. These are called “a mini-split heat pumps.” There is also a special kind of air source heat pump called a “reverse cycle chiller.” The reverse chiller uses hot and cold water as opposed to hot and cold air. This allows the unit to use radiant floor heating systems while being used as a central heater. 

A new type of heat pump for homes and residences is called an “absorption heat pump” (it’s also sometimes called a “gas fired heat pump”). Absorption heat pumps take advantage of heat as their primary source of energy, which allows them to be driven by a wide variety of power sources. 

“Geothermal heat pumps” use naturally occurring heat from either a ground- or water-based source within the earth. Although the installation costs are much higher, geothermal heat pumps have low operating costs by comparison. This is because they make use of constant ground or water temperatures to power the unit, as opposed to electricity or other power source. A geothermal pump is therefore highly efficient as it transfers heat between your house and the ground or a nearby water source. Whether a geothermal heat pump is appropriate for your home will depend on the size of your lot and its surrounding area, as well as the landscape and soil your foundation sits on. Customer satisfaction with geothermal systems is generally pretty high, as these units can be used in more extreme conditions than normal air source heat pumps.

What is Geothermal Heating?

Traditional heat pumps use the outside air to either warm the air inside a home in the winter or cool it in the summer. Geothermal heating is a form of heat pump that uses the temperature of the earth to do the same thing. While it may seem strange to pull heat from the ground in cold temperatures, it is actually a very effective and efficient method of heating a home.

 These pumps are similar to air heat pumps, but instead of using air to keep homes at an even temperature all year round, they use the earth. A series of pipes are placed in loops under the ground that transport a liquid, usually either water or antifreeze. To heat the home, the liquid absorbs the heat or energy from the earth and is brought back up to the home and is processed through a compressor and heat exchanger. This concentrates the earth’s energy into a higher temperature and it is dispersed throughout the home. 

For the warmer months, these heat pumps do just the opposite. They siphon heat from the home and circulate it underground, where the earth absorbs the heat. This is similar to how a refrigerator cools the air inside. Instead of blowing cold air in, it draws out the heat, leaving the interior cold. 

Geothermal heat pumps can be an efficient way to keep your home at an even temperature all year round. Although electricity is used for the pump itself, there is no fuel cost like a furnace. The initial set up is the most expensive aspect, since pipes must be put down below the earth’s surface. However, once they are installed, these can be a a very economical heating solution.

Tax Credits For Geothermal Heat Pumps

If you are considering installing an energy efficient geothermal heat pump in your home but are put off by the cost, don’t forget to factor in the effect of the federal tax credits.  Until December 31, 2016, all Energy Star rated geothermal heat pumps qualify for a 30% tax credit.  The credit is available for installation of a geothermal heat pump in a newly constructed home or replacement of the heating system in an existing home.

The credit applies to the cost of the equipment and also the installation and labor costs and there is no upper limit.  Geothermal heat pumps installed in second homes also qualify for the credit although rental homes are currently excluded.

Geothermal heat pumps are one of the most energy efficient residential heating and cooling systems currently available, but they are significantly more expensive than standard air source heat pumps or other heating systems such as a traditional natural gas furnace.

However, they are so efficient that homeowners can cut their heating and cooling costs at least half depending on where they live and cost of fuel or electricity in their area.  Even with these savings on energy costs, it can take many years for a geothermal heat pump to pay for itself, but the 30% tax credit dramatically shortens the time it will take to recover the expense of a new heat pump.

Remember that a tax credit is a dollar for dollar reduction in your tax bill, so installing a qualified geothermal heat pump at a cost of $15,000 will save you $5,000 in federal tax.  In addition, many states offer tax credits for even greater savings.  With the federal tax credits, a geothermal heat pump can pay for itself in a short time and you can then enjoy year after year of saving money on your energy bill.