As you might know, a heat pump functions differently from traditional electric heaters, boilers, and furnaces. A heat pump transfers heat from one location to another by means of the principles of refrigeration and, since it’s so flexible, a heat pump can be used to heat or cool as desired. With energy costs increasing, heat pumps are gaining popularity in both the residential and commercial markets as everyone is looking for some way to cut their electricity costs. To make the best decision about what is right for your home or office, it’s important to educate yourself about the various HVAC options available to you. So, what is, exactly, an air-source heat pump?
Every heat pump needs a location to transfer the heat into or out of. This is called the source or the heat sink, depending upon what’s being done, and they are usually either some kind of liquid or gas. There is some experimental work being done on solid state heat pumps, but more on that later. Anyway, an air-source heat pump, as you might have already suspected, uses the air itself as a source and heat sink, hence the name.
An air-source heat pump has advantages and disadvantages. The greatest advantage is that virtually every building that might want to use a heat pump can easily install an air-source heat pump, since, well, all our buildings are surrounded by air (does not apply if you live on a moon base). This makes installation less expensive as opposed to ground-source (geothermal) heat pumps which is why air-source heat pumps are easily the most installed type.
As noted earlier, there are disadvantages to air-source heat pumps. The biggest drawback is that the air can be a very unstable environment to act as a heat sink or source. Depending upon the season, air temperatures can fluctuate wildly. That translates into a heat pump system that has to work harder to compensate for such changes. This means an air-source heat pump isn’t as efficient as it otherwise might be. This is less of a problem in mild climates with generally stable weather, but in areas with extreme seasons it can lead to decreased efficiency.
Despite the drawbacks, air-source heat pumps are still a much more energy efficient choice for heating and cooling compared to traditional systems and the technology is improving every day. And, now you know what an air-source heat pump is.