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How Does a Heat Pump Work?

The term heat pump may be misleading as a heat pump doesn’t solely mean a heater. It is a device that transfers heat from one place to another. How does a heat pump work? Not a question everybody asks. There is nothing wrong with being a little curious, however. Strictly speaking, heat pumps are not air conditioners despite the similarity of how they work. They both work on the principle of heat transfer.

There are many types of heat pumps. All of them, however, use a little bit of energy to surpass the natural order of things. You see, heat moves from a higher temperature source to a lower temperature. Heat pumps use some energy to transfer heat between two points either of equal temperature or from lower to a higher temperature point.

The most basic is perhaps the air-air heat pump. This uses the exact process a refrigerator uses to cool. What you probably didn’t know is that the back of your refrigerator gives off heat. This side is the part that supplies heat to the inside of your home. Apart from the role reversal, the basics of the air-air heat pump and a refrigerator are pretty much the same.

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The compressor compresses a gaseous refrigerant which releases heat to the inside of your home to become a liquid which then passes through an expansion valve to the evaporating coils outside which gain heat to become gaseous again. It also uses two fans to deliver the air around the coils. The great news is that if you reverse the valve, then you can use this system to cool instead of heating on hot days.

Heat can also be extracted from underground. There are heat pumps that extract heat from an underground source of water or the ground itself. These heat pumps require pipes to be buried underground so it can continually draw heat from underground. These use the same setup as the air-air heat pump. Except, instead of fans they use pumps to circulate the water either in a closed loop where the water flows continuously through a set of pipes or an open loop where the water is pumped out like a well or a small lake.

Next, we come to the extraction type heat pump. These are technically no different from the air-air or air-ground heat pumps. Except, instead of using electricity to power compressors it uses a mixture of ammonia and water to act as a refrigerant which response to sunlight, geothermal heat or natural gas to replicate the effect of a compressor in the system. This processor cycle is called the Electrolux cycle. This method of transferring heat has been used in large-scale projects for years, but now it is available at a household level.

Heat pumps are amazing machines that do what a furnace and air conditioner do but does them both and using less energy. There is a catch; however, they don’t work on extreme weather conditions. That means however that anyone this side of the tropics and Arctic Circle can use them.

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