What Is a Heat Pump and How Does It Work?

Heat Pump

With relatively mild winters here in Atlanta, you may wonder: does your home need a full furnace that will inevitably spike the electric bill? Or is there a more economical alternative? What is a heat pump, and how does it work? Here, the Cunningham Associates technicians offer some answers.

How Does a Heat Pump Work?

What is a heat pump system? A heat pump draws from the idea in thermodynamics that heat naturally transfers from warmer to cooler places and higher pressure gravitates to lower pressure. Using these concepts, the pump heats your house. What exactly does this entail?

The heat pump uses a refrigerant that’s colder than the air, absorbing the heat in the air and then transporting it as needed to heat or cool the house. As the refrigerant passes through the heat pump’s evaporator, the compressor squeezes the molecules, which increases the temperature even more. From here, the refrigerant is carried to its destination based on whether the equipment is set to heat or cool your home. Finally, a blower fan disperses the air through your existing ductwork.

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Is a Heat Pump an HVAC System?

It certainly is. What is a heat pump HVAC? Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems include a heating and cooling unit to modify your home’s temperature, but a heat pump can function as both. There are several different types and, while the concepts are similar, the components of a heat pump HVAC system will differ depending on the unit.

What Are the Different Types of Heat Pumps?

Heat pump systems are separated by where they source the heat—whether from the air or the ground.


There are several types of heat pumps that draw heat from the air, and these are the most common:

  • Air-to-air heat pump is the most common heat pump you’ll see due to the simpler installation and versatile usage. Composed of an indoor and outdoor unit, air-source heat pumps can heat or cool the home by transferring heat from the indoor or outdoor air.
  • Air-to-water heat pump is a type that uses heat from the air and transfers it to water to heat a space heater or a water supply.
  • Absorption heat pump is among the most environmental designs. The absorption heat pump HVAC system includes solar panels on the roof as a power source.


Instead of drawing heat from above, some heat pumps are designed to draw from underneath:

  • A ground-to-air heat pump is a type that sources heat trapped underground. The installation involves laying pipes to serve as heat exchange coils. While it works best on larger properties with adequate space to lay down the piping, ground-to-air heat pumps can be more effective in the winter than the alternative of drawing heat from the frosty air.
  • A closed-loop water-source heat pump doesn’t draw heat from the air or the earth. Instead, this type of heat pump uses an underground well or lake. As the name implies, the loop is closed, running refrigerant through coils to transfer heat from the water.
  • An open-loop water-source heat pump also uses an underground well or lake for its heat source.The loop on this heat pump is open, allowing water to flow through the cycle, releasing its heat (or receiving heat from the other end) and returning to the well or lake. The loop then takes in new water to restart the cycle.

Does Your Home Need a Heat Pump HVAC?

While heat pumps are most effective in moderate climates that stay above freezing, it’s worth noting the environmental benefit of reducing carbon emissions. Instead of forcing the air to warm by burning fuel, the system simply transfers existing heat to another place. It also may save you money on your energy bill since it requires less electricity than some alternatives.

For help installing, replacing, or maintaining your HVAC system, contact our expert team of technicians at Cunningham Associates. To get started, request service online or call us at (770) 343-7565[17].

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