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What is a heat pump and how does it work?

Heat pumps for dummies: how do they work and what types are there?

Everything you ever wanted to know about heat pumps: from how they work to how they make your home feel comfortable. We’ll guide you through the options, from air-source heat pumps to ground-source heat pumps, so you’ll feel confident picking the right option for you.

What is a heat pump?

A heat pump is a device that can provide heating, cooling and hot water for residential, commercial and industrial use. Despite the name, all heat pumps can provide both heating and cooling. They work well in nearly all types of climate.

Are heat pumps better for the planet? Yes. Along with the other heat pump benefits, unlike gas or oil boilers, the different types of heat pumps don't burn fossil fuels. What's more, you only need one unit outdoor and one (or more) indoor. They're quiet, versatile and efficient

How does a heat pump work?

Heat pumps take energy from the air, ground and water and turn it into heat or cool air. This works due to what is known as the refrigeration cycle.

In the refrigeration cycle, heat from an energy source – such as the air, or water – is transported via a refrigerant fluid to the house. This refrigerant circulates through a condenser coil and evaporates into gas, which is in turn is ‘compressed’ to raise the temperature further, with the support of electricity. This will heat up the water cycle in the heat pump. This water cycle will run through the water pipes in the house, to heat up e.g. radiators, and provide domestic hot water in the bathroom and the kitchen

To introduce cooler air, the cycle is reversed, and the heat pump takes heat from your home and transfers it outside.

Daikin Altherma outside unit placed in garden
Little girl sitting in her mom's lap on the couch reading a book together in perfect temperature

What types of heat pump are there?

There are a few questions to ask before you choose a heat pump. What's the year-round temperature where you live? What are the extremes of hot and cold? If the temperature rarely drops below freezing, a heat pump is a great solution. In colder climates, you can combine a central heating boiler with the pump to generate heat. How big is the property you want to heat or cool? All these criteria will affect your choice.

Fundamentally, the decision is between the different types of heat pump; air-source heat pumps, that include air-to water and air-to-air types and ground-source heat pumps.

What's the difference? Air-source heat pumps use the outside air as the key energy source to generate the desired inside temperature. Air-to-water heat pumps use the heat from the ambient air to heat up the water used for heating up emitters (e.g. radiator) and hot water for domestic use (kitchen, bathroom). Air-to-air heat pumps transfer heat from the outside air to air inside your home or vice-versa, heating or cooling the air in each room as required.

A ground-source heat pump – also known as a geothermal heat pump –transfers heat between the air in your home and the ground outside.

Would you like to learn more about heat pump benefits? Get in touch. We'll be happy to answer your questions and help you make the right choice.