HeatingHow Heat Pumps Operate

The marvel of the heat pump is that it works as both an air conditioner and a heater—using the same operation! A heat pump isn’t two different systems packaged together, but a single unit that can change the direction it moves heat so that it can either draw heat from inside a home (air conditioning) or draw heat into a home (heating).

Since many people find the idea of heat pumps a bit confusing, we will provide a basic breakdown of how these comfort systems work. For more information on heat pumps in Shoreline, WA, whether it’s installation, repairs, maintenance, or just questions, contact G&S Heating, Cooling & Electrical, Inc. You can trust our expertise: we’ve worked with heat pumps since 1977.

Heat pump 101

It’s easiest to consider a heat pump first as a standard air conditioner—because, with one important change, that’s essentially what it is.

Refrigerant, a chemical blend that changes easily from liquid to gas and back, starts inside a compressor. Electrical power sent to this device compresses the liquid refrigerant to change it into a hot, high temperature gas. It then moves into a component called the reversing valve, which sends the refrigerant in one of two directions: either to the indoor coil, or to the outdoor coil. The reversing valve is the part that makes a heat pump different from a standard air conditioner, where the refrigerant can only go one direction.

If the refrigerant moves to the outdoor coil first, it releases its heat through condensation to the outside and cools down, changing back to a liquid. The refrigerant then travels to the indoor coil, where it absorbs heat from the indoors through evaporation. By removing heat, it cools down the inside—this is cooling mode. The now liquid refrigerant then moves back to the compressor to start the process again.

However, if the reversing valve sends the refrigerant to the indoor coil first, the movement of heat switches around. Now the refrigerant releases heat to the inside—heating mode—and then moves to the outdoor coil to absorb heating for the outside before returning to the compressor.

Heat pumps are complex machines

Although heat pump operation doesn’t sound too difficult once it’s explained (basically, it’s an AC that can run backwards as well), the machine itself is a precision instrument that requires specialized training to repair and maintain it. Whenever you encounter trouble with a heat pump, make sure you call for expert repairs.

If you don’t have a heat pump already, and you are interested in looking into installing one, call G&S Heating, Cooling & Electrical, Inc. today. We have excellent services for heat pumps in Shoreline, WA coupled with over three and a half decades of experience.


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