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System Selection - Heat Pumps

What is a Heat Pump and how is it different?
A heat pump is a central air conditioning and highly efficient heating system that will "extract" heat from the air in the winter time for cost effective heating comfort in all but the most severe winter climates. The system actually "reverse-cycles" in the heating mode and captures heat from outside and "pumps" it into your home.

Unlike a furnace it doesn't burn fuel to make heat - It simply uses electricity to move heat from one place to another. In the cooling mode, an air conditioner or heat pump simply capture heat from inside your home and transfer it outside. In heating, a heat pump actually "reverse-cycles" and captures heat from outside and moves it inside. This process is more efficient than electric heat as it is much less expensive to transfer existing heat than to actually generate it.

There is usable heat in the air down to about 0 degrees Fahrenheit. It feels cold to us because our skin temperature is 98.6 degrees. A heat pump's heating capacity is rated at 47 degrees ambient (outside) temperature. As the outside temperature drops the heat pumps capacity drops in a linear fashion relative to the outdoor temperature.

Most heat pumps will produce about half of their rated capacity at 12 degrees ambient. An electric heating element provides supplemental heat to assist the heat pump as it's capacity declines. The heat pump monitors both the outdoor temperature and inside supply air temperature and energizes the assist as needed, automatically
My service tech told me that higher effiency products break down more frequently. Is this true?
Possibly. However, ask your installer if his automobile has power steering, power brakes and power windows, and even an electronic air conditioning system. These are just more things to go wrong but we all want the convenience and comfort they provide.

Quality control has improved warranties dramatically in the last ten years through the use of manufacturing process certifications and increasingly efficiency assembly methods. Product innovations in efficiency and function will increase complexity slightly but the return in comfort and energy savings will more than offset any potentially slight increase in maintenance.

Base your decision on features, initial cost, ownership costs including energy usage, and comfort.
How does the supplemental heat feature of a heat pump work?
Because the heat pump is located outdoors and is subject to the temperature conditions around it, the heating capacity of a heat pump will diminish as the outdoor temperature drops. The heat pump will measure the demand you are placing on it at the moment (your indoor temperature setting) and compare this to the outdoor temperature.

If the spread is high it will automatically energize the supplemental heating element to maintain the indoor thermostat setting you have selected. I've heard that heat pumps don't work below a certain temperature. Is this true and if so, what is this temperature? There is no certain temperature that a heat pump ceases to produce heat. The heating capacity of all heat pumps is rated at a standard 47 degrees. As the outdoor temperature drops, a heat pumps' ability to produce heat decreases in a linear fashion.

For example, let's use a 3 ton heat pump with a heating capacity of 35,000 Btu's for discussion. At 47 degrees outside temperature this heat pump will produce it's rated capacity of 35,000 Btu's. At 27 degrees outside temperature, it will produce about 22,500 Btu's.

When the outside temperature drops to 17 degrees it now produces about 18,000 Btu's. At this point the supplemental heating element will have energized automatically to restore the heat pump's ability to heat your home.

You can see that there is really isn't one temperature point at which it can be said the heat pump is no longer useful for heating. Instead, this decline is gradual and relative to the outdoor temperature. Speaking in general terms however, it can be said that in very cold climates a heat pump may not be the best choice for heating.
I see the terms "upflow", downflow", and "horizontal" used when describing furnaces and air handlers. What does this mean?

These three terms refer to the furnace air delivery configuration.

Upflow means that the supply (warm) air is delivered upward, off the top of the furnace into an overhead duct system.

Downflow means the supply air is delivered from the bottom of the furnace into a duct system beneath it.

Horizontal means the furnace will lay on its side for use in an attic or tight basement.

Should I install a gas furnace or a heat pump?
Let's break this down by climate: Extreme northern climates.. Natural or propane gas wherever possible. Cold Climates...Natural gas if available or a heat pump with bias toward gas. Moderate climates... Natural gas or a heat pump without bias one way or the other Extreme southern climates.Heat pump or electric strip heator natural gas if available. Of course, a heat pump system includes air conditioning as w
Which is more efficient: A heat pump or a furnace?
There is no quick, easy answer to this question. The variables involved include system operating time, cost per Kw of electricity, cost per therm of the gas, the furnace efficiency, and the HSPF (heating seasonal performance factor) of the heat pump involved in the comparison. Check with a local contractor for their opinion and don't be afraid to ask questions. Sometimes contractors will have a bias one way or the other for reasons that have nothing to do with operating costs and comfort. The only way to really answer this question is to be sure that these factors are used correctly based on your local conditions. As a broad generalization, in most areas of the country an 80% furnace will consume about the same amount of energy as a heat pump assuming that the operating time and climates are comparable. If you are a colder climate, natural gas is normally the best choice, if available
Where can I get more detail and specs for the equipment I am interested in?
All of our product ads contain downloads for installation instructions and detailed specifications. Simply open the product ad and click on the "Installation Guides/PDF" link for full details.

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