If you’re a homeowner in El Cajon, CA, you already know how important your home’s HVAC is for your comfort. However, you likely also know how expensive it is to operate your HVAC there. The area pays some of the highest electricity costs in the nation, after all. As a result, you’re probably open to anything that can cut down on your home’s heating and cooling bills. That’s where heat pumps come in. A heat pump is a type of HVAC system that offers outstanding energy efficiency few other solutions can match. This is because they work in a unique way that maximizes the comfort bang you get for your buck. Here’s a complete overview of what heat pumps are, how they work and the secret to their extreme efficiency.

What Is a Heat Pump?

As their name suggests, a heat pump is a device that moves heat from one place to another. They’re based on a technology that dates back to at least 1856 if not earlier. And even if you don’t know it, your home has depended on heat pumps for years. Your home’s refrigerator, for example, is a type of heat pump. It collects heat from its sealed inside and expels it into the surrounding air in your kitchen. Your home’s air conditioner is also a type of heat pump.

All heat pumps use a process known as the ‘refrigeration cycle’ to function. In short, they manipulate a refrigerant to alter its temperature. Then, they use it to collect heat in one place, transport it elsewhere and release it. In the world of HVAC, however, heat pump systems can do something that your refrigerator or conventional air conditioner cannot. They can operate in reverse.

This means a heat pump can also heat your home by gathering heat from the outdoors and bringing it indoors. And, although heat pumps are tremendously efficient in cooling mode, they are even more so in heating mode. In the winter, a heat pump can operate at up to 400% efficiency, given the right conditions.

How Does a Heat Pump Work?

In the summer, a heat pump works much like a conventional air conditioner. It begins by reducing the pressure of its refrigerant using an expansion valve, transforming it into a cold liquid. The cold refrigerant then passes through an evaporator coil in your heat pump’s indoor unit. At the same time, a blower fan pushes hot air from your home over the coil. This transfers heat from the air into the refrigerant, warming it and cooling the air.

Eventually, the liquid refrigerant reaches its boiling point and enters a gaseous state. The now-warm gaseous refrigerant then travels outside, where it passes through a compressor. As the compressor increases the pressure on the refrigerant, its temperature rises. The hot gaseous refrigerant then passes through another coil while a large fan blows outdoor air across it. Since the refrigerant is at a higher temperature than the air, it releases heat until it condenses back into a liquid. That liquid then passes through the expansion valve to start the cycle again.

In the winter, a heat pump uses a reversing valve to switch into heating mode. The process is identical, except that the indoor and outdoor units essentially switch places. What makes a heat pump so efficient in this mode, however, is the fact that it uses no energy to generate heat. Instead, a heat pump relies solely on heat energy that already exists in the outdoor air. The only electricity a heat pump uses is to run its fans and compressor.

Why Heat Pumps Heat So Efficiently

At this point, you’re likely wondering how a heat pump can gather enough heat from the outdoors to heat your home. The answer to that lies in the scientific principles that make heat pumps possible. The most important among these is a part of the second law of thermodynamics. It states that heat energy will spontaneously move from hotter substances to colder ones. This means it’s possible to collect heat energy, even from cold air, as long as you’re using a colder substance.

To make use of that, heat pumps use refrigerants capable of remaining in a liquid state at subzero temperatures. Cold-weather heat pumps even use refrigerants that can reach -15 degrees Fahrenheit without freezing. To get their refrigerants to those temperatures, however, heat pumps rely on another fascinating bit of science.

In a closed system, the relationship between the pressure and condensing temperature of a refrigerant are proportional to one another. In other words, as you lower the pressure on a refrigerant, you lower its temperature and its boiling point.

Conversely, when you increase the pressure on a refrigerant, you increase its temperature and boiling point. That’s how heat pumps can collect enough heat from cold air and amplify it to heat your home. Just as long as the temperature outside is above absolute zero, there’s always heat available in the outdoor air. For reference, absolute zero is -459.67 degrees Fahrenheit, so you’ll never run out of heat energy outside to harvest.

Where Do Heat Pumps Work Best?

As previously mentioned, heat pumps can be extraordinarily efficient under the right circumstances. That is to say, they work best in a specific temperature range. As it turns out, the climate in El Cajon is as close to perfect for a heat pump as it gets. In the summer, heat pumps work effectively and efficiently at temperatures of up to 115 degrees Fahrenheit. In the winter, they’re most efficient at temperatures above freezing. So, in El Cajon, the hottest summer month sees only average high temperatures of 89 degrees Fahrenheit. In the winter, the average low temperature never falls below 42 degrees Fahrenheit.

As a result, homeowners in El Cajon can expect maximum energy savings from a heat pump. Depending on what kind of system you replace with a heat pump, you could save up to 50% on your energy bills. If you’re like the average homeowner, that could mean more than $1,500 in savings every year. And when you consider that there are some generous incentives available to lower the cost of a heat pump, those savings add up.

Your Local Heat Pump Experts

If you believe that a heat pump would be a good fit for your home in El Cajon, CA, Comfort Bros Heating, Air & Plumbing can help. We offer complete HVAC services, including installation, repair and maintenance. That includes the latest heat pump and ductless mini-split HVAC systems. We also offer indoor air quality solutions, plumbing services and duct cleaning. We’re a family-owned business that believes in building lasting relationships with our customers. We even offer financing options on approved credit if you need help paying for a new heat pump.

So, if you’d like to have a heat pump installed in your El Cajon home, contact Comfort Bros Heating, Air & Plumbing today.

Meet the Author
Travis Smith
Travis Smith

Travis Smith started in his family's Heating and Air Conditioning business at 6 months and 5 days old "helping daddy do trim outs". He then worked at Sky Heating & AC for over 22 years before partnering with the Comfort Bros.
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