Heat pumps have a reputation of struggling during cold winter weather because they work by drawing heat from outside to warm the inside—and there’s not much heat outside. But heat pumps are often more effective than people think, and some can maintain efficiency down to very low temperatures.
The name heat pump sometimes confuses people, since the standard residential heat pump also works as a cooling unit, and it operates in the same fashion as a conventional electro–mechanical air conditioner: it moves heat from the indoors through evaporating refrigerant, and releases that heat to the outdoors by condensing the refrigerant.
However, the name heat pump is simply a basic description of what the unit does, which is to pump heat from a low temperature source and force it into a higher temperature source. During summer, the inside of your home is usually cooler than the outside, and a heat pump does the job of pumping heat from the low temperature source of the indoors to the higher source outdoors. During the winter, a reversing valve in the heat pump changes the direction of this process, so heat is pumped from the low source of the cold outdoors and brought into the warmer indoors.
How Heat Pumps Fare in Winter Weather
Describing the process often brings up the question: How can a heat pump remove heat from a chilly outdoor environment, like a December evening, and use it to effectively warm up a home?
This is a good question to ask, because any homeowner interested in installing a heat pump to handle year–round comfort wants know if the heat pump will actually be able to do its job when the temperatures plunge. Understanding how a heat pump is capable of providing warmth during the winter requires taking a short trip back to high school science class.
Even a frozen block of ice contains some heat energy. Heat energy is the movement of molecules, and some movement exists in any object unless it is brought to absolute zero, or –459.67°F, where all molecular motion stops. You won’t ever have to worry about this occurring, because absolute zero is a theoretical temperature: in order to lower the temperature of an object, its heat needs to be transferred to an object with a lower temperature, and since there is nothing lower than absolute zero, it’s impossible to actually reach it. (And if the temperature ever got close to absolute zero outside your home, well, you’d have much bigger concerns than whether the heat pumps works or not.)
So, even when the temperature outside is below zero, there remains some heat for a heat pump to access and pump into a house. But they do suffer from a drop in efficiency, since it requires more energy to draw enough heat. The point at which heat pumps start to lose efficiency (which is called the economic balance point) is different for different models. Some of the new models can heat down to 10°F before the cold affects their ability. Ask our HVAC professionals about how well a heat pump will be able to work for your home and the local climate.
Your furnace may have served you well over many years, but that doesn’t mean that it’s invincible. Before the days start to get really cold, you’re going to want to make sure that your furnace is up to the task of keeping your home warm this winter.
Winter is coming, and that means it’s time to get your home ready for the coldest months of the year. Icicles are pretty charming when they’re outside, but not so much when they’re forming on your mantelpiece. If you’re one of the many homeowners who has a furnace installed in their home, you’re going to need to take a few steps to make sure that it’s up to the stress of the winter season. Let’s take a look at those steps now.
Schedule Preventive Heating Maintenance
Prompt repairs are all well and good, but you’re still giving heating problems time to damage your system if you just wait for them to announce themselves. Some problems don’t even have outward symptoms, unless you count your furnace giving a final gasp before breaking down. You don’t want that to happen, especially in the middle of the cold season. So, schedule preventive heating maintenance!
Preventive heating maintenance allows us to find and fix furnace problems before they progress far enough to threaten the health of your furnace. As long as you schedule preventive maintenance at least once a year, we can make sure that it’s in top shape for the heating season.
Upgrade Your Thermostat
The thermostat is like the brain of your furnace. Without it, even a perfectly healthy heating system wouldn’t be very useful. While many people have their thermostats repaired or replaced if they have to, few ever voluntarily upgrade them. Upgrading your thermostat can actually have a huge effect on the energy efficiency of your furnace. In fact, advances in thermostat technology can not only save you money, but help you maintain a more comfortable climate when the weather outside turns nasty. If you haven’t had a new thermostat installed in the past 15 years or so, now might be the perfect time to do it.
Keep an Eye Out
Even with annual heating maintenance, sometimes furnace problems slip through anyway. While using your furnace to keep warm this winter, keep your eye and ears open for signs that your system is having problems. Strange noises coming from the furnace could indicate all sorts of issues, from a clogged air filter to a dirty burner assembly. Drops in output are another common indicator that your furnace needs some help. If you have any reason to believe that your furnace is in trouble, don’t hesitate to call a professional right away.