In this month’s edition of “Inside the Wall” we will investigate heat pumps.  Or perhaps I should say “Outside the Wall” since you’ll typically find heat pumps right outside the building?  In the past, homes and small commercial buildings would be cooled by a direct expansion (DX) air conditioning system and heated by a gas furnace.  Lately, trends have favored the installation of heat pump systems which can remove the need for the gas furnace by running the DX refrigeration system in reverse to also heat the space.  Read on to learn more about this type of HVAC system and why it’s gaining popularity.

Heat pumps are very similar to traditional air conditioning systems.  Through the refrigeration cycle, the air conditioner cools off the interior space by ‘pumping’ heat to the outdoors.  Heat pumps add a three-way valve which allows the equipment to reverse this process and bring heat from the outside to the interior.  Most heat pumps work by finding this heat in the air, but there are also configurations that find the heat in the ground or nearby lake.  Early issues with heat pumps were primarily caused by the unit failing to heat when the temperature outside was too low.  More modern units are able to operate at lower and lower temperatures.  To offset this they usually have a electrical heaters attached to help out in extreme cold.  A “dual fuel” system is also available that uses a furnace as the backup heater.

Heat pumps have a lot of advantages over traditional furnaces and air conditioners.  They are much more efficient than a furnace, using approximately 50% less electricity.  They are also considered much safer as there is no risk of a gas leak or carbon monoxide exposure. They require less maintenance than a traditional combustion system and have a quieter operating sound.  Finally heat pumps have a significantly longer life span compared to other forms of heating.  They typically last for 10 to 15 years which helps to offset their only major downside, higher installation costs.

At Forward Engineers, we seek to not only be a design and consulting firm but to also educate our clients about engineering technology. While doing so, we inevitably refresh our own knowledge and sometimes even learn something ourselves.  If you are seeking to work with an engineering firm that is client-centered and strives to provides services that are on time, on budget and exceed expectations, please contact us. We would love to work with you on your next project!