What Is a Heat Pump? A Portland Technician Explains

Heard of heat pumps, but not exactly sure what they are?

Here’s a basic definition: You can think of a heat pump as a cooling and heating system all in one, self-contained appliance. A heat pump is an air conditioner that also has the ability to heat your home in the winter.

You probably have more questions, such as:

  1. How does a heat pump both cool and heat your home?
  2. What are the benefits and drawbacks of a heat pump?
  3. Is a heat pump a good fit for Portland homes?

We’ll answer these questions in more detail below.

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Interested in a heat pump for your Portland home? Our comfort advisors can help you find the perfect model that fits your heating/cooling needs and budget.

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Question #1: How does a heat pump both cool and heat your home?

During the warm summer months, a heat pump works exactly like a standard air conditioner to cool your home. It absorbs heat from the inside air and dumps that heat outside, which lowers the indoor temperature of your home.

In the winter, the heat pump works in reverse: Instead of absorbing heat from the indoor air, the heat pump absorbs heat from the outdoor air. Then the heat pump brings that heat inside to warm your cold home.

Now that you have a general overview of how a heat pump works, let’s look at the benefits and drawbacks of a heat pump.

Question #2: What are the benefits and drawbacks of a heat pump?

Benefits:

When outdoor temperatures are above 30° F, a heat pump is the most energy-efficient way to heat your home, resulting in lower monthly energy bills. Since a heat pump transfers existing heat rather than creates heat from scratch (like a furnace), a heat pump has low operational costs—which is the main benefit of owning one.

Drawbacks:

When temperatures drop below 30°F, a heat pump can struggle to keep a house warm all by itself. That’s why most heat pump systems also come with electric resistance heating strips that help heat your home when outdoor temperatures get really cold. The only problem is that electric resistance heating can be expensive, so on really cold days in the middle of winter, the cost to heat your home will be greater using a heat pump than a gas furnace.

Additionally, the warm air supplied by a heat pump feels different than the warm air from a furnace, which is the heating system most people are accustomed to. A heat pump produces air around 90°F to 100°F, while a furnace produces air around 130°F to 140°F. While both heating systems will keep your home warm, some people prefer the hotter air from a furnace.

You can learn more about the differences between heat pumps and furnaces by reading our blog, “Heat Pump vs. Furnace: Which Is Better For My Portland Home?”.

Combining a heat pump with a gas furnace:

If you want both energy savings and comfort, we recommend a dual-fuel system, which is the combination of a heat pump with a gas furnace.

With a dual-fuel system, you can enjoy the energy savings provided by a heat pump for the majority of the winter, when temperatures are above 30°F (which is around 60 to 90 days per year here in Portland). Then, on especially cold days, the gas furnace will kick in and you can enjoy the comfortable warm air it provides, while still saving money on energy costs.

The final question remains...

Question #3: Is a heat pump a good fit for Portland homes?

Because we have relatively mild winters here in Portland (temperatures only dip below freezing around 25 days per year), a heat pump is a good heating option for your home. By choosing a heat pump, you’ll enjoy low energy costs for the majority of the winter.

Interested in a heat pump or dual-fuel system for your Portland home?

Schedule an appointment

Our trusted comfort advisors can help you find the perfect heating system for your home. At Four Seasons, we offer one-day heat pump installations with 100% satisfaction—guaranteed.