Education Hub

What are Heat Pumps and How Do They Work?

Contrary to its name, a heat pump delivers both heating and cooling- with or without the use of ductwork. Yes, because it can heat and cool your home, a heat pump really functions like a combined furnace and central air conditioner.

Unlike forced air furnaces that require gas to heat the air, heat pumps run on electricity.

The job of a heat pump is to extract heat from one place and transfer it to another. The most common type of heat pumps, called air-source heat pumps, work by absorbing heat from the air and moving it either from outdoors to indoors (in heating mode) or vice versa (in cooling mode).

Unlike traditional heating technologies like furnaces or electric baseboards, a heat pump doesn’t burn or use a fuel to generate heat directly. Instead, it uses a little bit of energy to run a compressor that effectively moves heat from one place to another.

The heat pump is not a new technology –it has been used in Canada and around the world for decades.

They are ideal for those wanting an environmentally-friendly option, as a large portion of the energy used to heat or cool your home comes from the outside air – a free and infinitely renewable

Are Heat Pumps Efficient?

Yes! Generally, heat pumps are 150%-300% efficient vs. gas that runs at about 98-100% efficiency.  This is because a furnace can only generate as much energy as the fuel source contains.

Today’s heat pumps can reduce your electricity use for heating by approximately 50% compared to electric resistance heating such as furnaces and baseboard heaters. High-efficiency heat pumps also dehumidify better than standard central air conditioners, resulting in less energy usage and more cooling comfort in summer months (source:

How Do Heat Pumps Work?

The heat pump has two major components:

  1. The outdoor unit (also called the compressor) that circulates refrigerant through the system
  2. The air handler distributes the conditioned air

Most heat pumps are split systems with the condenser located outside and the air handler inside the home.

You can use a heat pump as the sole heating and cooling appliance in your home, or you can combine a heat pump with an existing heating system. Many homes with existing ductwork for forced-air HVAC systems can be adapted to heat pumps. Ductless heat pump systems, called mini-splits, can provide heating and cooling in a home without ducts, or add “zoned heating or cooling” to rooms that the main system doesn’t reach.

As counterintuitive as it seems, there is always some free heat energy in the air, even on frigid winter days. Today’s cold-climate heat pumps can efficiently collect that free heat and move it into your home.

Will Heat Pumps Work in Cold Climates Here in Ontario?

Yes, the modern heat pump is built to work in freezing cold weather. Heat pump technology is efficient, cost effective and environmentally sound – but people want to know if a heat pump system can perform reliably at our sub-freezing temperatures here in Ontario?

Yes — contrary to popular misconception, heat pumps are a practical option in cold climates.

Standard Heat Pump vs. Cold Climate Heat Pump – what is the difference?
Standard heat pumps typically lose significant heating capacity at colder temperatures. It is generally not recommended to operate them when outside temperatures drop below −5°C.  Cold climate heat pumps can still provide heat when outdoor temps drop to −30°C, depending on the manufacturer’s specifications.

Cold climate heat pumps typically use refrigerants that have a lower boiling point than traditional heat pumps. These refrigerants can continue flowing through a system at low ambient temperatures and draw more heat energy from cold air.

What is a “Cold Climate” Heat Pump?

Heat pump technology has evolved so cold climate heat pumps can efficiently heat your home under very cold conditions- as we said, down to a chilly -30C degrees!

To be classified as a cold climate heat pump under the federal Canada Greener Homes Grant, heat pumps must have a co-efficient of performance (COP) of 1.8 (180% efficient) or higher at -10 degrees Celsius.

This means, the heat pump must maintain an efficiency of at least 180% at -10 C. Since the air outside will always contain some heat, a heat pump can supply heat to a house, even on cold winter days.

In fact, air at –18°C contains about 85 percent of the heat it contained at 21°C. This means in Canada, depending on your home specs, you can use a cold climate heat pump for all of your heating needs. You can maximize your homes energy efficiency & minimize your utility costs.

What are Ductless Heat Pumps?

A ductless heat pump features an outdoor unit that gathers heat from the air and transfers it via refrigerant lines to one or more heads mounted inside – offering multi-zone heating or cooling. The ductless system doesn’t rely on ducting in the home to move air around, making it a good alternative to electric baseboards.

This may also be referred to as a mini-split or multi-split. Mini-split refers to heat pumps that have a single head, and multi-split refers to heat pumps with two or more heads.

What are Ducted Heat Pumps?

A ducted heat pump (also known as central heat pump) has an outdoor unit connected to an indoor unit and uses ducts to move warm or cool air throughout the home.

Since this system requires ducting, it’s a good option to replace an existing natural gas furnace.

A1 has a wide selection of heat pumps to chose from, all at competitive prices.

  • You can check out our Daikin line-up of high quality, innovative heat pumps here
  • We also sell reliable and affordable Napoleon heat pumps that provide cost-saving, home comfort and a low carbon footprint
  • For a detailed A1 brochure on heat pumps, click here

So now what?

Get started today… we want to help! A1 can help identify the best solutions to keeping your family happy, healthy, and comfortable!

Since 1967, we are one of the most trusted HVAC companies in southwest Ontario. With a proud history guided by three generations of the Messenger family, you can rely on A1 for the best in heating, cooling, hot water heaters and indoor air quality products.

Contact us today to learn more! Speak to one of our team members by calling us or  book an appointment online to learn more about heat pumps!

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