An air source heat pump outside a home

Heat pumps are an extremely efficient way to heat and cool your home. There are several types of heat pumps that you can use, and picking one is like selecting any other appliance—it will come down to your budget, needs, and location.

There are three main types of heat pumps appropriate for your home: water source heat pump, air-source heat pump, and ground source heat pump.

Each type reaches maximum efficiency in slightly different situations. For example, a ground source heat pump can remain efficient in colder temperatures, whereas an air source is most efficient in milder or warm climates. 

This article will give you a background on heat pumps, what they heat, and help you decide which heat pump is best for your home. 

What are Heat Pumps? 

Heat pumps are taking the sustainable home design world by storm. As they continue to develop and improve, homeowners around the country are installing them.

Heat pumps use the ambient air, water, or ground temperature to heat your home. Using the environment as the primary heat source reduces the need to use gas or electricity to heat an entire house. 

Standard heaters rely solely on non-renewable energy to heat a home. While heat pumps use some electricity or gas as a heat source, most heat comes from the ambient ground, water, or air. As a result, each type of heat pump works well in different climates and locations. 

Types of Heat Pumps

Each of the three most common heat pumps has its benefits and can be highly efficient in a suitable climate and setting. They pull heat from the water, air, or ground to help heat or cool your home in an energy-efficient way. 

Water Source Heat Pump

Water source heat pumps have the most specific requirements of the three. While they can be highly efficient, they require you to live near some source of water. A well or pond are both options for this heat pump. 

To install a water source heat pump, contractors will place pipes at the bottom of the selected body of water. A pump then transports the water through the lines and extracts the heat. 

A water source heat pump outside a home

But, of course, this also works in reverse. The pipes pump the heat out of your home and put it into the water source to cool your home. 

One of the major pros of a water source heat pump is that the input temperature is relatively consistent, meaning this type of pump can thrive in various climates. Additionally, they cost less to install and operate than their counterparts. 

Homes, multi-unit residences, offices, hotels, and schools are great applications for a water source heat pump. Additionally, a pump servicing a single-family dwelling can quickly expand from a single-family residence to larger applications. 

Air Source Heat Pump

Air source heat pumps are also called air-to-air pumps because they utilize external air to heat your home. These heat pumps are simple to install and relatively small compared to other styles.

Air source heat pumps increase energy efficiency for heating by up to 50%, a significant bonus for most homeowners. 

There are two main types of air source heat pumps. The first is ducted, and the second is ductless. Ducted air pumps are the most common and have many benefits, including reducing and maintaining humidity in a home. They are very efficient at humidity reduction and surpass the effectiveness of standard air conditioners. 

There are ductless options, called mini-split heat pumps, for homes that do not have ducts. These are also great for supplementing a structure that already has a heating system in place. 

In addition, ductless air source heat pumps are ideal for individual or groups of rooms in a home, making customized heating simple. However, multiple mini-split pumps may be needed to cover the entire home’s heating needs for whole-home systems. 

Because air source heat pumps utilize outdoor air, they are most efficient in milder climates. They lose efficiency in colder climates, and if used, a home may need a secondary heat source.

Ground Source Heat Pump 

Ground source heat pumps are also called geothermal heat pumps. These heat pumps use energy from the ground to heat your home.

a diagram showing how a ground source heat pump works
A geothermal pump sources heat from the ground and cycles it through a home, then expelling cold air. Courtesy of Rinnai

They are very efficient because the ground tends to hold a much more constant temperature than air. Geothermal heat pumps can reduce energy from heating by 30% to 60%. 

While the efficiency of ground source heat pumps is very high, they are costly to install. Installation includes excavating and installing plastic tubing under your home’s foundation, which is relatively cumbersome and can be very expensive. 

On the other hand, ground source heat pumps thrive in a wide range of climates. In addition, the consistency of ground temperature means geothermal heat pumps are efficient in colder climates, unlike an air source heat pump. 

Sub-Types of Heat Pumps

There are a variety of sub-types of heat pump systems. These typically are not installed on their own but in conjunction with one of the main types of pumps. For example, one sub-type is a solar pump typically used with either a geothermal or an air pump to provide power to the respective pump and the home itself.  

Another sub-type is a hybrid heat pump that combines multiple pump types or utilizes a gas or oil boiler in conjunction with a pump. Hybrids are commonly used in homes that already have a boiler system installed or for areas with a wide range of temperatures throughout the year. 

What is Being Heated?

Heat pumps can not only heat and cool your home but also help power other appliances in your home. To have a maximally efficient house, utilizing these in conjunction with other appliances is critical. The most considerable use of the heat would be the rooms in your home. 

Heat Pump HVAC Unit

The primary usage for a heat pump is for the heating and cooling of your home, which is key to having an energy-efficient structure. Most pumps can utilize the existing ductwork or ventilation within your home. 

Because a heat pump can both heat and cool, it can replace a furnace and air conditioner. The only exception would be mini-split pumps which are ductless air pumps that require a specific zone or room application. 

Heat Pump Water Heaters 

Heat pump water heaters can thrive in an environment that is heated by a larger heat pump. These water heaters utilize the ambient interior air to heat water within a home. 

If the air is heated efficiently from the above heat pumps, it will maximize the water heater’s efficiency. However, heat pump water heaters can lose efficiency in the winter months because a furnace is required first to heat the air. 

In the case of a heat pump, though, the air is being heated efficiently.

Up-and-Coming Technologies

Heat pump appliances are gaining a lot of traction because they are efficient, can utilize the existing framework, and save a lot of money long term. 

One of the significant appliances gaining a lot of popularity is heat pump washers and dryers. While they are not very common in the United States yet, many manufacturers such as GE, Electrolux, and LG are starting to design and sell them.

Additionally, a newer appliance beginning to hit the market is heat pump dishwashers. As these technologies continue to develop and will likely have federal and state rebates attached, they will become more affordable. 

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