Most people will recognise air to air heat pumps from the units they have seen attached to the sides of buildings, typically offices and shops. In the UK air source heat pumps are quite common in commercial locations but are not often found in homes. The main reason for this is that gas central heating is typically installed in most homes that provides heating in most domestic situations.
There are many different types of heat pump but they all essentially work in the same way. They use similar technology to that used to keep fridges cool and freezers freezing but instead work in reverse. Domestic use heat pumps are typically used to provide warm air heating in homes but can also be used to provide cooling in summer much like air conditioning in offices.
An air to air heat pump works by extracting the heat from the outside air and pumping it into your home to provide warm air heating. They use electricity to run but are much more efficient than traditional electric heaters. Where electric heater use the electricity to provide heat directly a heat pump uses the electricity to power a compressor motor that can extract the heat from outside to use in the home. So where one unit of electricity would provide one unit of heat from a traditional electric radiator a heat pump could produce 3 units of heat from 1 unit of electricity used.
There are now a range of air source heat pumps designed for houses that can provide heating and cooling. Typically they are best used as a direct replacement for electric heating. It is also cost effective to use them to replace your heating requirements if you are not connected to mains gas. A heat pump system would also work well with solar photovoltaic panels, especially in summer when solar panels produce the most electricity as this could be used to cool your home via your heat pump system throughout the summer months.
A split system heat pump is probably the most popular type of unit. It is divided into two segments on inside and one outside essentially acting like a fridge in reverse. Single split systems have one outdoor and one indoor unit, multi-split systems have one outdoor unit and two or more indoor units.
These types of system are also commonly referred to as air conditioning units as they are also used in summer to cool your home. There are two parts to the split system. The larger part of the system, the compressor is located outside and either ground mounted or wall mounted. The smaller part is connected through pipes via a hole in the wall to the outside unit.
The entire unit is outside and warm air is pumped into the home via ducting. This is not really a suitable solution for homes unless it is installed in new homes. Retrofitting to existing homes can be problematic and expensive. These types of system are typically seen in offices to provide heating, ventilation and cooling.
In split system heat pumps the internal part of the heat pump is traditionally mounted near to the ceiling and the warm air is blown to the floor. There are also low wall systems that look more like traditional radiators found in homes in the UK. As mentioned before these are becoming more popular in homes. The downside of these types of heat pump is that a large an often somewhat ugly part of the unit is attached to the outside of your wall.
The latest generation of heat pumps are contained in a single internal unit (monobloc) with 2 short ducting pipes leading to the outside. This type of system has the advantage of not needing an external unit and the double duct system means that these types of heat pump are more efficient. With their smaller size it makes installing onto a dwarf wall of a conservatory a lot easier to provide summer cooling and winter heating.
Traditional heat pumps are relatively simple on-off systems much like how most fridges and freezers work. The heat pump runs until the desired temperature is reached then switches off. It switches on again when more heat is needed. An inverter heat pump uses an inverter to vary how hard the compressor in the heat pump works making it quieter and more efficient.
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