For climates with moderate heating and cooling needs, heat pumps offer an energy-efficient alternative to furnaces and air conditioners. Like your refrigerator, heat pumps use electricity to move heat from a cool space into a warm, making the cool space cooler and the warm space warmer. During the heating season, heat pumps move heat from the cool outdoors into your warm house; during the cooling season, heat pumps move heat from your cool house into the warm outdoors. Because they move heat rather than generate heat, heat pumps can provide up to 4 times the amount of energy they consume.
The most common type of heat pump is the air-source heat pump, which transfers heat between your house and the outside air. If you heat with electricity, a heat pump can trim the amount of electricity you use for heating by as much as 30%–40%. High-efficiency heat pumps also dehumidify better than standard central air conditioners, resulting in less energy usage and more cooling comfort in summer months. However, the efficiency of most air-source heat pumps as a heat source drops dramatically at low temperatures, generally making them unsuitable for cold climates, although there are systems that can overcome that problem.
For homes without ducts, air-source heat pumps are also available in a ductless version called a mini-split heat pump.
For more information on these types of heat pumps, see these sections:
See the following to learn more about heat pumps:
The air handler is the indoor component of a heat pump split-system. Inside the unit, you’ll find a coil and a blower which works to ensure that air travels throughout the house. It does so by using the blower to circulate indoor air and push it effectively through the duct system, the vents, and into your home.
Choosing between an air handler combined with a heat pump and a furnace paired with a condenser depends on the temperature in a certain region as well as the fuel that is most affordable and readily available.
Milder temperature regions can benefit from a heat pump and air handler combination. An indoor air handler can typically provide all of the comfort homeowners need. The electrically run heat pump & air handler combination is also the best alternative when gas is not available.
Regions with frigid temperatures need a high-efficiency gas furnace to provide the necessary heat. A furnace and condenser could also be preferred in regions where electricity costs are prohibitive.
In some instances a dual fuel system is preferable. In this case an electrical heat pump and gas powered furnace work together to seamlessly alternate between the two energy sources, depending on outdoor conditions.
Single Speed: The blower fan motor operates at a one speed.
Variable Speed: A variable speed air handler varies its speeds depending on the homeowner’s specific comfort requirements. Variable speed handlers effectively control humidity levels, improve indoor air quality, and keep a consistent temperature throughout the home.
Insulated: The insulation in these handlers provides a reduction in noise and overall quieter operation. Most higher end air handlers are manufactured to include insulation.
Hydronic: These fuel-efficient air handlers use a boiler’s hot water to pick up heat from it and blow it through the ductwork in a home.