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What Is A Heat Pump And How Does It Help In The Summer?

How a Heat Pump Keeps You Cool What is a heat pump

You’d think that anything with the word ‘heat’ in the name would be used solely for just that – heating. But a heat pump is different. It can be used for both heating and cooling. In mild climates, heat pumps are an energy efficient alternative to a furnace and air conditioner – something that can heat your space in the winter, and help cool it in the summer. Despite the misleading name, we’ll be looking at what makes a heat pump your coolest little helper this summer.

How Does It Work?

If you are familiar with how an air conditioner works – then you know how a heat pump works in the summer, too. It takes the heat from inside the home and pushes it outside.

In the winter, it acts as a heating unit by flipping the process.

“It has the extra components needed to 'reverse' the heat flow, taking heat from the outside and rejecting it inside,” says Keith Hill, manager, technical support, from Minnesota Air.

Keith says heat pumps are typically higher efficiency cooling units because of the larger heat transfer surfaces needed in heating mode, but in the summertime they do the same thing that an air conditioner does – cools and dehumidifies the indoor air.

According to the Department of Energy, “because they move heat rather than generate heat, heat pumps can provide equivalent space conditioning at as little as one quarter of the cost of operating conventional heating or cooling appliances.”

Types of Heat Pumps

There are various types of heat pumps, but the most common type is the air-sourced heat pump, which works like we described above – by transferring heat inside a home to the outside air. According to the Department of Energy, “High-efficiency heat pumps also dehumidify better than standard central air conditioners, resulting in less energy usage and more cooling comfort in summer months.”

Heat pumps also work as an efficient source of heat in cold climates, when paired with a gas furnace. Carrier coined these as Hybrid Heat systems (described below as Dual Fuel). The heat pump capacity drops as the outdoor temp drops, but typically can still heat the home efficiently above freezing temps. Since more than 60% of the winter in the Twin Cities is above 32F, a heat pump is a very efficient way to heat your home. And when the temp drops below 32 F, the system automatically switches to the gas furnace.  

The other types of heat pumps are:

  • Ductless Mini Split – Same idea as the air sourced heat pump, but doesn’t use ducts to provide warm/cool air.
  • Geothermal – Transfers heat between the home and the ground or a water source. It can be costly to install this type of system, but has very low operating costs.
  • Absorption – Similar to an air-sourced heat pump, but instead of being operated by using electricity it uses a different heat source (natural gas, propane, geothermal - or solar-heated water).
  • Dual Fuel (Hybrid Heat) – An air-sourced heat pump that adds a secondary gas furnace (for winter). Great in colder climates, because it uses the heat pump on most days, and then lets the gas furnace take over once its too cold.

Heat pumps are a good investment if you are looking to improve your home’s energy efficiency and lower your energy costs this summer and beyond. To find one that’s right for you, talk to an HVAC professional like the experts at


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