What Is a Heat Pump?

The term “heat pump” has seemingly burst into existence in the past few years. The terminology and definitions are at times confusing and contradictory. To make your life easier, we’ll speed through the basics of heat pumps and what we think of this technology as experienced HVAC contractors.

6. Heatpump

What is a Heat Pump (Simplified)?

It’s an air conditioning unit that can also transfer heat. In the summer, it takes the heat out. In the winter, it brings the heat in. It’s that simple.

Is a Heat Pump a Pump?

Well, not really. Heat pumps don’t actually “pump out” heat, but instead transfer heat from one place to another. They can provide both heating and cooling, which is why they’re so versatile. But all of this can sound pretty technical and complicated, so please find our “simplified” guide below.

What is a Heat Pump (Technical)?

A heat pump is a device that transfers heat from a source to a sink, providing heating or cooling to a space. It operates on the principle of thermodynamics, where heat flows from a high-temperature source to a low-temperature sink. Heat pumps use a refrigerant to absorb heat from the source and transfer it to the sink, effectively reversing the direction of heat flow.
The most common applications of heat pumps include space heating and cooling, hot water heating, and refrigeration. Heat pumps can use various sources of heat, such as the air, ground, or water, and can be powered by electricity, gas, or renewable energy sources such as solar power. The efficiency of heat pumps is often measured by its coefficient of performance (COP), which is the ratio of the amount of heat transferred to the energy required to operate the heat pump.
heat pump diagram

What types of Heat Pump are there?

To generalize, there’s 3 major types:

  • Air Source (Most Common)
  • MiniSplit
  • Ground Source (Most Expensive)
System SizeCost Range
2 Ton Heat pump$6,100 to $7,200
3 Ton Heat pump$7,600 to $8,600
4 Ton Heat pump$9,080 to $11,500
5 Ton Heat pump$10,080 to $12,600

Air Source Heat Pump vs Mini Split Heat Pump

To simplify, an air source heat pump uses duct work while the minisplit doesn’t. However, there are minisplit air source units and there are air source minisplit units. Yes, you read that right.

The lingo can be confusing, so for simplification, the HVAC trade refers to heat pumps that require duct work as “Air Source” and those that don’t as “MiniSplit”.

What Type Of Heat Pump Is Best In Colorado?

The air source forced-air heat pump system is the most affordable and common type of heat pump system in Colorado. However, many properties in CO don’t have duct work and use minisplit systems instead.

Ground Source units are rare and costly in Colorado; these units typically require digging vertically down or a large land surface. Due to the associated cost (which can be upwards of $30,000 – $40,000) they’re fairly rare and not typical in the large majority of homes.

welcome to colorado

Is a Heat Pump More Efficient?

To simplify, yes. A Heat Pump is typically around 10-15% more efficient when compared to a conventional heating and cooling system in total energy usage in real world settings. In lab & theoretical settings, the efficiency gain may be as high as 25-30%.

Should I Consider a Heat Pump System?

If you have

  • Concerns about the future of energy
  • High natural gas costs
  • An older HVAC system
  • Solar array or other energy offset

Installing a heat pump may be an ideal path forward for you for future-proofing and reducing your energy costs.

Are Heat Pumps The Future of HVAC?

From our point of view as a professionals in the HVAC trade, the trend towards heat pumps and electrification has large governmental and institutional support behind it. Whether heat pumps and electrification are the future of the HVAC industry is still hotly debated (WSJ).

As of now, when we look at the near-future (5-10 years), it seems that we’re in the beginning stages of the trend towards heat pumps and HVAC electrification; So, for the time being, heat pumps are likely the best choice for future-proofing your heating and cooling system.


What's Bad About Heat Pumps?

The Good

  • Electrifies heating costs
  • 5-15% or more efficient compared to traditional system
  • Large governmental & institutional incentives

The Bad

  • Expensive
  • Questionable design in certain brands
  • Electric heating is more expensive in extreme weather
  • Flood of low-quality Chinese domestic market units
  • What is a heat pump?
  • Types of heat pumps
  • Heat pumps for CO
  • Future of HVAC?
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