Even though many people are not familiar with air-to-air heat pumps, they aren’t a new technology. They’ve been around for years. They are a highly efficient, low-carbon home heating and cooling solution.
This equipment keeps homes cool in the summer and warm in the winter, but adoption isn’t where it should be. As more and more people install heat pumps in the future, it could set mass adoption in motion, driving costs down.
And who knows if air-source heat pumps and other options, such as ground-source pumps, will define the future of residential home heating?
What Are Air-to-Air Heat Pumps?
Air-to-air heat pumps are a kind of highly efficient and reliable home heating and cooling technology that works similarly to an HVAC, especially when combined with gas or electric backup.
Technically speaking, an air-to-air heat pump is an HVAC system that runs backward and uses the same parts.
There are two main types of air-to-air heat pumps:
- Single-head air-to-air heat pumps
- Multi-head air-to-air heat pumps.
A single-head unit could suffice if you live in a tiny home or city apartment. But it wouldn’t be adequate for large homes. For bigger homes, install a multi-head air-to-air heating system.
A single-head system consists of an outside unit with copper pipes that link to a blower in the house. A multi-head heat pump has one external unit and several blowers inside the house.
How Air-to-Air Heat Pumps Work
During cool weather, an air-to-air heat pump absorbs heat from the air outside and gets it into your rooms to warm them up. During warm weather, the reverse takes place. The system absorbs heat from indoor air and pushes it out of the house. But what does the technical side of the process look like?
The process begins when a cold fluid (refrigerant) in the external unit removes heat from the outside air. Evaporation of the fluid happens in the heat exchanger/evaporator, and the system uses electricity.
The evaporated refrigerant gets nearly as warm as the surrounding environment. It passes through a tube to a critical component of the system: the compressor. Here, the gaseous refrigerant gets compressed, and its temperature increases massively.
As the hot gas passes through the internal coils (in the house), it releases heat into the surrounding indoor air. Next, the blower sucks the warm air in and distributes it to the rest of the house through the ductwork.
The process ends when the warm refrigerant reaches the expansion valve. Here, the pressure drops and the gas cools and regains its capacity to absorb outside air, and the cycle repeats.
The Future of Air-to-Air Heat Pumps
Air-to-air heat pump adoption in the U.S. and U.K. (and heat pumps in general) is way behind places such as Scandinavian countries and New Zealand.
Only about 50,000 heat pumps are installed in the U.S. every year, which is a pretty small number. In the U.K., less than 300,000 homes use heat pumps. But all that could change in the near future, given a conducive environment.
The future is definitely electric. Just like electric cars, heat pumps aren’t ubiquitous today, but the future looks bright as long as homeowners keep transitioning to the technology.
If gas prices skyrocket in the future and the production of gas-fired boilers stops (it will), more people could opt to install heat pumps. Mass adoption could then happen, and product costs could decrease appreciably.
Manufacturers could help speed up things by sharing success stories of homeowners who’ve installed their models to inspire consumer confidence.
Heat pumps are expensive, both the unit itself and the radiator upgrades. Sometimes, the home needs refurbishment to prepare it for installation. Many older homes aren’t properly insulated and can be quite draughty.
Do Air-to-Air Heat Pumps Work in Cold Winter Weather?
Yes, Air to air heat pumps works in cold climates. But if you’ve read up on air-to-air heat pumps, chances are you’ve come across homeowners and renters who said these systems are lame. But that’s not exactly accurate.
Here’s the thing. There are air-to-air heat pumps that will work down to -5˚F/-20˚C temperatures. A lot depends on the actual model you have.
If these devices didn’t work in cold weather, people in cold places such as Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, and New Zealand would constantly complain. But they don’t. In fact, the vast majority of homes in these countries rely on heat pumps for winter home heating.
But if these environmentally-friendly heating solutions work…
Why Isn’t Everyone Installing Air to Air Pumps?
Heat pumps and Air to water heat pumps work and have fewer carbon emissions since they’re electricity-powered, and electric power is a low-carbon source. Also, heat pumps can be up to five times more efficient than conventional gas-fired boiler systems.
So, why hasn’t everyone in the world already switched to this greener, more sustainable heating solution? Why aren’t we seeing universal heat pump adoption?
- Equipment cost: Equipment cost is the main hindrance to mass heat pump adoption. You can replace a boiler for half the cost of installing a heat pump. Many people end up replacing their broken combi boiler instead of upgrading to a heat pump.
- Upgrades: While many modern homes probably wouldn’t need a ton of work to ready them for a heap pump, older ones would. And the cost can be astronomical in some situations. Plus, there’s the added cost of ripping out the existing radiators, improving insulation, and installing new, better-sealed windows and doors. All these things can make the whole idea seem a lot less attractive.
- Heat production speed: It’s not unusual for some models to become less efficient when it’s freezing. A gas boiler typically heats up the room faster than a heat pump, and that can be a big deal for some people.
- Heating water: If you choose to install an air-to-air heat pump, you’d have to find a way to heat your water. You can use point-of-use water heaters such as electric showers.
Pros and Cons of Air-to-Air Heat Pumps
|They’re a more efficient home heating technology compared to traditional home heating solutions such as gas boilers.||High initial equipment cost|
|They work similarly to an HVAC system, heating up the air in the winter (the best ones) and cooling the room in the summer. And yes, good air source heat pumps do the job even in cold climates.||Some homes may need costly upgrades (for example, radiator upgrades and windows and doors replacement) to become heat pump-ready.|
|Even though they need a decent amount of space to install, you can mount them high to maximize wall space.||Some models don’t work well for extremely cold temperatures.|
|They’re a low-carbon home heating solution that lower CO2 emissions, which makes them a great option for the planet..||Finding competent heat pump installers who provide accurate advice and do great work isn’t always easy.|
Are Air to Air Heat Pumps the Future of Home Heating?
Heat pumps are great for heating and cooling homes and apartments, but adoption could use some impetus. Some countries are doing better than others in terms of switching to this sustainable energy production, but it’s a matter of time before people in other locations warm up to the idea.
Fossil fuels may not be the future, but heat pumps aren’t a fully green solution either. However, they’re way cleaner than gas and oil. They could become the home heating solution of choice for a huge part of the population in the not-so-distant future.