By: Patricia Cermignano
Did you know that air conditioners and heat pumps are both used to provide cooling during the warm spring and summer months? While both HVAC systems serve similar purposes, where they differentiate from one another is how they function and operate.
An air conditioner is a system that removes heat from an occupied space, leaving the space cool and comfortable. It is made up of a condensing unit which is typically placed outdoors, and an indoor evaporator coil which is attached to either a furnace or an air handler. The condensing unit and evaporator coil connect to one another through copper pipes, referred to as a line set. A line set has a smaller pipe and a larger pipe. The smaller pipe is called the high side liquid line, while the larger pipe is called the low side suction line. The high side carries liquid refrigerant from the outdoor condensing unit to the indoor evaporator coil. When the liquid refrigerant reaches the evaporator coil, it absorbs hot air flowing from the return duct, causing it to evaporate into a gas. When the warmed gas refrigerant reaches the condensing unit, it is released into the outdoor air. Because the warm air was removed from the low line, only cool, cold air remains at the evaporator coil. The blower motor blows the cooled air from the evaporator coil to your space through the supply ducts, making your space cool and comfortable.
A heat pump is essentially an air conditioner that is used to provide cooling in the warmer months, but also has the ability to provide heat during the cooler months. A heat pump works in conjunction with either an air handler or a furnace in order to circulate air to a space. During the cooler fall and winter months, heat pumps use their key component, the reversing valve, to reverse the refrigerant cycle allowing the heat pump to provide heat to the home. When the cycle is revered, the refrigerant within the heat pump will extract heat found in the outdoor air, even when temperatures outside are cooler. A heat pump compresses and transfers the heated refrigerant to the evaporator coil located inside the furnace or air handler. The evaporator coil acts as a condenser, releasing the hot air and leaving behind only cooled refrigerant. The cooled refrigerant flows back to the heat pump, where the cycle repeats. When outdoor temperatures drop to around, or below, 32°F, there is less heat in the air for the heat pump to absorb. This is called the balance point. When the heat pump reaches its balance point, it requires a secondary heat source to meet the home’s demands for heat. The heat pump can work with a furnace to supply the necessary heat or the heat pump can work with an electric heat strip which is added to the air handler. During the warmer months, the heat pump uses the same process as an air conditioner to cool a home.
To learn more information on air conditioners and heat pumps, please visit our website or call our office at (610) 642-6323 for more details.