How Can a Heat Pump Provide Heat in Winter?

sun and snowflake.

We are big proponents of heat pumps for our customers’ homes. These HVAC systems are a fantastic two-in-one way to enjoy comfort around the year. During the summer, a heat pump operates just like an air conditioner: refrigerant circulates to remove heat from the house and then release it outdoors. Then, with just an adjustment on the thermostat, the heat pump changes into a heater. Now the refrigerant moves heat from outside the home and brings it inside. Presto! Warmth for the winter.

“Wait a second …” we can hear you saying. “It makes sense that a heat pump can remove heat from indoors on a summer. But how is it drawing heat from outdoors during the winter? It’s cold out there!”

Without a doubt, this is the number one fact about heat pumps customers find confusing. But believe it or not, heat pumps can provide enough heat for a home in Tacoma to enjoy a cozy winter every day and night. We’ll explain this minor miracle of comfort technology.

There’s Always Heat Available Outside

The first thing to know is a basic fact about thermal energy: it’s always present in the air. The only condition where there wouldn’t be any heat is absolute zero, which means no molecular movement at all. However, absolute zero is a theoretical temperature and can’t actually happen. (If it did, you’d have much more to worry about than whether your heat pump was working.) A heat pump always has some amount of heat to draw on during the winter, no matter the temperature.

The way a heat pump draws heat from the air (either in cooling or heating mode) is by using refrigerant that’s colder than the air around it. Heat naturally moves from a warmer area to a cooler one. As the refrigerant moving through the coil evaporates, it absorbs the heat from the air around it.

So to extract heat from air that’s 40°F, the refrigerant in the coil must be cooler than 40°F. Thankfully, the temperature of the refrigerant as it moves through the outdoor coil in heating mode is extremely cold. After releasing most of its heat to the inside of the house, the refrigerant passes through an expansion valve that drops its pressure—and this is where its temperature takes a precipitous drop. When it passes through the outdoor coil, the refrigerant is cold enough to pull heat from even the coldest of Tacoma winter nights.

In extremely cold weather, heat pumps may struggle with energy efficiency. However, these conditions are much colder than our local weather gets, so you should have no problem enjoying great comfort from a heat pump throughout the year.

To find out more about heat pumps or to arrange for other HVAC services in Tacoma, WA, speak to our experts. Along with standard split-system heat pumps, we also install superb Mitsubishi ductless heat pumps. Arrange for a free consultation with us to learn about the different options for optimal comfort in your home.

Resicon LLC serves the Greater Tacoma Area. We are committed to improving the lives of our customers. Schedule heat pump installation today.

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