The Ultimate Guide to Heat Pumps

Most people don’t realize just how many options you have for heating and cooling your Southern home. Newer homes almost always come with central heating and cooling systems. Heat pumps are a thing of the past. Or are they? This unique method of heating and cooling your home works year-round in an energy efficient yet effective way that works really well in warmer climates like South Carolina. Here’s what a heat pump is and when you should consider using one.

What is a heat pump?

A heat pump is a different way to heat and cool your home year-round. Both a heat pump system and central heating and cooling make use of outdoor condensers, but they are used in different ways.

A heat pump system consists of a condenser, an expansion valve, an evaporator, a compressor, and of course the heat pump. The refrigerant travels within these parts and collects heat from inside your home and expels it outside during the summer. During the winter, the refrigerant system reverses its flow and collects heat from outside, and carries into your home.

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How does a heat pump work?

Even though it sounds like this device would generate heat like a furnace, that’s not really what it does. A heat pump takes heat from surrounding air to heat and cool your home. In the winter it takes heat from the outdoor air and expels it inside your home, while in the summer the heat is pulled from inside your home and sent elsewhere, usually outside. This is done through the use of a refrigerant system, including an outdoor condensing unit that can appear much like a central air condenser. Even if we are experiencing colder than usual temperatures, the heat pump can still extract heat from the air and bring it into your home.

Watch this short video to see a heat pump in action.

But a heat pump can only do so much. If cold temps only hang around and get colder, the apparatus will reach a point when it can no longer keep up. Even though we rarely get overnight temps below freezing here in the Midlands, it is still a good idea to have a backup heating source.

Part of what makes this heating setup so much more appealing now than in the past is the technology that has grown around them. Programmable thermostats can be integrated with varying HVAC equipment to increase efficiency, switching between the heat pump and a gas or electric furnace automatically as needed.

What is the difference between a heat pump and a furnace?

A heat pump and a furnace both keep you warm, but in very different ways. A furnace uses electricity or fuel (natural gas or propane) to generate heat through combustion and distribute it throughout your home. On the other hand, a heat pump doesn’t make heat, it transfers heat. But why is this difference important?

Differences in Energy Usage

It doesn’t take nearly as much energy to collect and transfer heat from one place to another (outside into your home) as it does to keep a furnace running. According to the Department of Energy, using a heat pump can reduce your heating costs by half. However, a heat pump’s efficiency is deeply affected by the outdoor temperatures, as outdoor temperatures reach 25 degrees or lower, a heat pump becomes less efficient. Unlike a furnace whose efficiency is much more consistent due to it generating its own heat.

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Differences in Performance

In general a heat pump is less reliable than a furnace, because there is only so much heat it can pull into your home from the outside air. But in South Carolina it hardly makes sense to run a furnace the entire season. It could easily generate too much heat, making everyone uncomfortable. A heat pump gives almost exactly the right amount of heat performance for the Midlands region.

Differences in Functionality

A furnace can reliably heat your home, but it can’t cool it. A heat pump works year-round. With the simple flip of a switch, you can pull hot air from inside your home and redirect it outside. Although you would probably want a back up cooling unit as well, a heat pump can greatly reduce your dependency on an air conditioner.

What are the disadvantages of a heat pump?

Even though a heat pump makes a lot of sense for southern states, there are some disadvantages to choosing them. When it comes time to get a new HVAC installed, consider this before deciding on the heat pump.

Total sticker price of equipment and installation.

A installing a heat pump system is definitely an investment over a furnace, but one that will save you even more money over the years. Plus that investment could also replace your need for expensive cooling measures.

Heat pumps have a shorter lifespan than furnaces.

Because heat pumps are running year-round, they don’t last as long as other heating sources. A heat pump system can last up to 15 years, a gas furnace can last up to 20 years, and an electric furnace can last up to 25+ years with proper care and HVAC maintenance. That means the high installation price is going to come back around much faster.

Lower heat supply than a furnace.

If you tend to get cold easily, you may want to skip the heat pump system, or at least back it up with an energy efficient electric furnace. Otherwise, your heat pump will easily be able to supply enough heat for an average winter day in Columbia.

Requires an existing HVAC duct system.

Although there are heating systems that don’t require ductwork, a heat pump must have ducts to function properly. Without clean and functional air ducts, the heat pump won’t be able to move air from place to place. Since the heat pump works by transferring heat, that can be a problem.

How do I know if I already have a heat pump?

Since both a heat pump and central air require an outdoor condensing unit, it can be difficult to tell what type of system you have. There are a few different things you can try to find out.

  • Do a Google search for the brand and model number
  • Look for a reversing valve (required for a heat pump to be used year-round)
  • Turn on your heat at your thermostat and see if the outdoor condenser turns on (it will)
  • Look on your thermostat for an “emergency heat” setting (used for backup heat in cold temps)

If you’re still not sure what type of HVAC system you have, we are more than happy to come out for a visit. We can inspect and repair your complete HVAC system and perform any required maintenance or cleaning. Having just moved into a home, you may not know how old the unit is either, but we can provide you with all of that information after we physically observe your heating system. We can also determine whether a heat pump system could be a suitable replacement, now or in the future. Contact us today for more information.

Expert Consultation – Only A Call Away!

Carolina Comfort, Inc. has been serving the neighborhoods of Columbia, South Carolina for over two decades. This means that when it comes to air conditioning systems, we really know our business.

From assessing your cooling requirements to bringing down costs associated with faulty air conditioning units, Carolina Comfort, Inc. can serve all your AC related needs.

The best part is that we pride on being available 24/7 for our customers.

After all, air conditioning systems can stop working any time, and so our technicians are always available to deal with any AC related emergencies – whether it is a weekend, holiday, or the middle of the night!

If you have any questions, need a consultation, or someone to repair your air conditioning unit – call us now!



5636 Bush River Rd.
Columbia, SC 29212
SC License – #M104545
NC License – #32356

Phone: (803) 794-5526