Types of Heat Pumps
Types of heat pumps
Do you need to heat or cool a specific room, or do you need a solution for your whole home? There’s a heat pump to fit your needs.
What’s the right type of heat pump for your home?
It's not a simple question! Today, there are many different types of heat pumps available. The type of heat pump you choose will depend on your home, the type of heating system your home currently has, and if you’re building new. The best way to find the right system for your home is with a licensed, approved contractor. But here are the basics for you to consider.
First off: Heat pumps still need a backup.
Before delving into the world of heat pumps, it’s important to realize that in Nova Scotia’s climate, ductless or “mini-split” heat pumps will still require a back-up heating source. When the outdoor temperature drops to its lowest, the system may become unable to produce hot air faster than the house loses it. A backup heating source then kicks in to augment what the heat pump is struggling to accomplish.
If your home has forced air heat, or if you’re building new, then a ducted heat pump might be right for you. This system takes advantage of your existing forced-air ductwork, and distributes heated (or cooled) air through it. An outdoor unit extracts heat from the air (even in the winter), which is connected to an indoor unit to distribute the air throughout the home.
Ducted heat pumps generally have an integrated backup heat source, and are designed to meet the total heating needs of your home. So your indoor ducted unit will replace your existing furnace.
An indoor ducted unit can also be added to your existing furnace (whether electric or fired by fuel such as oil, propane, or natural gas), in which case your current furnace acts as a backup heating source. Completely replacing your existing furnace with an integrated unit may be the most efficient option, however.
Ductless systems (“Mini-splits)
If your home is heated using baseboards (either electric or hot water), wood heat, or older-style hot water radiators, then your home most likely doesn’t have ductwork throughout it. In this case, a ductless mini-split system might be perfect.
In a ductless system, indoor units are wall-mounted in the rooms they will heat and cool. Your indoor units are connected to an outdoor unit. In order to service your entire home, you’ll likely want multiple indoor units arranged in zones. In some ductless systems a single outdoor unit feeds multiple indoor units. In other systems, multiple outdoor units feed one indoor unit each. Ductless room units can be installed just about anywhere to suit your interior design—typically up high near the ceiling.
A ductless system generally relies on your existing heating system as the backup. If your home already has electric baseboard heat, or oil/propane/natural gas-fired hot water heat, this would act as your backup heating source.
Ductless systems tend to be a bit more efficient due to the integration of variable speed compressor technology, which is not commonly found in centrally ducted systems. Also, ductless heat pumps are not impacted by air leakage that can occur along the ducts.
Most heat pumps are “air source”, which means they use the air outside of the home. Geothermal systems, on the other hand, are “ground source”. Rather than using the outside air, geothermal systems take heat from (and dump heat into) the ground.
Geothermal systems cost more to install, but offer higher efficiencies than air source heat pumps because the temperature in the ground is generally more constant than in the air. Typically, a geothermal heat pump system is considered only for new construction, not as an add-on to an existing system or home.
In a nutshell, think “water” instead of “air”. These are relative newcomers on the heat pump scene in Nova Scotia, but if you have an existing efficient hot water heating system (in-floor radiant, panel radiators, even low profile fin-tube baseboards), this could be a good option for you. In hydronic heat pumps, heat energy from outside is transferred to water instead of air, and circulated in your home through radiators. As a bonus, hydronic heat pump systems can be configured to provide most of the energy needed for domestic water heating, too.