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How do Heat Pumps Work?

The fundamental process that allows a refrigerator or Heat Pump to work is the evaporation of a liquid to absorb heat. When you put water on your skin it feels cool. This is because as the water evaporates, it absorbs heat from your body. When you put alcohol on your skin (as in some aftershaves or perfumes) it feels even colder. It feels colder because the alcohol evaporates at a lower temperature than water. The refrigerant used in a fridge or heat pump evaporates at an even lower temperature still, around minus 33°C. This would freeze your skin if applied to it so don’t be tempted to experiment!!

Simply explained...

Heat Pumps are not easiest of items for the non-technical person to understand and that will encompass most people! Very simply, they are machines that take heat from one place and put it in another. Refrigerators, which are a good example of a heat pump, do this very successfully by taking heat out of the food storage compartment and expelling it out at the back. This is why your fridge is so cold on the inside and so warm at the back! Heat Pumps are certainly not new despite the fact that many people will never have heard of them.

A Heat Pump for your home is best explained as a refrigerator working in reverse. It makes your home warm on the inside and cold on the outside. Because the outside is so vast, warming your home has an insignificant effect on the outside temperature.

Heat Pumps come in two basic forms, those that take heat from the air (Air Source Heat Pumps – ASHP’s) and those that take heat from the ground (Ground Source Heat Pumps – GSHP’s). Because they take their heat energy from the air or the ground, they don’t need much power to make them work and so they don’t cost nearly as much to run as conventional heating systems. In fact, for every 1kW of power you supply to the Heat Pump, it will provide 3 to 4kWs of heat energy to your home. With a traditional heating system, for every 1kW of energy you supply, you will be fortunate to see 0.9kW in return. Often it is as little as 0.65kW.

Heat Pumps offer a highly economic form of heating for your home compared with almost all traditional heating systems but especially against electricity, oil and LPG. They typically function at lower temperatures than conventional systems and are ideally suited to under floor heating. However they are commonly used with conventional radiators and circulating air systems too and offer a more even operation and living environment.