Air-To-Air Heat Pumps
A Buying Guide For Homeowners

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A review of air-to-air heat pumps, how to select, how it works, advantages and disadvantages, choosing the right type (split, packaged, ducted or ductless…), efficiency, the main components, and top manufacturers.

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An air-to-air heat pump is one of the most efficient electric HVAC devices designed for home heating and cooling. Models built as the Energy Star can save up to 20 percent than standard models, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and increase comfort. The energy cost of the air-source heat pumps is lower than gas, oil heating systems, or geothermal HP.

One of the greatest advantages of heat pumps is that there are no burners to generate heat, no fume gases, fire, and smoke. The heat is not made; it is just moved from one place to another – making heat pumps more efficient while heating the room gradually and uniformly.

Only in the case of the cold northern regions, the homeowners should select the heat pump with the supplemental heat (gas or electric), while in warmer regions, electric heat pumps are sufficient.

In this article

Selecting an air-to-air heat pump

Making the right decision about an air-to-air heat pump is very important as the home heating and cooling depends on it and because it is a great deal of investment. Whether you are buying a new or used heat pump, a few factors have to be considered for efficient, comfortable, and trouble-free heating and cooling.

The best heat pumps are high efficient (high SEER and HSPF) and use variable- or two-speed scroll, or advanced reciprocating compressors, thermostatic expansion valves, and insulated tubes instead of the ductwork. On the other side, lower-level and less efficient models come with single-speed reciprocating compressors.

Are you looking for more info? Check out this article that is about heat pump selecting tips.

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Pros

  • Economical.
  • Better energy efficiency than other types of heaters.
  • It cools and dehumidifies the air during the summer, increasing the comfort greatly, for less.
  • Mini-split and ductless models are ideal for retrofit situations.
  • No fuel delivery needed.
  • It can be used with other sources of supplementary heat, such as gas, electric, or oil.
  • Heat pumps are safe as there is no combustion involved and no hot surfaces.
  • There is no smoke, ash, soot, moisture, or carbon monoxide involved.
  • Low maintenance.
  • Heat pumps can add a value to your house.

Cons

  • High initial cost.
  • Complex system.
  • Variable reliability.
  • The outdoor unit is exposed to freezing unless the defrost system is incorporated.
  • The heat produced by HP is not as strong as produced by a gas furnace.
  • The efficiency decreases with the lower temperatures.

Types

  • Split and ducted systems
  • Mini-split and ductless HP
  • Single Packaged Systems
  • Bivalent (gas burner supported)

Split heat pumps

Air to air heat pumpAir to air heat pump
photo: Amana

Split heat pumps systems utilize one outdoor and one indoor unit, both containing a heat exchanger coil connected with the refrigerant lines, usually made of copper and a ducted system for heat distribution.

Thanks to the advanced features, the split systems can be used in all climates, from mild to freezing regions, and it is the most favorable type installed in residential housings.

Mini-split heat pumps

Mini-split heat pumpsMini-split
photo: Trane

Air-source heat pumps designed as mini-split are mainly used for local room heating/cooling, where the ductwork does not exist or cannot be installed. These are known as ductless heat pumps and, due to their small size, are easy to handle and install –on the wall or ceiling.

Mini-splits are recommended for retrofit in homes with hydronic and electric baseboard heating. They usually have one outdoor unit and one or more indoor for multizone climate control.

Ducted vs. ductless

Ducted heat pumps utilize vents or ducts to distribute the heated or cooled air inside the house – from the source to the rooms, while ductless units don’t, and there is no energy loss through the ducts. See how it compares ductless vs ducted, here.

Packaged systems

Packaged system heat pumpsPackaged systems
photo: York

As opposed to the above split systems, there is also a packaged system that combines all the components into one system located outdoor, while the cooled or heated air is transferred to the house using the ventilation ducts.

The main advantage of these systems is that the unit is installed outside (rooftop, for example), which helps in noise reduction; it can serve different zones and allows quick installation and servicing.

Find more about packaged heat pumps vs. central split heat pumps.

How does the air-to-air heat pump work?

An air-to-air heat pump works very simple where most of the models incorporate three cycles; heating, cooling, and defrost cycle. The heat pump draws heat from the air and delivers it to the residential home (heating) or outdoor (cooling). Its ability to heat and cool, depending on the weather, makes it a very economical and efficient HVAC system. Check out this article to see in detail how does the heat pump work.

Efficiency

One of the most important features that should be considered when buying an air-to-air heat pump is efficiency. The seasonal heating (HSPF) and cooling (SEER) ratings should be check before buying the unit. Some manufacturers also provide COP and EER ratings for efficiency checks.

Note that the ability of the heat pump to transfer heat from the outside to the house depends on the outdoor temperature. Also, if the heat pump is operating without any supplementary heat, the air temperature from the heat pump is cooler than heated by any other heating device, such as a furnace. Check out other differences in this comparison heat pump vs. furnace.

Due to their complexity and warranty requirements, air-to-air heat pumps must be designed and installed by professionals for a valid warranty and to ensure efficient and reliable operation. The cost can be up to twice the price of a gas or electric furnace.

Keep in mind that supplementary (backup) heating might be required if you live in an area of cold weather.

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Main components of the air-to-air heat pumps

  • Evaporator
  • Condenser
  • Reversing valve
  • Expansion device
  • Compressor
  • Piping
  • Fans

Top manufacturers

Warranty and life expectancy

According to some studies, the payback period could be somewhere between two to seven years. The service life is between 15 and 20 years but depends on the region; it is shorter in colder areas, and longer in southern climates. The warranties also vary from 5 to 12 years on the compressor and coils and less for labor.

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