Heating / November 22, 2022

What is a Heat Pump and How Does It Work?

A heat pump is part of your home heating and cooling system and is installed outside of your home. Its function is to move heat from one place to another, such as moving heat inside your home in the winter and outside in the summer.

They are designed to be environmentally friendly because, unlike furnaces, they don’t burn fossil fuels. Instead, heat pumps are powered by electricity and use refrigerant to transfer heat. That’s how they keep your home comfortable all year round. In fact, installing separate systems might not be necessary since it provides both heating and cooling. If you live in a colder climate, an electric heat strip can be added to the indoor fan coil for extra heating capabilities.

What are the different types of heat pumps?

There are three types of heat pumps that are connected by ducts: air-source, geothermal, and absorption.


An air-source heat pump can reduce your electricity use by about 50% compared to a gas furnace or baseboard heater. They also dehumidify better than standard central air conditioners, resulting in less energy consumption and more cooling comfort in the warmer months.

While air-source heat pumps haven’t commonly been used in areas with subfreezing temperatures for extended periods, the technology has advanced in recent years. Air-source heat pumps are now a legitimate alternative to the various types of heating systems, even in colder regions. Although it’s worth noting, energy efficiency drops in subfreezing temperatures, so a comfortable home can come at an extra cost during the heating season if your home uses a heat pump.

Ducted air-source

The most common type is the ducted air-source heat pump. These systems use ductwork to transfer heat between your home and the outdoor air. If your home already has a ventilation system this would be a great option.

Ductless air-source

For homes without ducts, a ductless version of the air-source heat pump is also available. They are also called “mini-splits.” Mini-splits are a great option for room additions where extending or installing distribution ductwork is not feasible. One of the main benefits of using a mini-split is they are small and great for cooling or heating individual rooms.


Geothermal (ground-source or water-source) heat pumps come with a higher installation cost compared to air-source heat pumps, but greater efficiency makes up for it. How does it work? Instead of using the outside air to transfer heat, geothermal heat pumps use the ground or a local water source, allowing them to take advantage of the more constant temperatures. Geothermal heat pumps have many advantages, including:

  • Reduce energy use by 30–60% 
  • Control humidity
  • Reliable in extreme climates
  • Can fit in a variety of homes
  • High customer satisfaction

Depending on the size of your lot, the subsoil, and the landscape would determine if this option is appropriate for your home.


The absorption heat pump (also called a gas-fire heat pump) is a relatively new type of heat pump for residential heating and cooling systems. This type uses heat or thermal energy as its energy source. 

They can be driven with a variety of heat sources including geothermal-heated water, steam solar-heated water, air, or the combustion of natural gas — which differentiates them from compression heat pumps that are driven by mechanical energy. Absorption heat pumps are also more complex and require larger units compared to compression heat pumps.

What exactly does a heat pump do?

Heat pumps are an energy-efficient alternative to furnaces and air conditioners. That’s because furnaces and air conditioners use fossil fuels to generate warm and cool air, whereas heat pumps use electricity to transfer heat. But how does the heat transfer work, exactly?

In colder months, heat pumps extract heat from the outside and transfer it inside your home. And when it’s hot outside, heat pumps extract the heat from your home and move it outside to provide cooling. That’s why heat pumps can efficiently provide comfortable temperatures for your home — because they transfer heat rather than generate it.

Where do heat pumps work best?

If you live near us, you’re probably wondering how a heat pump would perform in the San Diego area. The short answer: San Diego is an ideal location to use a heat pump. That’s because heat pumps work best when the temperature is above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Heat pumps can still run in colder temperatures. But as soon as outdoor temperatures drop below 40 degrees, they start to use more energy and lose efficiency. Homeowners in colder climates will notice the extra cost of their energy bills during the heating season.

Luckily, for San Diego homeowners, the city averages one night a year when the temperature drops below 40 — so there’s virtually zero need to worry about losing efficiency with your heat pump. You can rest assured that a heat pump is an energy-efficient alternative to heating and cooling systems that use fossil fuels, all year round.

Looking for heating solutions for your home in San Diego?

If you live in the San Diego area, our certified technicians can help you find out if a heat pump is right for your home. Contact us at 619-313-6344 anytime to explore heating solutions, along with the heating installation services we offer at Mauzy.

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