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How does a heat pump work?

Heat Pump 101

A heat pump is an essential heating and cooling system that efficiently transfers heat from one place to another, providing comfort and energy savings for residential and commercial applications. Understanding how a heat pump works can help you make informed decisions about your HVAC system.

How Does a Heat Pump Cool and Heat?

Heat Pump- Cooling Mode


  • A heat pump works similarly to an air conditioner but a key difference is that while an air conditioner primarily runs during the warmer seasons and only comes with cooling capabilities, a heat pump can run year-round to provide both heating and cooling comfort
  • Every heat pump system needs an indoor component to move the air through the home. In more temperate climates an air handler is typically used. In colder climates, a gas furnace can be paired with the heat pump to create a dual-fuel system
  • During warmer months, a heat pump extracts heat from inside the home and transfers it outside to cool the home. In cooler months, the process is reversed, and the heat pump transfers heat from outside into the home.

Heat Pump- Heating Mode


  • Switching from heating to cooling is made possible by a reversing valve that switches the flow of refrigerant back and forth based on the desired function.
  • Of course, there are times when there’s just not enough heat to pull in from the outside. In those instances, supplemental electric heat strips within the air handler kick in to warm the air to a comfortable.
  • Another alternative for extreme cold climates is a dual-fuel heat pump, which deploys heat from a gas furnace when it gets too cold. During warmer months, the dual-fuel system still incorporates the furnace, but without using any burners, just its air distribution features to circulate cool air throughout the home.

Do Heat Pumps work in Cold Weather?

While it may be true that early heat pumps weren’t capable of consistently and comfortable heating homes in climate with average temperatures between 10-30 F in the middle of winter, that’s no longer the case. Today’s cold climate heat pumps are less reliant on supplemental heat from electric heat strips or gas furnaces and can keep homes warm in freezing temperatures. Heat pumps today, such as Lennox SL25XPV heat pump , can effectively extract heat from outside air and warm homes in temperature below 10 F and can continue to provide heat below 5 F with supplemental electric heat – and they’re still improving.

In colder climates that require a lot of heat during the winter, the heat pump is paired with a gas furnace , creating what’s called a dual-fuel system . During cool weather, the heat pump does the heating, using the furnace as a blower to circulate the warmed air. When it gets very cold, the heat pump shuts off and the furnace takes over, doing all the heating and air movement. A dual-fuel system can warm your home with either gas or electricity, so you stay comfortable and energy efficient, no matter how cold it gets.

A heat pump is an energy-efficient heating and cooling solution that can provide comfort in various climates. By understanding how a heat pump works you are one step closer to enjoying the benefits of a reliable HVAC system. Talk to your local Lennox Dealer today to see your Heat Pump options.

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