EGEE 102
Energy Conservation and Environmental Protection

Air-Source Heat Pump or Air-to-Air Heat Pump


An air-source or air-to-air heat pump can provide both heating and cooling.

  • In the winter, a heat pump extracts heat from outside air and delivers it indoors.
  • On hot summer days, it works in reverse, extracting heat from room air and pumping it outdoors to cool the house.

Nearly all air-source and air-to-air heat pumps are powered by electricity. They have an outdoor compressor/ condenser unit that is connected with refrigerant-filled tubing to an indoor air handler. As the refrigerant moves through the tubing of the system, it completes a basic refrigeration cycle, warming or cooling the coils inside the air handler. The blower pulls in room air, circulates it across the coils, and pushes the air through ductwork back into rooms.

When extra heat is needed on particularly cold days, supplemental electric-resistance elements kick on inside the air handler to add warmth to the air that is passing through.

Instructions: Click on the hot spots below to find out how the heating cycle of an air-source heat pump works:

In the winter, a heat pump extracts heat from outside air and delivers it indoors. In the summer, the heat pump extracts heat from room air and pumps it outdoors to cool the house.

Instructions: Observe the heating and cooling cycles of a heat pump. First click on the button of the cycle, and then press "play".

The animation is described in the text above.
Heating and Cooling Cycles of a Heat Pump

The Balance Point

As we have learned, air-source and air-to-air heat pumps work by extracting heat from the outside air. These heat pumps require a backup system to supplement their heating ability when the outdoor temperature gets below a certain temperature.

As the outdoor temperature drops, the heating requirement of the house increases and the output of the heat pump decreases. At some point, the temperature of the home’s heating requirement and the heat pump output match. This temperature is called the balance point and usually falls between 30-45 degrees Fahrenheit. For any temperatures below the balance point, supplemental heat will be required.

To locate the balance point, the heating requirement (BTUs/h) of the house and the heat pump output (BTUs/h) are plotted against the changes in outside temperature. The place where the home heating requirement and heat pump output lines cross is the balance point.

Take a look at the graph of the Balance Point.

Graph of the Balance Point. Described in text above.
Balance Point Graph

Efficiency of a Heat Pump

Efficiency of a heat pump is measured using a term Coefficient of Performance (COP), and it is the ratio of the useful heat that is pumped to a higher temperature, to a unit amount of work that is put in. We will look at COP in terms of air-source heat pumps.

A general expression for the efficiency of a heat engine can be written as:

COP= Hea t Energ y hot Work

Using the same logic that was used for heat engines, this expression becomes:

COP= Q hot Q hot - Q cold

Where, Q Hot = Heat input at high temperature and Q cold= Heat rejected at low temperature. The expression can be rewritten as:

COP=( T hot T hot - T cold )

Note: Thot and Tcold must be expressed in the Kelvin Scale.