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A sudden problem with your heat will prompt you to check your heating equipment. You may not immediately know what kind of equipment that you’re looking at. This could happen if you’ve just moved into a new house or are helping a friend or relative at a home that is unfamiliar to you. Chances are high that you will be dealing with either a heat pump or a furnace. These two types of heating equipment operate in distinctly different ways. They possess characteristics that will make it possible for you to determine whether you have a heat pump or furnace.

What a Furnace Looks Like

A furnace takes the form of a large rectangular object that has large ducts entering and exiting the main unit. You will locate a furnace in an interior location, such as a basement, utility room or sometimes a utility closet accessed from outdoors. Wherever you find a furnace, it will be inside your building.

The exterior housing of the furnace will be simple. You will see an electrical power supply wired into the equipment. Gas or oil furnaces will have an additional supply line that delivers fuel. However, some furnaces run on electricity. This means that the absence of a gas supply pipe does not automatically mean that it’s not a furnace.

You should also see a hose or pipe exiting a furnace and connecting with a nearby drain. This is the condensate drain that collects condensation that forms inside the furnace and moves the moisture into a wastewater line.

In a house heated by a furnace, you will see floor or wall vents in each room that deliver heated air. These will be simple vents that do not have any electronic controls. They may have a lever that manually opens and shuts the vent. A house will also have one or more intake vents that draw air into the furnace system.

How a Furnace Operates

One of the primary characteristics of a furnace that differs from a heat pump is the fact that it uses fuel to make heat. In a gas or oil furnace, the equipment burns the fuel in a combustion chamber. A heat exchanger then manages the transfer of this heat to the air circulating through ducts by a blower fan. The furnace vents the exhaust from fuel combustion out of a chimney.

The blower fan within the furnace pushes the heated air through the ducts and out of the vents in all rooms. At the same time, the fan that is pushing the air out of the vents will draw air back into the system through the intake vents. This system recirculates household air and warms it in the combustion chamber as directed by the thermostat.

As you explore the heating and cooling equipment at a house, you might see an outdoor unit. This could very well be a central air conditioner. A furnace and air conditioner will share the same ducts inside a house. If you don’t see any ducts and an outdoor unit is present, then you’re looking at a heat pump.

What a Heat Pump Looks Like

A major portion of an air-source heat pump system will be located outside of the house. This exterior piece of equipment will look very similar to a central air conditioner. It will have a box-shaped housing mounted on a pad near an exterior wall. A fan and condenser coil will be inside the unit. An electrical supply line and refrigerant lines will connect the exterior heat pump to the house.

A geothermal heat pump will have similar characteristics except that the external portion will connect with underground lines.

Inside the house, you will see one or more air handlers throughout the rooms. These are typically mounted on walls, but you may see them mounted on ceilings. The internal air handlers are larger than the wall vents that connect with furnaces. The air handlers will contain blower fans that move internal air over the evaporator coil.

Unless a home has a backup furnace system to supplement a heat pump, you should not see any ductwork. In fact, people sometimes choose heat pumps because they do not require the installation of ducts through walls and floors.

In Denver, CO, you can turn to Summit Heating & AC with any of your heat pump concerns. Our NATE-certified technicians provide repair service and routine maintenance for heat pumps. If you’ve been thinking about updating your heating and cooling system, we can advise you about your options. A heat pump can supply efficient heat in the winter and then cool your home in the summer. The same system that pumps heat into your home during cold weather can pump heat out of your house when heat waves hit.

How a Heat Pump Operates

A heat pump only consumes electricity. The power is used to run fans and pump refrigerant through the system. Unlike a furnace, the system does not burn any fuel or use electricity to generate heat. A heat pump warms a home’s interior by absorbing heat from external air into the refrigerant chemical moving through its lines.

Cold external temperatures down to about 30 degrees Fahrenheit still provide a heat pump with the means to collect heat for a home. As refrigerant moves into the outside condenser coil, the equipment reduces the pressure on the chemical refrigerant. Lower pressure decreases the refrigerant’s temperature. As long as the substance achieves a temperature below the outside temperature, it can absorb heat. The heat differential created by depressurization enables the heat transfer.

After absorbing heat from the air, a compressor increases the pressure on the refrigerant, which further raises its temperature. The heat pump sends the warmed refrigerant to the internal units. Fans on the internal air handlers blow air over the lines containing the heated substance. This delivers heat to the room. The pump continues the process to maintain a steady interior temperature.

Unless outside temperatures drop to extreme lows, a heat pump provides very efficient heat. One unit of electricity used by a heat pump can return up to three or even four times the amount of heat.

Knowledgeable Home Service Professionals

At Summit Heating & AC, we take pride in helping Denver homeowners maintain comfortable environments and use energy efficiently. Our company has a 100% customer satisfaction guarantee. Our technicians can respond immediately when you need emergency furnace repairs. For less urgent matters, you can rely on us to repair or tune-up your furnaces, heat pumps and air conditioners. When you need to replace a system, we offer financing on approved credit. We perform installations that adhere to all safety standards in the heating and cooling industry.

We’re also trained to install air purifiers and filters to improve indoor air quality. If you encounter trouble with your water heater, you can enjoy the same high-quality service that we provide for heating and cooling issues. We’ll keep the hot showers flowing with water heater maintenance, repair or replacement. To learn more, contact us today.