What Is a Heat Pump and How Does It Work?

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A heat pump is a device that transfers heat from one place to another, from inside to outside or from outside to inside. In the winter a heat pump works like a heater, extracting heat energy from outside and transferring it inside—instead of generating its own heat like a furnace. In the summer the process reverses, and it removes heat from your home and transfers it outside like an air conditioner.

At Albritton Heating and Air, we would love to talk to you if you need service or maintenance on your current system or if you are considering installing one. Many of your Wilmington, NC, neighbors are already enjoying the versatility and energy efficiency of their systems, making it a popular option here in our region.

The Differences Between Heat Pumps

There are many different names and types of heat pumps, but they can all be categorized as one of three different types: air source, water source, or geothermal.

Air Source

An air source heat pump (ASHP) transfers energy in the air from one place to another. It uses an outdoor heat exchanger coil to extract heat from the air and an indoor heat exchanger coil to transfer the heat into air ducts, radiators, or a hot water tank. This process can also be reversed, so it may be used as an air conditioner as well.

Water Source

A water source heat pump (WSHP) operates similarly to the air source but uses water instead of air to transfer heat. These types of pumps are not available to everyone because of the resources needed, but if you live near a well, lake, or other natural resource, this can be a viable option. A water source heat pump cycles water through a series of pipes laid out in water. As the water cycles, it collects the heat and transfers that energy into your home. Again, this process reverses in the summer and carries heat out of your home by way of the water in the pipes.


A geothermal heat pump is also called a ground source heat pump (GSHP). In this system, the pump uses the earth as its heat source. Conceptually, a geothermal heat pump is the same as an air source or water source heat pump. 

There are two different methods for its installation:

  • Horizontal ground-coupled system—a horizontal ground-coupled system buries horizontal piping four feet or more under the ground and circulates a fluid, like antifreeze or water, through it.
  • Vertical ground-coupled system—a vertical ground-coupled system has the same process as its horizontal counterpart, but the pipes are buried vertically.

The geography and climate around your home are important when deciding which kind of heat pump is right for you. If you have questions about which type is optimum for your home or want to request a quote or service, please call Albritton Heating and Air today at 910-792-6111 and speak with one of our professionals.

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