How to Tell If One Has a Heat Pump System

Heat pumps are commonly used for both heating and cooling a house.

Heat pumps use electrical energy to transfer heat from one area to another. In winter, they draw heat out of the outside air and transfer it indoors. They are especially common where winters are mild because heat pumps lose efficiency when the outside air temperature is less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit Most heat pumps can also be used to pump heat from inside to outside, thus acting as an air conditioner in summer.

Examine your thermostat. If it has a setting for auxiliary or emergency heat, your system is almost certainly a heat pump system.

Auxiliary heat is activated when the main heat pump cannot supply enough heat energy to meet the demand, typically when outside temperatures are below freezing.

Locate any interior components to your heating system.

Heat pumps commonly have an indoor unit called a fan coil. This device serves two purposes: It accepts heat from the outdoor components, and it uses a fan to distribute the warm air through the house's duct work.

This unit also contains a heating coil, which serves as auxiliary or emergency heat. This coil will heat up and provide warm air when the heat pump is unable to supply enough warm air to heat the house.

If you find metal tubing lines routed from your fan coil to an external compressor or heat exchanger, you likely have a heat pump system.

Locate any exterior components to your heating system.

An air-to-air heat pump will have a large compressor mounted outside the house. This unit will be approximately a 2- to 3-foot cube with a large fan mounted in the middle.

If you have a geothermal heat pump, there may not be any visible outside components. These systems rely on heat exchanger pipes buried underground. There should be evidence of heat exchanger lines running from indoors to the external pipes.

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About the Author

Andrew Hazleton has been writing on a freelance basis for more than 20 years, and his work has appeared in national, regional and in-house publications. His work has appeared in "Sports Illustrated," "IEEE Spectrum," "Popular Photography" and several newspapers. Hazleton has a Bachelor of Science in engineering from Lehigh University and a master's degree in management from Pepperdine University.