A heat pump is a device that transfers heat energy from a source of heat to a destination called a “heat sink”. Heat pumps are designed to move thermal energy in the opposite direction of spontaneous heat transfer by absorbing heat from a cold space and releasing it to a warmer one. A heat pump uses a small amount of external power to accomplish the work of transferring energy from the heat source to the heat sink.
While air conditioners and freezers are familiar examples of heat pumps, the term “heat pump” is more general and applies to many HVAC (heating, ventilating, and air conditioning) devices used for space heating or space cooling. When a heat pump is used for heating, it employs the same basic refrigeration-type cycle used by an air conditioner or a refrigerator, but in the opposite direction – releasing heat into the conditioned space rather than the surrounding environment. In this use, heat pumps generally draw heat from the cooler external air or from the ground.
In heating mode, heat pumps are three to four times more effective at heating than simple electrical resistance heaters using the same amount of electricity. Typically installed cost for a heat pump is about 20 times greater than for resistance heaters.
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