Ask any of your neighbours and they’ll likely tell you that their energy bills have been sharply rising in recent years. Everyone is feeling the sting of energy prices, but there are ways to reduce your reliance on the grid and bring down your bills and household emissions at the same time. One of these clever solutions? Heat pumps. This smart technology is an effective and efficient way of heating your home (and even your hot water). But how they work can feel like a bit of a mystery.
So, how exactly do heat pumps work and how do you choose the right one for your home? Let’s run through the basics so you can confidently consider whether a heat pump might be just the thing you need to efficiently heat your home.
What is a heat pump?
A heat pump is a heating system that uses a heat exchanger to extract heat from one source to heat another – just like how a fridge works but in reverse. Heat can be extracted from either the air, water or ground to heat the air inside a home. The source of heat determines the type of heat pump, meaning there are three types of heat pumps: air-source, water-source and ground-source. Heat pumps can also be used to heat water in hot water systems.
Common in Europe and the US due to their efficiency, they’re a great option for Aussie homeowners looking to save costs and reduce their energy consumption. In fact, it’s estimated they could help save the equivalent of 747 million tonnes of carbon emissions in Australia by 2050.
Air-sourced heat pumps are by far the most popular type of heat pump in Australia, but you likely know them by a different name – reverse cycle air conditioners. Powered by electricity, the heat pump absorbs heat in outside air through an external unit and pipes the heated air into your home.
It’s no wonder they’re so popular – reverse cycle air conditioners are the most energy-efficient type of heater (or cooler) you can get. In efficiency terms, it’s 300-600% efficient, meaning they turn one unit of electrical energy into 3 to 6 times as much heating energy. That’s a lot more than many other electric heaters which can only produce one unit of heat per unit of electricity. So, when it comes to heating, they give you a lot more bang for your buck (and do a great job at saving energy).
They also come with different efficiency ratings (based on how much energy they require relative to the heat they produce), but even lower efficiency units generate less greenhouse gas emissions than other types of heaters – and are significantly cheaper to run. To choose the right reverse cycle air conditioner for where you live, look for the zoned energy rating label which gives an efficiency rating based on 3 Australian climate zones.
Water-sourced heat pumps work in the same way as air-sourced heat pumps, except heat energy, is extracted from water. According to the government website YourHome, Australia doesn’t generally have appropriate water resources to use this type of heat pump.
Ground source heat pumps, also known as geothermal heat pumps, are becoming more popular in Australia. Air is pumped through pipes that run deep into the ground, which heats (or cools) the air before it is pumped back inside a home. They work well in extremely hot or cold conditions, although at this stage they are still quite expensive to purchase and install. But as they become more common in the market, you can likely expect the cost to come down.