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Heat Pump Controls & Options

Expert advice on various controls and options—including variable speed motors—that you may want to consider when shopping for a heat pump.

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This is a continuation of the Heat Pump Buying Guide. The most efficient heat pumps have variable-capacity controls. Rather than running the system at full capacity all of the time, these controls coordinate the compressor and blower to adjust to your house’s heating and cooling load requirements at any given time. Because they seldom run at full speed, these heat pumps are quieter, not to mention that they save you money over the long haul.

Zoned Heating and Cooling System

Zoned heating and cooling is one of the hottest new concepts in efficient energy usage. With a zoned system, you can independently control the airflow sent to various rooms or zones in your home, directing heating or cooling where you want it at various times of the day. To make this possible, a system needs a special multizone programmable thermostat and a few motorized dampers.

For best results, the air handler’s output should be variable. In fact, it’s best if it can be controlled over an infinite range of speeds, automatically adjusting the amount of heating or cooling delivered throughout the house according to the need. If you are in the market for a heat pump, there are several innovations to look for that have greatly improved heat-pump effectiveness:


Two-Speed Compressors

Two-speed compressors allow heat pumps to cool or heat only at the capacity needed at any given time, while heat pumps with a standard compressor can only operate at maximum capacity. This feature not only saves on energy costs, but it also reduces wear and tear on the compressor. If you have a large home with a zone-control system, a two-speed heat pump connected to automatic dampers will allow you to keep different rooms at different temperatures.


Variable-Speed Motors

Variable-speed or dual-speed motors on the blowers, outdoor fans, or both help to maintain a consistent and comfortable air velocity, also resulting in savings on your utility bill. An added benefit is a reduction in noise because the blower does not have to run at full speed at all times.


Super High Efficiency Heat Pumps

Very high-efficiency heat pumps come with a desuperheater, which utilizes waste heat from the pump’s cooling mode to heat water at a rate two to three times faster than an ordinary water heater. Scroll compressors, unlike the piston compressors used in standard heat pumps, do a better job of forcing the refrigerant into smaller and smaller areas. This not only results in a longer and quieter operating life, but it also provides 10 to 15 degrees F. warmer air when in the heating mode.


Backup Burners

In addition to electric-resistance heaters as a backup in cold weather, heat pumps can also be supplemented with burners that operate on several different types of fuel. Backup burners solve the problem of providing heat during very cold weather and at a reduction in electrical costs. Few heat-pump manufacturers incorporate both types of heat supply in one unit, but two smaller systems can share the same ductwork. This type of system can save on energy costs, depending on how expensive the combustion fuel in your area is compared to electricity.


Heat Pump Noise

When selecting a heat pump, look for a unit with an outdoor sound rating of less than 7.6 bels (76 decibels). Also, talk to the dealer about the availability of noise-reducing platforms and sound screens.


Heat Pumps Buying Guide

Heat Pump Efficiency Rating & Sizing

How a Heat Pump Works

Heat Pump Ratings & Reviews

Featured Resource: Find a Pre-Screened Local Heat Pump Pro

Call for free estimates from local pros now:
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About Don Vandervort
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Don Vandervort developed his expertise more than 30 years ago as Building Editor for both Sunset Books and Home Magazine. He has written more than 30 home improvement books and countless magazine articles. He appeared regularly on HGTV’s “The Fix,” and served as MSN’s home expert. Don founded HomeTips in 1996.

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