Heat pumps have the ability to move heat energy from one environment to another, and in either direction. This allows the heat pump to bring heat into an occupied space, or to take it out. In the cooling mode a heat pump works the same as an ordinary air conditioner (A/C). A heat pump uses an intermediate fluid called a refrigerant which absorbs heat as it vaporizes and releases the heat when it is condensed. It uses an evaporator to absorb heat from inside an occupied space and rejects this heat to the outside through the condenser. The refrigerant flows outside of the space to be conditioned, where the condenser and compressor are located, while the evaporator is inside. The key component that makes a heat pump different from an air conditioner is the reversing valve. The reversing valve allows for the flow direction of the refrigerant to be changed. This allows the heat to be pumped in either direction.
- In heating mode the outdoor coil becomes the evaporator, while the indoor becomes the condenser which absorbs the heat from the refrigerant and dissipates to the air flowing through it. The air outside even at 0 °C (or at any temperature above absolute zero) has heat energy in it. With the refrigerant flowing in the opposite direction the evaporator (outdoor coil) is absorbing the heat from the air and moving it inside. Once it picks up heat it is compressed and then sent to the condenser (indoor coil). The indoor coil then rejects the heat into the air handler, which moves the heated air throughout the house.
- In cooling mode the outdoor coil is now the condenser. This makes the indoor coil now the evaporator. The indoor coil is now the evaporator in the sense that it is going to be used to absorb the heat from inside the enclosed space. The evaporator absorbs the heat from the inside, and takes it to the condenser where it is rejected into the outside air.
A heat pump is a machine or device that diverts heat from one location (the 'source') at a lower temperature to another location (the 'sink' or 'heat sink') at a higher temperature using mechanical work or a high-temperature heat source. A heat pump can be used to provide heating or cooling. Even though the heat pump can heat, it still uses the same basic refrigeration cycle to do this. In other words a heat pump can change which coil is the condenser and which the evaporator. This is normally achieved by a reversing valve. In cooler climates it is common to have heat pumps that are designed only to provide heating. Common examples are food refrigerators and freezers, air conditioners, and reversible-cycle heat pumps for providing building space heating. In heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) applications, a heat pump normally refers to a vapor-compression refrigeration device that includes a reversing valve and optimized heat exchangers so that the direction of heat flow may be reversed. Most commonly, heat pumps draw heat from the air or from the ground.