Types of Heat Pumps -
Let's Learn About Them!

Oh the many types of heat pumps that you'll find while searching:

Air source.....Water source....Window.....Hybrid....Dual fuel....Absorption.....Ground source.....Ground coupled......Mini split......Ductless.....

and yes, the list goes on.

What are all of these varieties of heat pumps?

How different are they?

What application begs for one type over another?

Let's start simple.  First we will look at the difference between a heat pump and an air conditioner.  Then we will take a deep dive into the many different types of heat pumps.

Heat Pump versus Air Conditioner:
What's the Difference?

Simply put, both devices are the same except a heat pump can heat a home in the winter....where an air conditioner can only cool.

If you're still looking for more difference between the two, we have devoted an entire page to answering the heat pump vs air conditioner debate.

Mini Split and Ductless Heat Pumps

One of the most exciting technologies out there right now is the mini split heat pump.  

If you are asking yourself:

"Why is mini split an exciting technology?" 

Please......click on the link above to learn more.  It is becoming the equipment of choice very quickly as more attention is being given to energy efficiency and green solutions.

Note too that "mini split" and "ductless heat pumps" are different names for the same system.

Window Heat Pump

Much like the window air conditioner, some manufacturers also supply a heat pump version of the common household device shown below.

Before buying a window heat pump, be sure that it is worth the extra cost.  

  • Heat pumps generally rely on electric heating (or some other source of heat) for more frigid temperatures (under 30 F).  So if the majority of your heating season is spent under 30 F, it is often just as good to purchase an air conditioning with electric heating.

If you would like more window heat pump information, we have developed an entire web page to help.  Otherwise, below is a discussion of other other types of heat pumps.

Air Source, Water Source, and Ground Source

You may hear and see terms used for many different types of heat pumps.

However, all heat pumps can be categorized into one of these types:

Many residential heat pumps are of the air-source type. If the outdoor unit contains a fan that moves air...then it is air-source.

I say "many" residential heat pump because a greatly increasing number of residential heat pumps are water source.

The only technical difference between an air-source heat pump and a water source is:

  • Air source: The outdoor unit uses air as its medium for heat exchange
  • Water source: The outdoor unit uses water (some other fluid like glycol) as its medium for heat exchange

For all intents and purposes a ground source heat pump is very similar to a water source heat pump. The only difference is the the ground source is always in a closed loop buried in the ground.

Watch this video! It gives a great, short explanation of air source, water source, and ground source.

Also, some students at Purdue University published a paper which compared the payback period of two types of heat pumps, air source and ground source.

Hybrid or Duel Fuel: 
Is There a Difference Between These Two Types of Heat Pumps?

The quick and easy answer is

.... no

Carrier and Trane both offer a hybrid heat pump for which they also use the term "dual fuel".

So then when would you use a dual fuel heat pump?

Usually hybrid heat pumps are useful for areas whose climate can range from very warm in the summer to very cold in the winter.

Hybrid heat pumps give you the best of both worlds....

  • the efficiency of a heat pump during warm and moderate temperatures
  • the efficiency of a gas furnace during period of very cold temperature

Solar Heat Pump

Solar heat pumps utilize solar energy gathered by solar panels to power a standard or even geothermal heat pump.  

Talk about green technology!

A solar, geothermal heat pump could potentially result in your entire house being heated and cooled solely by renewable energy.

Water to Water... or Water to Air... or Air to Air???

Confused yet?

It appears more confusing than it really is.

Heat pumps can be used to heat or cool air.

Heat pumps can also be used to heat or cool water (or another fluid).

Hopefully the diagram below can help sort everything out.

Types of Heat Pumps

Absorption Heat Pump

Absorption heat pumps (link coming soon!) are used quite frequently in the industrial world.

Many industrial buildings have excess heat from industrial processes which they reject into the atmosphere.

This heat can be used as the energy required to operate a heat pump. This heat pump can in turn, cool or heat their processes or environment.

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