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What Does a Heat Pump Look Like?

By November 14, 2023HVAC
What does a heat pump look like

As homeowners, it’s crucial to understand our home’s heating system. However, with the rise of energy-efficient heat pumps, you might find yourself asking, “What does a heat pump look like?” Knowing its appearance and components isn’t just about satisfying curiosity—it’s a key step towards easier maintenance and a longer lifespan for the system. So, in this guide, we’re taking the mystery out of heat pumps.

We’ll not only explain what a heat pump looks like but also break down its key components, and offer valuable maintenance tips. Are you ready to become a heat pump expert? Let’s dive in!

What is a Heat Pump?

A heat pump is a versatile, energy-efficient system used for heating and cooling homes. Unlike traditional furnaces that generate heat, a heat pump works by transferring heat from one place to another using a refrigeration cycle similar to your household refrigerator.

Interestingly, the magic of heat pumps lies in their dual functionality. During the winter months, they extract heat from the outdoors—even in cold weather—and move it inside to warm your home. Conversely, in the summer, they reverse this process, pulling heat from your home and releasing it outdoors, thus cooling your living space.

The benefits of using a heat pump are numerous. First and foremost, they are incredibly energy-efficient, often resulting in lower utility bills. Additionally, they also provide both heating and cooling capabilities, reducing the need for separate systems. Plus, they’re known for their quiet operation and can improve air quality by reducing humidity levels.

What Does a Heat Pump Look Like?

Identifying a heat pump can be a bit tricky, as its exterior can look similar to an air conditioner. However, generally, a heat pump system consists of two main components: an outdoor unit and an indoor unit.

The outdoor unit, or condenser, is usually a large, square metal box that sits on a concrete slab outside your home. It’s equipped with a fan and is often covered with metal grating to protect the internal components. You might also notice two copper lines running into the house, which carry refrigerant between the indoor and outdoor units.

The indoor unit, often known as the air handler, is typically located in a basement, attic, or utility closet. It resembles a metal box and contains the evaporator coil and blower. Attached to the air handler is a line of ductwork, which distributes the conditioned air throughout your home.

Remember, while heat pumps might look similar to air conditioners, their functionality—and therefore, their maintenance needs—are quite different. Therefore, knowing what to look for can help you better understand and care for your system.

Comparing heat pumps to air conditioning units

Understanding Heat Pump Components and Their Functions

Knowing the inner workings of a heat pump can be beneficial in understanding its operation and diagnosing potential issues. Let’s delve into the key components and their roles.


The compressor, situated in the outdoor unit, is the heart of the heat pump system. It pressurizes the refrigerant, transforming it into a high-temperature gas.

Condenser Coil

The high-temperature gas then flows into the condenser coil, also located outdoors. Here, it releases its heat into the outside air, cooling down in the process.

Evaporator Coil

Next, the cooled refrigerant travels indoors to the evaporator coil in the air handler. This coil absorbs heat from your home’s air during the summer months, cooling it down.

The Blower

The blower, part of the air handler, circulates the cooled air throughout your home via the ductwork.


The thermostat is the control center of your heat pump. It lets you set your desired temperature and operates the system accordingly.

Understanding these components and their functions can help diagnose issues. For example, ineffective heating or cooling could indicate a problem with the compressor or the coils.

A heat pump may look like an AC unit, but needs different maintenance.

Other Recommended Maintenance

Heat pump maintenance is essential to keep your system running smoothly and efficiently. Also, regular upkeep extends the lifespan of the heat pump and can prevent costly repairs down the line.

One simple but crucial task is changing the air filter. A clean filter ensures effective airflow and prevents dust and debris from entering your system. Aim to replace your filter every one to three months, depending on usage and the type of filter.

Cleaning the outdoor unit is another important task. Over time, leaves, dirt, and other debris can accumulate around the outdoor unit, impacting its efficiency. Regularly clear the area around the unit and gently clean the metal grates with a soft brush.

Always remember that regular maintenance not only keeps your heat pump in peak condition but also maximizes its energy efficiency. This means lower energy bills and a more comfortable home!

When to Call a Professional

While understanding your heat pump and performing regular maintenance can prevent many issues, there are times when professional help is necessary. Here are a few signs that it’s time to call a heating and cooling professional.

Unusual Noises

Heat pumps are known for their quiet operation, so any unusual noises can be a cause for concern. If you hear grinding, squealing, or banging noises, it’s best to call a professional right away. These sounds could indicate a problem with the motor or other internal components.

Insufficient Heating or Cooling

If your heat pump isn’t maintaining the desired temperature, or if it’s cycling on and off too frequently, a professional should inspect it. The issue could be as simple as a thermostat setting or as complex as a refrigerant leak.

High Energy Bills

A sudden spike in your energy bills might indicate that your heat pump is not working efficiently. If your bills are high despite regular maintenance, it’s time for a professional check-up.

Physical Damage

Any visible damage to the outdoor unit, such as bent grates or a damaged fan, should be addressed by a professional. Attempting to fix physical damage on your own can lead to more harm than good.

Remember, calling a professional at the first sign of trouble can prevent minor issues from becoming major problems. It’s an investment in the longevity and efficiency of your heat pump.

Wrapping Up

Understanding what a heat pump can look like, how it functions, and how to maintain it can make a significant difference in its efficiency and lifespan. While regular maintenance tasks like changing filters and cleaning the outdoor unit can be done on your own, remember that professional help is necessary when facing issues beyond your comfort zone.

Your heat pump is a crucial part of your home, providing comfort throughout the year. It’s an investment worth protecting! If you have concerns about your heat pump or other HVAC components, don’t hesitate to reach out to the experts at Alpha Building Inspections in Merrimack, NH, and surrounding areas.