Heat pumps are generally more expensive to purchase and install than other heating systems, but they save money in the long run in some areas because they lower the heating bills. Despite their relatively higher initial costs, the popularity of heat pumps is increasing. About one-third of all single-family homes built in the United States in the last decade are heated by heat pumps. The most common energy source for heat pumps is atmospheric air (air-to- air systems), although water and soil are also used. The major problem with air-source systems is frosting, which occurs in humid climates when the temperature falls below 2 to 5°C. The frost accumulation on the evaporator coils is highly undesirable since it seriously disrupts heat transfer. The coils can be de- frosted, however, by reversing the heat pump cycle (running it as an air conditioner). This results in a reduction in the efficiency of the system. Water-source systems usually use well water from depths of up to 80 m in the temperature range of 5 to 18°C, and they do not have a frosting problem. They typically have higher COPs but are more complex and require easy access to a large body of water such as underground water. Ground-source systems are also rather involved since they require long tubing placed deep in the ground where the soil temperature is relatively constant. The COP of heat pumps usually ranges between 1.5 and 4, depending on the particular system used and the temperature of the source. A new class of recently developed heat pumps that use variable-speed electric motor drives are at least twice as energy efficient as their predecessors.

Both the capacity and the efficiency of a heat pump fall significantly at low temperatures. Therefore, most air-source heat pumps require a supplementary heating system such as electric resistance heaters or an oil or gas furnace. Since water and soil temperatures do not fluctuate much, supplementary heating may not be required for water-source or ground-source systems. However, the heat pump system must be large enough to meet the maximum heating load.

Heat pumps and air conditioners have the same mechanical components. Therefore, it is not economical to have two separate systems to meet the heating and cooling requirements of a building. One system can be used as a heat pump in winter and an air conditioner in summer. This is accomplished by adding a reversing valve to the cycle, as shown in Fig. 8–59. As a result of this modification, the condenser of the heat pump (located indoors) functions as the evaporator of the air conditioner in summer. Also, the evaporator of the


heat pump (located outdoors) serves as the condenser of the air conditioner. This feature increases the competitiveness of the heat pump. Such dual- purpose window units are commonly used in motels.

Heat pumps are most competitive in areas that have a large cooling load during the cooling season and a relatively small heating load during the heating season, such as in the southern parts of the United States. In these areas, the heat pump can meet the entire cooling and heating needs of residential or commercial buildings. The heat pump is least competitive in areas where the heating load is very large and the cooling load is small, such as in the northern parts of the United States.

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