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Heat Pumps & Air Conditioners Buying Guide

As the change of seasons gets more apparent, now is probably the right time to think about getting the household heating sorted. Many of you have probably tossed up the idea of a heat pump, but, as with most technology, it often looks like far too much work to decipher the technicalities of what makes heat pumps tick. In this guide, we'll do our best to clear the air, as it were, and remove a lot of the confusion separating you from what could be a much warmer home this winter.


The basic principle

This may seem very straightforward, but we'll go over it all the same. Heat pumps purpose is to heat the air when it's cold, and cool the air on those warmer days. It does this by running air from the outside of your house through either built-in heaters or coolers and then pumping that air back into your house - essentially the same as a car air conditioning system. Because it has to access the outside of your house, the wall that the heat pump is attached to should usually be the internal side of an external wall. It is possible to have them on an internal wall and run the pipes through the wall and ceiling, but this is obviously more installation work, and therefore more money.

With the necessity of an outside unit as part of the heat pump, we have our first major issue to deal with - sometimes, the outside unit can freeze. And if it doesn't freeze, it'll often get less effective in lower temperatures. Be sure when buying a heat pump that you check the lowest and highest operating temperatures of the unit, and at what temperatures they are most efficient. No point in forking out extra for something that operates at -30 if it never gets close to that temperature where you live, but you don't want to skimp on something that simply won't work at all.


Inverters and what they do

You'll notice most modern heat pumps have inverter technology. The easiest way to explain how this works is to compare it to cruise control in a car. Let me explain - In a car, if you accelerate to 100 quickly, drop down to 80 on the hills, jump back up to 120 on the way down the other side, and then back to 100, not only is the ride uncomfortable for most, but it uses a lot more fuel. On the other hand, if you slowly accelerate to 100, stick cruise control on and leave the car to run itself, it'll use far less fuel because you're not constantly pumping the gas. That's exactly how inverters work, more or less. They'll get up to temperature, and then stay there. They won't constantly be revving and shutting down. Instead, they'll keep monitoring the temperature in the room and making minor adjustments to keep things toasty. What does this mean for you? A more comfortable home, and a heavier wallet, thanks to the reduced power bill.


Intelligent eye and other life-form finding technology

Most of us have probably seen the ad where Dan Carter is pinned on the wall of the house, keeping everything the perfect temperature. How he manages to stay up there in that position isn't something I'll even try to understand, but that particular commercial is one that a lot of people remember as the first time they heard about motion sensors on heat pumps. The general idea behind the tech is this - When you're out of the room, the heat pump stays off. When you walk in, it spots you, and gets itself into gear. Very handy if you're not home all the time, and a lot of these have the ability to differentiate between people and pets. Still more advanced than that is the ability a lot have to project heat towards the people in the room, meaning you'll get warm before the rest of the room does. Depending on the model, they can launch the heat towards multiple people, and even judge how much heat is needed in comparison to the number of people in a room.


Features

Ignoring the grammatical error in the title of this section, let's go over a few of the more minor features a lot of heat pumps have.

 

Self-cleaning

Self-cleaning is a big thing at the moment, as most people don't have the time or motivation to do it themselves. A heat pump that cleans itself uses water that it sucks out of the air to wash the filters, saving you time that could be far better spent elsewhere.


Defrosting

Defrosting is another feature that's more of a necessity than an added extra. When it gets cold outside, as in very, very cold, your heat pump will stop heating your room for a few minutes and turn its attention to the external unit, blasting in hot air till it's ice-free. This means that you have a few minutes of no heat pump as opposed to a full day of a half-pie one. Again, the temperature at which defrosting starts varies from model to model, so make sure you choose one with a lower operating temperature than what you get at your house. If you can avoid having your heat pump defrost, fantastic. But it's good to know it's there just in case you do get a particularly cold snap.


Smoke-cleaning

And lastly, there's the smoke-clearing tech that's coming through in quite a few new models. Your heat pump will sense when the air isn't clean, and suck all the smoke and smog out of your house and pump in good stuff till your room is smelling rosey again. Fantastic if you're the kind of person that leaves the toast in for half an hour longer than you should've, and don't worry - if there's a real fire, it'll produce more smoke than your heat pump can deal with. It's just for things like toast and the occasional deep-fry gone wrong.


Eco-friendliness and what that means to your pocket

Let's finish with the big one - how much do these things cost? Well, there are plenty of models that'll only cost around a dollar a day, although that definitely varies based on how long it's running. The easiest way to check is how many energy stars it gets, and by law the manufacturer has to state this. What you're looking for is a low power intake and a high output. Essentially, the smaller the footprint on the environment, the smaller the footprint on your wallet. And that's something that should make us all a bit warmer.