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How to Tell if You Have a Heat Pump

By Carrie Dixon, Blog Editor

Heat PumpFind yourself wondering if you have a heat pump? It can be difficult to determine if you aren’t aware of the nuances between this device and a conventional air conditioning system. However, there are some ways to determine between the two, and this article will explain those, so you know exactly what you are dealing with.

The Difference Between the Two Device Types

Both air conditioning systems and heat pumps can transfer heat from inside of a building to the outside, leading to a cooler indoor temperature. A heat pump can reverse directions to take outside heat into the indoors to raise temperatures by using a reversing valve that is built into the compressor. On the other hand, an air conditioner uses furnace heat or electric resistance heat strips to provide warm air to the inside.

Options for Determining Device Type

Knowing what kind of unit you have is of supreme importance, especially when it needs to be serviced. Calling out the wrong type of repairman can waste time and money, something that is never in unlimited supply. There are a few ways to tell the difference, and we’ll look at each below.

Turn on the Heat

One of the quickest ways to determine if you have a heat pump is by turning the heat on at your indoor thermostat. Wait until the heat comes on inside your home and then go outside. Visit your unit and see if it is producing air and making noise. If this is the case, you have a heat pump.

However, the options if it does not seem to be making noise and air are one of two things. The first is that you have an air conditioning unit. The second is that you have a heat pump, but it happens to be broken in some way.

Look for a Reversing Valve

While you’re outside, take a look through the grill on top of your unit. If you see a brass pipe with three fittings, you’re working with a heat pump. That piece is the reversing valve mentioned earlier that allows a heat pump to blow heat in either direction.

However, if you do not see a reversing valve, you may have an air conditioner, or you may have a heat pump with a hard to see reversing valve. Sometimes they are hidden and will be hard or impossible to see, especially if you aren’t sure what you are looking for.

Investigate the Labels

On any heating and cooling system, you will find energy guide and manufacturer labels. Of course, they can become unattached, in which case you won’t find any information. However, if you do, this may tell you exactly what unit you are working with.

When looking at the manufacturer’s label you may find that it states that the unit is a heat pump or the model number may have an ‘HP’ at the beginning which designates a heat pump.

As far as the EnergyGuide label, look for numbers. If you see numbers for both ‘Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio’ and ‘Hearing Seasonal Performance Factor,' that means you have a heat pump. An air conditioning unit will only have one number, as it only rates cooling efficiency.

Using these three methods, you should be well on your way to determining if you have a heat pump or a traditional air conditioning unit. If all else fails, and you still aren’t sure, try looking up the model number on the Internet to get a bit more information. The answer is almost always there!