What Is a Heat Pump, and How Does It Work?

I came across a website that gives a great description of heat pumps, how they work, and why they are more efficient. Here’s the link for it.

Most Americans are accustomed to heating systems that generate heat using fossil fuels, wood, or electricity. But heat pumps don’t create heat, they move heat. Here’s how the process is explained on that website:

Heat pumps function similarly to refrigerators or air conditioners, which take warm air from one space and send it to another. In the winter, a heat pump transfers heat from the outdoors inside and, in the summer, it reverses this process.

There are two main types of heat pumps, and both can function as space heaters or coolers and as water heaters.

A ground-source (or “geothermal”) heat pump sends a mixture of water, antifreeze, and/or a refrigerant through a network of pipes buried below the frost line. As the liquid passes through the pipes, it absorbs the earth’s approximately 55-degree heat. The liquid is then drawn up into a compressor, which heats it further, creating a vapor. The heat pump then distributes the warm air through ducts or tubes throughout your home. In the summer, the heat pump reverses the process, taking warmth out of the house and transferring it to the earth.

An air-source heat pump extracts heat from the air rather than from the ground. It functions the same way, but because air temperature, unlike earth temperature, can get very cold, it has more work to do bringing up the temperature. As with a ground-source heat pump, a reversing valve inside the heat pump allows the same unit to function as an air conditioner in the summer. At right is an air source heat pump that was retrofitted into a ducted forced air heating/cooling system of one of my current listings in Golden.

Looking for a vendor who specializes in heat pumps? I recommend Sensible Heating & Cooling, 720-876-7166, or Helio Home, Inc., 720-460-1260.

Green Home of the Month

Jen Grauer in her kitchen

Each month we feature a different home from the 2020 Metro Denver Green Homes Tour. With 11 kW of solar panels, super-insulation, induction cooktops and ground-source heat pumps powering eight hydronic mini-splits throughout this 4-level, multi-generational home, the owners have a monthly Xcel Energy bill of $5 to $10 per month — even after charging their electric car. I learned a lot from this home! You’ll really like the sustainable design elements of the kitchen. Watch my narrated video tour at www.GreenHomeoftheMonth.com. Or click on this thumbnail:

Buyers Benefit From Having an Agent Who Knows Home Systems and Sustainability

One of the reasons I enjoy showing homes to buyers is that I get to educate them about home systems and how they work, as well as identify the sustainable and not-so-sustainable features of each home.

The agents at Golden Real Estate have a thorough understanding of home systems as a result of our combined decades of experience and hundreds of transactions. In addition, we have taken classes on energy efficiency, insulation, solar power and home construction which allow us to serve buyers better when we show them homes.

Together, for example, we toured the model homes at Richards Farms when they were under construction, where we learned, among other things, about that builder’s foam insulation process.

There are so many aspects of energy efficiency and sustainability. Everyone by now knows about solar photovoltaics — creating electricity from the sun. Our office has 20 kW of solar panels, but having solar power is only the beginning. It’s how efficiently you use that power that makes the difference.

Heating and cooling is the biggest user of energy in any home, and the number and variety of HVAC systems have become more extensive and more complicated, and we understand and can explain them. They include: gas forced air heating and compressor-based air conditioning (most common in Colorado and much of the country), hot water baseboard heat, hot water radiant floor heating, wall-mounted heating panels or strips, heat pump mini-splits for both heating and cooling, hybrid heat-pump with gas forced air (which Rita and I have in our home), ground-source heat pump for both heating and cooling (the “gold standard” of efficient heating and cooling) — and let’s not forget heating with wood or wood pellets!

Windows can vary greatly. Double-pane windows may be standard now, but a Colorado company, Alpen, has made a name for itself with triple-pane windows and now quadruple-pane windows.  Recently I wrote about John Avenson’s Westminster home, in which some of his south-facing Alpen windows have micro-etching to divert sunlight toward the ceiling of his kitchen, a high-tech alternative to reflective window shelving, which we saw when we toured a newer building at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Skylights are so 20th Century. Today’s modern replacement are sun tunnels (Solatube is a leading brand), which are great for illuminating interior rooms. Just last week I showed a home with five Solatubes in it, lighting up the living room and an interior bathroom amazingly well from the mid-day sun. My buyer didn’t realize they weren’t ceiling light fixtures until I pointed them out. (We have two sun tunnels in our home illuminating our windowless garage and laundry room, and we have four sun tunnels in the Golden Real Estate office. We don’t have to turn on any lights on sunny days!)

A knowledgeable agent can also point out passive solar features of a home, which others might not recognize. These include proper window configuration, wide overhangs above south-facing windows, thermal masses in south-facing sunrooms, and deciduous trees providing strategically positioned shade in the summer but allowing more sunlight in the winter. I like to see (and point out) cellular shades, especially vertical ones covering patio doors for cold-weather insulation.

Often I notice that the listing agent didn’t mention the features (such as the Solatubes) that my buyers and I recognize as selling points. Of course, when doing the narrated video tours of our own listings, my broker associates and I don’t miss the opportunity to point out those features. And, of course, we are sure to mention those features in the MLS listing.

Many agents miss the opportunity to write a separate description on the MLS for each individual room. It’s not a mandatory field, but it’s the best place to mention a room’s Solatube, heated floor, porcelain tile, hardwood or other feature.