Heat Pump Detection: How To Determine Your HVAC Type

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By Debarghya Roy

Do you have a heat pump in your home? If you’re not sure how to determine what type of heating and cooling system you have, don’t worry.

In this blog post, we dive into the signs that point to the presence of a heat pump in your home as well as the differences between conventional systems and heat pumps.

Key Takeaways

  • Heat pumps are an energy-efficient choice for many homeowners who utilize renewable sources such as solar or geothermal power to operate.
  • Outdoor units of heat pumps usually feature a ‘box-like’ design with several layers of insulation.
  • Homes that utilize heat pumps can often have lower than average heating bills since they use electric-powered compressors instead of fossil fuels like oil and gas.
  • Homeowners should inspect outdoor units regularly, check labels on the unit, look out for an emergency heat setting on their thermostats, and consult with HVAC professionals to confirm if a home has a heat pump installed.

Definition Of Heat Pump

A heat pump is an HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system that works to provide both heating and cooling for homes or commercial buildings. 

determine if you have a heat pump

Function Of Heat Pump

Heat pumps work by transferring thermal energy from one source of a building to another; it can cool or heat up any space.

Heat pumps are able to do this by taking advantage of the renewable energy in their environment such as outside air, water sources like ponds, or stored geothermal energy of the ground.

They make use of refrigeration principles similar to those used in refrigerators and AC units; liquid absorbs thermal energy while running through coils which then has its temperature manipulated by a compressor before being pumped into the desired location.

Types Of Heat Pumps

Air-to-Air Heat Pump

This type of heat pump uses air from the indoors and out to transfer heat, from cooling or heating your home depending on the season. It is best suited for moderate climates as it operates efficiently in temperatures between 40-90°F (4-32°C).

Water Source Heat Pump

Water source pumps draw heat from bodies of water like ponds, wells, lakes, rivers to power refrigerant inside them and then use that energy to produce hot and chilled air into a building or house. This option works best in areas with large sources of naturally running water available nearby.

Geothermal Heat Pumps

Geothermal pumps exchange energy stored within underground rocks and routes with the surface air around the area where it is located using coils buried beneath ground level. 

These are highly efficient systems that can work well all year long even during extreme summers or winters due to their stable temperatures deep below earth’s surface.

Signs That You May Have A Heat Pump

If you have both heating and cooling capabilities in your home, or if you notice an non-traditional outdoor unit that produces air of different temperatures, then these could be indications that you may have a heat pump.

Your Home Has Both Heating And Cooling Capabilities

Heat pumps are an energy-efficient choice for many homeowners because they utilize renewable sources such as solar or geothermal power to and provide both heating and cooling facilities and operate them, while still providing year-round climate control.

Furthermore, dual fuel heat pumps have even higher efficiency thanks to their combination of air sourced fuels with geothermal energy production cycles which further reduce monthly energy costs.

You Have A Non-traditional Outdoor Unit

Differentiating a modern heat pump from conventional heating and cooling systems is often as simple as looking at the outdoor unit. 

Many traditional air conditioning units have an exposed coil which can accumulate debris over time, impeding efficient operation.

But many of today’s heat pumps feature a ‘box-like’ design boasting several layers of insulation to protect both the system and its surroundings from weather elements like hail, snow and ice.

This helps prevent any unnecessary damage or loss in efficiency; not to mention keeping surrounding grasses, shrubs or other plants safe too.

Your Heating Bills Are Lower Than Expected

This technology helps homeowners reduce their winter heating bills up to $600, compared with conventional furnace systems which rely on fossil fuels like oil and gas for power.

In addition to providing significant cost savings, going green with an Energy Star rated electric heat pump can significantly reduce carbon emissions by reducing our reliance on non-renewable energy sources.

Your System Blows Cool Air During The Heating Season

One of the common issues with heat pumps is that it may blow cold air during the winter season even when its heating mode is turned on. 

  • This phenomenon often leaves homeowners perplexed as to why this could be happening.
  • The cause can depend upon a variety of factors, however one of them could be a broken compressor contactor which will require professional diagnosis and repair.
  • Additionally, duct leaks can contribute to the issue by allowing hot air in during cool mode or letting out cool air during heat mode. 

Lack Of Visible Ductwork

It can be a major indicator that a home has been retrofitted with a heat pump instead of the standard HVAC system. 

This makes them more energy efficient over time and eliminates the need for extra components like insulation or ductwork. 

Homeowners may discover they have a heat pump in their home if there is no visible evidence of any type of ducts, vents, or even registers.

To check for leaks in their air ducts, homeowners should feel around connection points such as windows or doors for air escaping from the unit

If cold/warm air is being felt then your home’s system likely isn’t functioning correctly and tight sealing must be readjusted.

How To Confirm If You Have A Heat Pump?

From checking labels and model numbers to consulting with a professional, there are many steps you can take in order to confirm if you have a heat pump.

Inspect The Outdoor Unit

When trying to confirm whether or not one has a heat pump, the outdoor unit is an important place to look. 

It is typically larger than an air conditioning (AC) unit and it will have two large copper pipes that run from the ground up into the house usually through a wall.

Heat pumps generally have non-traditional looking outdoor units with distinctively shaped panels designed to gather warmth in winter and transfer coolness during summertime.

Checks of these components should be done regularly by someone trained in HVAC systems for safety reasons as heat pumps operate on voltage higher than standard household outlets.

Check The Labels On The Unit

Checking the labels on an outdoor condenser unit is a straightforward and reliable way to confirm if there is a heat pump or air conditioner installed in your home. 

The label will provide you with details such as brand, serial number, model number, size of equipment, circuits used for electrical connection, refrigerant type/quantity charged and other important details.

It’s also possible to further research the model numbers online to ascertain more specific information about what kind of system it might be: traditional A/C systems versus heat pumps that offer both heating and cooling capabilities.

Look For Emergency Heat Setting On The Thermostat

Finding the emergency heat setting on your thermostat is one important way to identify whether or not you have a heat pump. 

An emergency heat setting bypasses the function of the outdoor unit and allows your air handler to provide heating directly.

It is incredibly important for any homeowner with a heat pump system to properly connect it to their thermostat because bypassing it can lead to costly repairs when something fails during extreme temperatures in both summer and winter seasons.

Checking for an emergency button or look settings on your Nest Learning Thermostat could be especially helpful as this model doesn’t always indicate power settings due to its energy efficient status.

Check If The Unit Has A Defrost Cycle

Heat pumps have a special defrost cycle which is an important function as it removes frost from the outdoor coil to ensure proper operation. 

To identify that your unit has a defrost cycle, you can look for certain signs, there should be an outdoor coil and during the defrost cycle, the indoor fan typically stops and the indicator light may blink while the outdoor fan continues running until all frozen areas on coils have melted off.

See If The Unit Produces Both Warm And Cold Air

A heat pump is a dual purpose climate control system that provides both cooling and heating. 

Heat pumps also employ reversing valves which enable them to alternate between warming up and cooling down functions depending upon user demand thus becoming ideal all season comfort appliances for moderately temperate climates.

Check Your Thermostat Settings

Heat pump owners should regularly check their thermostat settings to ensure their heat pump is operating as expected. 

The thermostat communicates with your heat pump and tells it the temperature that needs to be maintained in a room or home.

When checking and adjusting your thermostat settings take note of any emergency-heat mode, fan control settings or other programmable functionalities that might be present on your device.

Check The Model Number

Knowing the model number of your heat pump system is key to understanding its specifications and receiving proper maintenance and repairs. 

To locate the model number on a heat pump, you need to look for a metal plate or label attached to the exterior part of the unit.

The label should provide all relevant information, such as make and/or brand, serial number, BTU rating (British Thermal Unit), Volts & Amperes consumed by motor amongst other information required for troubleshooting purposes.

All this provides valuable insight into any service needed in order to identify potential issues with your system quicker and help diagnose any problems more efficiently.

Be aware that not all manufacturers clearly list their name or logo on their machines so sometimes it might take some research online to find out who made them. 

Additionally, if you find an odd-looking switch next to either inside or outside terminal cabinet within a range of 0 – 30 Amps switch contactors then that’s likely used in an emergency fan shut off circuit.

Consult With An HVAC Professional

Knowing whether you have a heat pump or not is important for making sure the system works optimally and efficiently. 

Incorrectly identifying your HVAC system can lead to improper maintenance or faulty repairs, which can be expensive and inconvenient down the road.

Consulting with an HVAC professional is highly recommended in order to correctly confirm if you have a heat pump, as they are experienced in identifying types of systems and will know what to look out for when assessing the installation.

Professional HVAC technicians also understand timings on resolving issues, so they’re best placed to provide a timely assessment of any problems.

Energy Efficiency Of Heat Pump

Heat pumps are a highly efficient and eco-friendly alternative to traditional heating and cooling systems. 

  • They offer better energy efficiency due to their ability to move warm air inside during winter, while in summer they use the same principle but with reverse components so that cold air is pumped indoors.
  • Additionally, heat pumps can operate more efficiently than conventional systems: An air source heat pump’s efficiency ranges from 175 to 300 percent.
  • While a geothermal heat pump’s efficiency can range from an impressive 300 up to 600 percent.
  • This means that a much smaller amount of electricity is required for them to produce the same amount of temperature as other furnaces or ACs would need.

Cost Of Heat Pump

When considering an upgrade to a heat pump, cost is a major factor. The size of the unit, type of energy efficiency rating and any installation costs are all important factors that will affect the total cost.

Generally speaking, homeowners can expect to pay somewhere between $4,133 and $7,294 for a midrange heat pump not including any installation costs.

Maintenance Requirements Of Heat Pump

Regular maintenance of a heat pump system is essential for ensuring peak efficiency and preventing potential costly repairs or problems in the future. 

It is recommended that heat pumps be serviced by a professional at least twice per year, once in spring and once in fall before the heating season begins.

During these check-ups, technicians inspect components of your system such as filters, belts, compressors and fan motors to ensure everything is working properly. 

This can help identify minor issues early on that could turn into bigger ones if not repaired right away.

Other tasks during maintenance may include checking refrigerant levels, cleaning debris from coils and unit covers, lubricating moving parts as needed among other specialized HVAC specific tasks.


How do I know if I have a heat pump installed in my home?

The easiest way to identify whether you have a heat pump is by looking for the outdoor unit, which typically looks like an air-conditioning unit and is located on the outside of your house. 

Additionally, they can be identified by their distinctive humming noise when in use and may also include a thermostat inside your home.

What advantages does having a heat pump provide me with?

Heat pumps are energy efficient and cost effective as they require less electricity or fuel compared to other heating systems. 

They can also help reduce carbon emissions as they rely on renewable energy sources such as solar power or natural ground temperatures instead of burning non-renewable fuels like oil or gas.


Heat pumps can offer a great way to keep your home or apartment at a comfortable temperature while being energy efficient and requiring very little maintenance. If you observe signs such as low heating bills, non-traditional outdoor units, or the lack of visible ductwork in your home, these may be indications that you have a heat pump system.

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