How Does A Heat Pump Work In Winter? Ultimate Guide

We are getting towards the end of the summer, and it’ll be chilly out before you know it. One of the best ways to heat a home efficiently is with a heat pump, but we are often asked: How does a heat pump work in winter?

If you want to know a little more about how heat pumps work, this guide is for you. We dive deep into the mechanisms of how these devices function, debunk some myths and misinformation, and explore ways to maximize a heat pump’s performance during winter.

I’ve been working in the HVAC industry for years, and worked as a mechanical engineer as well. Between real-life experience, training, and certifications, I have a lot of knowledge about heat pumps, and how they function. They are one of the best ways to heat and cool a home efficiently.

Heat Transfer: Getting Warmth From Cold Air

The primary function of a heat pump is to transfer heat from one location to another. Even during winter, when the air feels cold, there’s still heat energy present. A heat pump can grab this small bit of latent heat. It extracts warmth from the cold air outside and transfers it indoors, warming up your living space.

To do this, heat pumps use a refrigerant that circulates between the indoor and outdoor units. When the refrigerant absorbs heat from the outside air, it evaporates and transforms into a gas. As it moves into the indoor unit, it’s compressed, releasing the captured heat, which is then used to warm the air inside your home.

Read More: Installing A Ductless Mini Split Heat Pump In Brevard, NC

Most traditional heating systems use fuel, normally oil or gas, to combust and create heat. This can become expensive if those fuel sources rise in price. It can also be more wasteful, and less environmentally friendly than using electricity. Just like you are seeing more and more electric cars on the road to avoid gas consumption, people are also switching to electric heating.

Defrost Cycle

During cold weather, frost can accumulate on the heat pump’s outdoor coils. When this happens, the heat pump temporarily switches to a “defrost cycle.” In this mode, it momentarily reverses operation to send warm air outside, melting the frost. Once the frost is cleared, the heat pump resumes its regular heating operation.

Winter Performance: How Heat Pumps Work in Cold Weather

There’s a common misconception that heat pumps are ineffective in extreme cold. However, with advancements in technology, modern heat pumps can function efficiently even in sub-zero temperatures.

Just as we said earlier, the heat pump extracts the small bit of warmth in the air when it’s cold, and uses it to create more heat in your home. Years ago, heat pumps couldn’t operate in extremely cold weather, because the technology wasn’t advanced enough to get to that small bit of heat. Now, they work in temperatures up to -13 degrees, not something we see much of in North or South Carolina.

Ducted Vs. Ductless Mini Splits

The efficiency of a heat pump in winter often depends on its type. Ducted systems rely on ducts to distribute warm air throughout a home, whereas ductless mini-splits deliver direct heating to specific rooms or zones. Ductless systems can often provide more consistent and immediate warmth, especially in spaces without existing ductwork.

Debunking Heat Pump Myths

Some people hear heat pump and have pre-conceived thoughts about how well it works, and if it’s right for them. Here are a few myths and misconceptions about heat pumps, and the truth behind them!

Myth: Heat Pumps Cost More To Run Than Gas Furnaces


When comparing operating costs, heat pumps are typically more energy efficient than traditional heating systems in most climates. Their efficiency allows homeowners to enjoy comfortable warmth without a significant spike in their energy bills.

Myth: Heat Pumps Can’t Keep a House Warm All Winter


With advancements in heat pump technology, they are now designed to provide sufficient heating throughout the winter, even in very cold climates. Pairing a heat pump with a backup heating source, such as a furnace, can also ensure uninterrupted comfort.

Tips For Great Heat Pump Performance In Winter

Here are a few things you can do to help your heat pump work as well as possible during the winter, but you can also apply these to the summer for cooling as well.

Keep The Outdoor Unit Clean

Snow, leaves, and other debris can obstruct the airflow of your heat pump’s outdoor unit. Regularly inspect and clear any blockages to ensure optimal efficiency. In the summer, make sure no sticks or leaves get into the system either.

Get A Fall Tune-Up

A professional tune-up before winter can help your heat pump operate at its best. Technicians can spot potential issues, clean essential components, and ensure the system is ready for cold weather. This helps keep your system energy efficient, lengthens its lifespan, and prevents breakdowns and repairs from being needed.

If you are looking for help with a heat pump or mini split installation for Brevard, NC homes and businesses, we are the experts. Give Blue Ridge a call at (864) 485-6509 in SC, or (828) 415-3335 in NC and we will get you taken care of!


Here are some of the most frequently asked questions we get about heat pumps.

Can one heat pump heat a whole house?

Yes, one heat pump can heat an entire home, especially when using a ducted system. However, the effectiveness depends on the size of the heat pump and the layout and insulation of the house.

Will a heat pump warm my house in winter?

Absolutely! Heat pumps are designed to provide warmth in winter by extracting latent heat from the outside air and transferring it indoors.

Is it OK for a heat pump to run all night?

Yes, it’s normal for heat pumps to run continuously, especially during extreme cold. They’re designed to maintain a consistent temperature, so they operate differently than traditional furnaces that cycle on and off.