What is a heat pump?

In simple terms, an airothermic or aerothermic heat pump works a bit like a freezer in reverse. The unit contains a refrigerant, which absorbs heat energy from the air around it. That energy is transferred to a water/antifreeze mixture in a heat exchanger mounted inside the heat pump casing. The heated water mixture is pumped back to regulation unit and then around the house to warm it to a comfortable living temperature. The system is reversible, such that in the summer chilled water can be pumped around the system thus cooling and refreshing the rooms.

Airothermic heating


Two zones of 16mm PVC pipe on a base of 40mm foam insulation.

Aerothermic Heating

An airothermic heat pump as installed by Masters Electricite. The large bore pipes at the side carry the water/antifreeze solution to and from the regulation module.

The water solution can be circulated around the house in two ways.  One is through a network of pipes laid in the concrete floor screed below the tiles.  The second is through the use of fan-assisted ventilators positioned in a similar position to conventional radiators.  The under floor method is more appropriate in new buildings or properties undergoing major renovations.  It is particular well adapted to barn conversions, as these are traditionally designed with high ceilings and are therefore difficult to heat effectively in a conventional manner.

One of the biggest advantages of this kind of system is running cost. Based on an average new house of 130m², the annual cost of heating would be more than twice as expensive with oil and over three times the cost using propane gas. This data was drawn from 2005 prices, since then the price of oil and gas has risen dramatically further expanding the difference.

Another significant factor is the benefit to the environment. For every 1kW of energy consumed the heat pump produces 3kW. There are no by-products exhausted into the atmosphere and its principal source of energy is free: the heat contained in the surrounding air.

air con units

A modern air-conditioning system is completely reversible, i.e. it heats as well as cools. It is actually a heat pump and therefore it is a very economical way of heating your home, with the added bonus than in the summer it works the other way and thus cools it to a comfortable level. The 'air-conditioner' is an air-air heat pump. It is called that because its heat source is the ambient air in the vicinity of the outside unit. The heat energy is absorbed from the air by the refrigerant fluid contained in the unit's pipe work. This energy is carried by the fluid to the unit inside the home where it is released into the room. Both units have fans in order to draw in the ambient air and at the other end to blow the heated air gently around the room. The summer process is the exact reverse, so cooled air is blown into the room and the heat from inside the house is dispersed outside. Air-air heat pumps are not limited to the simple one outside unit and one inside unit. In a multi-split system, one outside can supply up to seven inside units, which means the whole house can be heated/cooled in the same manner. The reason for a heat pump's economy is that it increases by three times the amount of heat energy returned against the energy consumed in its operation. In effect, for every one kilowatt of electricity used to run the unit, you get three kilowatts of heat out of it. This efficiency is one of the reasons why the French government is offering tax credit on the cost of an installed heat pump, as long as the installation meets certain criteria.

If the house is your principal residence you may also benefit from a French government tax credit against the cost of the pump and regulation module.

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