If you know how air conditioners work, you already know a little about how heat pumps work.

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When you think about cooling a hot building, you probably don't think of heat pumps. In fact, the words "air conditioner" are likely the first things that come to your head unless you're tight with your pennies. Then you might go with "window fans." As it turns out, a heat pump can both heat and cool, and in some applications, it's preferred to separate heating and cooling systems.

Simply put, a heat pump is a device that uses a small amount of energy to move heat from one location to another. Not too difficult, right? Heat pumps are typically used to pull heat out of the air or ground to heat a home or office building, but they can be reversed to cool a building. In a way, if you know how an air conditioner works, then you already know a lot about how a heat pump works. This is because heat pumps and air conditioners operate in a very similar way.

One of the biggest advantages of a heat pump over a standard heating ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) unit is that there's no need to install separate systems to heat and cool your home. Heat pumps also work extremely efficiently, because they simply transfer heat, rather than burn fuel to create it. This makes them a little more green than a gas-burning furnace. And they don't just heat and cool buildings. If you've ever enjoyed a hot tub or heated swimming pool, then you probably have a heat pump to thank. They work best in moderate climates, so if you don't experience extreme heat and cold in your neck of the woods, then using a heat pump instead of a furnace and air conditioner could help you save a little money each month.

Read on to get a glimpse of the innards of a heat pump.