Hydronic Heat Pumps with ThermalBoard …A Super Match!

Your one stop resource for hydronic heat pump information. Learn about air-to-water heat pumps, geothermal heat pumps, net zero energy, heat pump design, schematics, and top manufacturers.

Air to Water Compared to Geothermal Heat

More Efficient Heating

More Efficient Cooling

More Efficient Hot Water

Modern Heat Pumps are Insanely Efficient

The magic of refrigerant change of state, compounds effectiveness of electrical energy output.

While a high efficiency boiler may be 95% efficient, a modern hydronic heat pump can be 350-450% efficient due the magic of refrigerant changes of state and modern compressors. That means that the use of an electric hydronic heat pump can be, and often is, more cost effective than gas or oil especially when mated with solar electricity.

Energy Conservation Principle

A modern hydronic heat pump can be 250–350% more efficient than a high efficiency boiler.

Air to Water or Water to Water Geothermal

Net Zero Energy Graphic

Net Zero Energy Graphic

We are all familiar with electric air to air heat pumps which provide forced air heating and cooling…sometimes referred to as mini splits. These air-to-air heat pumps have been used for whole house and spot cooling and heating combined with a separate electric heat pump water heater providing the domestic hot water. There is a better way.

There are also more efficient air to water and geothermal heat pumps (Hydronic Heat Pumps) that generate hot and chilled water for hydronic systems plus more efficient electric domestic hot water supply. All these types of heat pumps can cut electric heating, hot water and cooling energy very significantly opening the door for being powered by reasonably sized solar systems or simply as cost-effective alternatives to propane and oil fueled systems.

In the past few years, with the development of inverter technology, air to water heat pumps can provide warm water at low ambient air temperatures, boosting their geographical range and popularity. Combined hydronic heat pump systems offer the comfort of radiant heat plus more economical hot water generation than a stand-alone heat pump water heater.

Water to Water Geothermal heat pumps can make a lot of sense in applications where land or a pond is available for a ground loop and rebate programs exist.

Hydronic heat pumps are central to any hydronic heating Net Zero Energy strategy, as solar electricity can power these systems.

Combined hydronic heat pump systems offer the comfort of radiant heat plus more economical hot water generation than a stand-alone heat pump water heater.

A Typical Diagram Of A Water Source Heat Pump

A Typical Diagram Of A Water Source Heat Pump

Hydronic Heat Pump Heating

Sizing of Air-to-Water & Geothermal Heat Pumps

Air-to-water and Geothermal heat pumps must be sized very carefully. They’re not like a gas fired boiler where the rated output is what you will get out of it. Heat pumps performance varies significantly according to either the outdoor air temperature for an air-to-water heat pump, or the ground loop temperature if using a geothermal heat pump.

Want to get a bit wonky?

Hydronic heat pumps, whether geothermal or air to water, publish rated performance in terms of COP (Coefficient of Performance) and capacity output for a given model at different outside temperatures for air-to-water heat pumps or ground loop water temperature for a geothermal system.

Performance Issues with Air-to-Water

Look at the chart below for an air to water 36,000 BTU rated heat pump. At the top, LWT is the water temperature the heat pump can generate at a given outdoor ambient temperature: The 3 ton (36,000 BTU) high efficiency heat pump below generates approximately half the capacity and half the efficiency at an outdoor air temperature of 0-degree F compared to 45 degrees F.

The lower the outdoor air temperature (or ground loop water temperature), the lower the warm water supply temperature available to the system AND the heat pump heating capacity. But, conversely, the lower the temperature water required to heat the home, the higher the heat pump capacity and efficiency.

Components of a Net Zero Energy Home

Hydronic heat pumps are central to any hydronic heating Net Zero Energy strategy.

The Thermalboard Solution

Low Temperature Heat Distribution Solution

Maximum Heating Capacity - Peak Value

Thermalboard can heat a typical space using 90F-105F water temperature for floor systems and using wall and ceiling configurations in the 80F-95F range. Look at the heating capacity chart above to see what a difference that makes for a hydronic heat pump capacity and efficiency! Thermalboard. A perfect match!

Not all radiant system distribution is equally efficient or effective for use with hydronic heat pumps. Far from it. Some types of radiant floor distribution require very high temperatures!

Low Temperature Radiant Ceiling and Wall Solutions

Thermalboard ceiling or wall systems effectively meet common room loads using 80F–95F supply water temperatures. That is efficiency and capacity to any water-to-water heat pump!

Thermalboard Eureka Radiant Heat Installed in Shower Wall Ceiling

(Right) Ceiling Installation (Left) Floor, Wall, and Ceiling Shower Stall

Air-to-water Heat Pump: Radiant & Solar Schematic

Air-to-water Heat Pump: Radiant & Solar Schematic

Thermalboard Eureka Air-to-Water Heat Pump Schematic

Air-to-water System with Separate Heating & Cooling

Thermalboard can heat a typical space using 90F-105F water temperature for floor systems.

Hydronic Heat Pump Cooling Solutions

Hydronic heat pumps can produce chilled water for cooling. The cool water can be circulated to different types of cooling distribution.

Fan Convectors for Radiant Heat

Fan Convectors

A new generation of super-efficient and quiet non ducted fan convectors are now available for cooling. These can be used for spot cooling and whole house solutions connected by PEX tubing to the mechanical room. There are many low visual impact solutions from different manufacturers. Examples: Jaga and Myson

Air Handler for Heat Pump with Radiant Heat

Air Handlers

More conventional ducted chilled water air handlers can also be used for both spot cooling, whole house air conditioning and ventilation/HRV designs.

Hydronic Heat Pump Manufacturers

Air to Water Heat Pumps

Air to Water Heat Pump Heating Design Considerations in Cold Climates

To meet the worst-case heating design load, the designer may choose supplemental heat in cold climates with either electrical or gas fired sources or over size the heat pumps using a buffer tank to reduce system cycling or use multiple heat pumps and stage them to activate according to demand. A couple of manufacturers have internal electric backup, others use buffer tanks with internal backup electric elements and others provide design solutions using gas backup to address these peak load conditions.

Heat Pump Animated Diagram

Air to Water Heat Pumps: Different Configurations

Some manufactures supply the heat pumps alone and other offer more packaged solutions with pump modules. Some include the entire heat pump and pumping module located outside and others with the condenser outside and the evaporator and pumping inside.

Some are variable speed and other on/off heat pumps. Some offer buffer and indirect hot water tanks with some having backup electric elements in the tanks.

It is often a good design practice, particularly when using multiple or intentionally oversized heat pumps to employ a buffer/separator tank.

For a wide range of information and diagrams regarding air-to-water heat pumps refer to the Caleffi Air-to-Water Heat Pump Application Guide written by John Seigenthaler or click here to view additional HSC Schematics diagrams.

Note: We do not sell heat pumps directly, but we recommend the following brands.

Closed Loop System
Open Loop System

Geothermal Heat Pump Manufacturers

The geothermal heat pump market is very mature with many geothermal heat pump manufacturers. Below is very small sampling.

For a wide range of diagrams of geothermal design schematics refer to the guides provided on this page. 

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