History Lesson: Mini Split Heat Pumps in Denver and the United States

Today, most Denver (and really, all US) homes have standard heating and cooling systems. Not too long ago, things were quite different! Although 87% of homes today have air conditioners, that was not the case before the late 1960’s. Your parents and grandparents most likely grew up without the luxury of air conditioning. The modern world makes indoor comfort much easier to achieve.

Now, heaters/furnaces are a different story. We all know early humans used campfires for warmth almost 1 million years ago. As dwellings have evolved, so have the standard methods of heating. We’ve moved from campfires to fireplaces to fossil-fuel-burning furnaces to traditional heat pumps to the energy-efficient, all-climate heat pumps of today, able to provide heating and air conditioning all year long! Wow!

So, what’s the history of the modern heat pump? A you might also be wondering, can a heat pump work in Denver, CO?

A Tale of Modern Heat Pumps

To understand how we’ve reached the energy-saving technology in our homes today, let’s look at the earliest heat pumps.

The original heat pump system is credited to Austrian scientist Peter von Rittinger, who pioneered the technology in the 1850s. His heat pump applied the same basic concept as today’s heat pumps: heat absorbed from air, water or the ground is transferred indoors to heat a space, and heat absorbed from indoor air is transferred outdoors to provide air conditioning. They actually used this early technology in salt mines also.

In 1928, von Rittinger’s heat pump was first used for space heating in Geneva, Switzerland via a water-source system. As the pioneers in energy technology, the Swiss get credit for being the first to mass produce heat pumps, with numerous companies jumping on the bandwagon. The original heat pump system installed in Zurich’s city hall in 1937 was used until 2001 — talk about some long-lasting technology!

By the mid 1940s, heat pumps were becoming more prevalent. An American inventor, Robert C. Webber, experimented with the technology and created the first functioning ground-source heat pump system. They started getting attention as an option for American homes in the 1950s and 60s and gained ground when the 1970s oil crisis spotlighted the benefits of using electricity over fossil fuels.

Efficient Heat pumps are the Star of the Show

Conventional heat pumps run at full capacity and power regardless of environmental conditions and typically overshoot the set point or desired temperature. This lack of accuracy causes conventional heat pumps to waste energy by cycling on and off as the indoor temperature drifts above and below the set point.Heat pumps could get by with this kind of performance in the 1990s, when the Department of Energy set minimums for HVAC products’ seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) and heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF) at 10 and just under 7, respectively. But as US homeowners began to grow progressively energy-conscious in recent decades, and the DoE continuously raised efficiency standards, demand grew for more efficient heat pump technology.

Fortunately, Japan had already begun work on a solution, where a combination of population density and increased energy costs had prompted engineers to design more energy-efficient buildings, appliances and systems. Japanese engineers developed the first inverter-driven compressors. Heat pumps with inverter-driven compressors save energy by running continuously and ramping capacity up and down as needed. Thus, the variable-capacity heat pump was born!

A HERO Emerges

By adjusting capacity based on real-time comfort requirements, variable-capacity systems maintain set points consistently while only using minimal electricity. After decades of successful adoption in Japan and gradual expansion overseas, Mitsubishi Electric brought variable-capacity heat pumps to the U.S. in 2001.This introduction revolutionized the American heating and air-conditioning industry. Still today, variable-capacity systems continue to gain attention as we navigate an increasingly energy-conscious world.

The variable-capacity heat pump technology available today is a testament to how far heat pumps have come since their humble beginnings. Denver homeowners enjoy exceptional comfort; environment-friendly, all-electric function; reliable performance in all climates and reduced energy consumption by up to 40 percent compared to conventional heat pump systems.

We know that isn’t the end of the story but can’t wait to see what the future holds for heat pumps in Denver, CO! DALCO Heating & Air Conditioning are your Denver area heat pump experts. We were even featured on CBS as the local experts in the area. Call us today or start a quote online today!

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