What Does a Heat Pump Look Like? How to Know if you have one (The BEST Answer!)

A heat pump is a versatile and energy-efficient method of heating and cooling your home. This explains why it has spread rapidly throughout the United States despite being slightly costly.

However, the shapes of heat pumps vary depending on a variety of factors. So it can be confusing if you’re thinking about installing one or want to know if you already have one in your new home. Which leads us to the question, “What does a heat pump look like?”


In this article, we’ll cover the main components of a heat pump as well as their various shapes. We’ll also tell you how to tell an AC unit from a heat pump unit, so here we go!

What Are the Components of a Heat Pump System?

First of all, let’s go over the major components of a heat pump system. A typical heat pump has two main components: an outdoor unit and an indoor unit.

Outdoor Unit

This is where the magic happens! The compressor in the outdoor unit aids in the circulation of heat between the outdoor and indoor units.

Simply put, it’s made up of a fan and a coil. If you set the coil to cool, it’ll function as a condenser; it’ll act as an evaporator if you set it to heat. In either case, the fan works by drawing in fresh air from outside and directing it to the coil.

That being said, you’ll find the outdoor unit installed outside of your building in a well-ventilated location to ensure adequate air supply. It resembles the unit of a central AC. It’ll also most likely be close to the ground, making it easier to access when performing maintenance.

Indoor Unit

The indoor unit, also known as an air handler, is located inside your home. It’s linked to the outdoor unit by refrigerant tubing that is no more than 50 feet long. This is the ideal length for maintaining proper connectivity and allowing both units to function properly.

The air handler is installed either on the ceiling, wall, or floor of your home.

What Does a Heat Pump Look Like?

Depending on the type of heat pump you have, the outdoor unit can take various forms. The shape of air handlers can also vary depending on where they’re positioned in your home.

Types of Outdoor Heat Pumps

We’ll begin by explaining two of the most common types of heat pumps and how their outdoor units should look:

Air-Source Heat Pumps

The air-source heat pumps work by exchanging heat between the outside air and the air in your home. This type of heat pump can be ductless mini-split heat pumps or ducted heat pumps.

Ductless mini-split heat pumps: A ductless heat pump system is ideal for homes without ductwork.

One of its benefits is that you can customize your room’s heating system without affecting the temperature of other air handlers.

Ducted heat pumps: These work best for homes with existing ductwork. It improves air circulation from outside to inside your home via air ducts.

An air-source heat pump’s outdoor unit resembles a standard external AC unit. It’s usually a white-painted metal box with a visible fan on the outside.

Geothermal Heat Pumps

Each year, approximately 50,000 geothermal heat pumps are installed in the United States. However, the outdoor unit of this type of heat pump won’t be visible to you.

Geothermal heat pumps obtain heat from renewable energy from the earth’s core or from a water source. Thus, the outdoor unit for this heating system is installed underground, usually in the backyard. A hole is dug in the ground to obtain this heat.

Regardless of the weather outside, this type of heat pump will always deliver the desired temperature to your home, whether it’s set to heat or cool.

These can be installed for a house and a whole block. The latter systems are larger but allow people to share the installation costs.

Types of Air Handlers (indoor units)

We’ve compiled a list of three of the most widely used air handlers so you’re familiar with them all:

Wall-Mounted Air Handler

This air handler is mounted on the top of your home’s wall. It protrudes from the wall and resembles an AC unit.

Floor-Mounted Air Handler

This unit, like the wall-mounted unit, protrudes from the wall but at a lower level closer to the ground.

Ceiling-Mounted Air Handler

Ceiling-mounted units are perfect for those who prefer a more seamless look. When there’s no ductwork, this unit is known as a ductless ceiling cassette.

It resembles vent ducts but is larger in size and doesn’t need to be connected to central air systems.

How to Differentiate Between an AC and a Heat Pump

Both units function differently, but an AC looks a lot like an air-source heat pump. If you’re about to rent a new place or have recently moved in, you might face the dilemma of telling them apart.

Here’s how you can tell if you have an AC or a heat pump:

Outdoor Unit Noise

Turn on the heating system from the thermostat. Then, go outside and check to see if the outdoor unit is making any noises or blowing air. If it does make a noise, you most likely have a heat pump, as an AC unit only works on the cooling system.

Search for Label Stickers

To double-check, look at the label stickers that are placed on the outdoor unit. There are two quick tests you can perform. The first is to locate the model number and the brand name, then look them up on the internet.

The second test is to read the energy guide label sticker, which is usually yellow. If you see two ratings on this sticker that go under SEER and HSPF, you have a heat pump.

Check Your Thermostat

In your thermostat, look for an emergency button or setting, which is sometimes labeled “Em.” If you have a digital thermostat, you’ll see this feature displayed on the screen.

Heat pumps have an emergency setting that allows the unit to operate on an alternate heating source if something goes wrong. This feature isn’t available in an AC.

All in All

What does a heat pump look like, then? That’s determined by the type of heat pump system and the air handler installed in your home. We believe that now you’re familiar with most of its types and shapes, so you’re prepared to spot one.

When in doubt, simply follow the steps above for a quick investigation, and it’ll guide you to the right answer.

We have discussed the difference between air handlers and heat pumps here.