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Heat Pump Vs Air Conditioner: What’s the Difference?

Heat Pump Vs Air Conditioner: What’s the Difference?

In your quest to purchase a new HVAC system, navigating the subtle differences between a heat pump and an air conditioner is crucial for securing the best value. In this article, we’ll help you make an informed decision about which system is right for your home by highlighting the differences between heat pumps and air conditioners and shedding light on their features and functionalities.

What is a heat pump and how does it work?

Heat pumps efficiently transfer heat from one location to another, delivering hot or cool air indoors based on your thermostat settings. Powered by electricity and using technology similar to a refrigerator or an air conditioner, heat pumps use refrigerants to condition the air in your home. The heat is adjusted through thermal exchange, amplified, and then distributed to where it’s needed. A reversing valve on the outdoor unit enables the system to function in reverse, providing heating and cooling capabilities.
There are three types of heat pumps, using different heat transfer methods:

  • Air-source heat pumps
  • Water-source heat pumps
  • Geothermal heat pumps

Heat pumps, known for their high efficiency and year-round temperature control capabilities, have been around for years. However, they’re gaining popularity amongst homeowners due to advancements that have made them suitable for a wider range of climates.

Source: Energy.gov

What is an air conditioner and how does it work?

A central air conditioner, powered by electricity, manages indoor temperature, humidity, and air quality, but only provides cooling. It works by drawing warm air through ducts using the fan in your furnace or handler. Heat and humidity are removed as it passes over the evaporator coil. This leaves you with cooler, drier air inside, while the excess warm, humid air is sent outside.

Source: U.S. Department of Energy – Energy Saver 101 Infographic

How are heat pumps and air conditioners similar?

When searching for an HVAC system to cool your home, a heat pump or an air conditioner can effectively meet your needs. Not only do they look nearly identical to the average person, but they also operate under the same principles—efficiently removing hot and humid air.
Despite a few technical details, such as versatility, there aren’t any significant differences in operation, efficiency, or energy costs when operating in cooling mode.

How are heat pumps and air conditioners different?

  • Operation
    The primary difference is that a heat pump can heat and cool, but an air conditioner cannot.

Unlike an air conditioner, an outdoor heat pump can provide heating in the winter. When temperatures drop significantly, most conventional heat pump systems require a backup heat source such as electric resistance coils in the indoor unit. However, thanks to significant technological advancements, brands like Mitsubishi Electric Cooling & Heating can provide full heating capacity for temperatures as low as -13 degrees Fahrenheit.

However, if you’d prefer to keep your current gas furnace but still want to benefit from a heat pump, there’s the option to add a furnace to create a dual-fuel or hybrid system. This allows the heat pump to serve as the primary heat source, switching to the furnace when needed.
On the other hand, an air conditioner is usually combined with a furnace to supply heat in the colder months. Together, they form a complete heating and cooling system.

  • Initial costs to purchase and install

Installing a heat pump, including equipment and labor, typically results in a slightly higher upfront cost. However, because it costs less to operate in heating mode, most homeowners recover this investment within the first five years. Afterward, those savings go straight into your pocket.

Opting for a traditional furnace and A/C system still appeals to many homeowners and typically costs less to install. However, with increasing oil prices and government efforts to encourage the transition to all-electric systems, it’s only a matter of time before these systems become obsolete.

When choosing the best system for your needs, consider not just the upfront cost, but also your long-term energy savings and environmental impact before making a decision.

  • Energy efficiency and cost to operate

Whenever you’re looking to make an HVAC purchase, check these two ratings first:

    • SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio and rates the efficiency of cooling units.
    • HSPF stands for Heating Seasonal Performance Factor and rates heat pumps’ efficiency at warming a space.

SEER and HSPF ratings are like miles per gallon for a car. They give you an efficiency standard so you can compare different models. The higher the rating, the more efficient the unit. The more efficient the unit, the more money you’ll save.

Today’s all-electric heat pumps are a lot different than their predecessors. Thanks to manufacturers like Mitsubishi and their Hyper Heat technology, heat pumps are able to perform efficiently in cold and warm climates, making them an excellent choice regardless of your climate. Choosing a multi-zone heat pump system can customize temperatures for different areas of your home. This ensures that unused rooms or differing comfort preferences are addressed without overspending on energy bills.

Both heat pumps and air conditioners offer energy-efficient cooling through models equipped with high SEER ratings in cooling mode. If you want a higher efficiency model, check that the system you purchase is ENERGY STAR® certified, as it may qualify for the 2024 federal HVAC tax credits.

  • Longevity

Heat pumps, which operate year-round and are more versatile, tend to have a shorter lifespan, on average 15 years. Air conditioning units, designed only for cooling and thus relying on a separate heating source in colder months, can last up to 20 years.

It’s important to note that factors such as where you live, wear and tear, and yearly scheduled maintenance of your heat pump or A/C unit can all affect your system’s lifespan.

Chart displaying heat pumps vs air conditioners
 

Which system is best for you?

Spurk HVAC works with reputable brands like Mitsubishi Electric, American Standard, and Rheem, demonstrating our dedication to providing premier products and the most efficient HVAC systems in our industry. As holders of the Mitsubishi Diamond Elite Contractor status, our team receives rigorous training to consistently deliver outstanding results and customer service for each project.

Before upgrading or installing a new HVAC system, it is important to consider the following:

  • Home layout, square footage, and insulation efficiency.
  • Consider your climate & its impact on efficiency.
  • Review your options.
  • Explore the manufacturers and their products.
  • Determine the proper sized unit for your space.
  • Learn about the 2024 Federal HVAC Tax Credits.

Relying on an experienced HVAC professional to evaluate your home is the best approach. The Spurk HVAC team will consider all factors and provide you with the information you need to make an educated decision.

About Spurk HVAC

Spurk HVAC was formed in 2018 and is located in Warrendale, Pennsylvania. We proudly serve Cranberry Township, Wexford, Gibsonia, Mars, and the surrounding areas.
We service Mitsubishi Electric, American Standard, Trane, Carrier, Bryant, Rheem, Lennox, Goodman, Rudd, Daikin, and more. Contact us if you are seeking heating repair, heating system replacement, air conditioner repair, air conditioning maintenance, air conditioning replacement, or any other heating & cooling services. Whether you are looking for residential or commercial HVAC services, we look forward to any and all opportunities to become your preferred HVAC contractor.

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Spurk HVAC

Spurk HVAC

Spurk HVAC was formed in 2018 and is located in Warrendale, Pennsylvania. The combined experience of Dale and Jason, along with the desire to build a respectable, family owned business our community can rely on, are the driving factors behind the formation of Spurk HVAC.
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