Heat Pumps vs. Air Conditioners
Which one is Better?

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Compare heat pumps vs. air conditioners and find which type comes with better features, benefits and prices, and explore its advantages and disadvantages.

There are several ways you can go about getting your house to a comfortable climate control. A heat pump can serve dual duty; heating and cooling a home, while an air conditioner provides steady cooling. And that is the main difference. Depending on your particular needs, the right HVAC unit may vary.

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The difference in operation

Air conditioner

An air conditioner works similar to the refrigerator; it absorbs the heat from the indoor air, moves it over the AC heat exchanger coil where it gets transferred to the refrigerant inside the coils, the refrigerant gets compressed and expands resulting in the cooling operation. The cooled air is then pushed into the house by fans in the furnace, air handler or other fans such as those in the room window type, mini-split or portable floor standing AC.

Heat pump

In the cooling mode, the heat pump works the same as the AC, by removing the heat from inside of the home and rejecting it outside, resulting in the cooler environment, while in the heating mode, which exists only in heat pumps, the unit gets the heat from the outside air, water or ground and moves it inside for further heating.

Thanks to its ability to reverse the operation (by using the reverse valve), this type of the HVAC units can provide a pleasant year-round climate control, while AC cannot.

As the AC, the heat pump can also be used for the whole-house temperature control or local, as the mini-split, window type unit, also known as ductless, or portable type. The type that is used for water heating is called the heat pump water heater, an electric unit that also dehumidifies the surrounding area.

Cost of operation

Heat pump

No matter which type of cooling product you buy, your costs will be higher when you buy the most efficient models on the market (but the operation cost will be lower). The amount of usage will determine which model makes the most sense for you.

The heat pumps are more costly to buy up front, ranging in the price from $4,000 - $7,000 usually, but they often cost much less to run each month as they move the air rather than creating the heat.

Air conditioner

The AC can be more expensive to operate on a regular basis because they are drawing electricity while in operation in order to move the air and cool it. However, air conditioners are cheaper to buy by nearly $1,000 on average over comparable capacity heat pumps.


Heat pump

Depending on the location where you live, a heat pump may be all you need for the ideal home climate, as it does both heating in winter and cooling in summer. These are best for moderate climates where temperatures stay above 40 degrees in the winter and don’t get too hot in the summer.

Heat pumps are great because they are two units in one and will save you money on purchasing the equipment. They also heat your home without producing a lot of pollutants in the combustion process like a gas furnace does. Heat pumps can be sufficient as the single heating unit or can be combined with other devices to help increase the efficiency.

Heat pumps are also designed to heat an indoor air or water by using the constant temperature from the ground or pond and heat your home gently without drawing a lot of electricity. And they pull the hot air out of your house in the summer, cooling your home without using a lot of refrigerant in the process and without overdrying the air.

With the geothermal set up you will have a phenomenal efficiency and almost no fuel cost, plus a safe HVAC system, as they are safer than gas appliances because there is no combustible gas and no flame.

Air conditioner

An air conditioner is the best choice for hot areas of the country (southern regions) that experience long term heat each summer (Florida, California). If you live in an area with hot summers and moderate winters that don’t require much heating, a heat pump is not the best option. Because air conditioners actually inject cooled air into your house or apartment, they are able to combat really high temperatures better.


Heat pump

When you live in areas where the summers are very hot or the winters quite cold, most heat pumps are not equipped to be able to handle the extremes, so you may need a backup system. You are better off getting separate heating and cooling units to handle the temperature swings.

Heat pumps are also more expensive to purchase up front, and due to its complexity they require a technician for installation, so they are not ideal for do-it-yourselfers home project.

Air conditioner

The main disadvantages of the AC are the high energy consumption rate, lower efficiency and less flexibility.

What next?

The only way to truly know which HVAC unit type will be the best for you is to consult with an expert who will evaluate your home and your budget.  Then, you might have an answer when comparing heat pump vs. air conditioner, and you can confidently purchase the right device, be it a heat pump or air conditioner, which will give you pleasant heating and cooling for years to come.

Simply stated, when comparing heat pump vs. air conditioner, the heat pump is the same as an air conditioner when cooling the house in the summer; but heat pump has an additional operation during the winter - it provides an energy efficient heating.

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