What’s the Difference – Heat Pump vs. Air Conditioner

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6 Nov
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Your HVAC system may be one of the most valuable parts of your house. It’s the very thing that keeps your house comfortable year-round, through any season. Whether you have sweltering summers or blisteringly cold winters, you can always rely on your air conditioner or heating unit to keep your space at the perfect, most comfortable temperature. 

For something that you use almost every day, year-round, how much do you know about your air conditioner and heating unit? Do you know how it works to keep your house cold or warm?

Don’t feel bad if you don’t know how to answer that question. Like many pieces of technology in our lives, most people don’t consider the inner workings of these devices and how they do what they do best. 

“A question that we get quite often is “what are the differences between an air conditioner and a heat pump?” 

“Are they, in fact, the same thing?” 

“What kind of unit do I have at my space and how do I tell?”

Let’s take a look at some of the key differences between heat pumps and air conditioners. 

Air Conditioners

Let’s first take a look at how your conventional air conditioner works. As simple as the idea of an air conditioner might sound, there are some common misconceptions about how an air conditioning unit works to keep your house cool. 

Your standard air conditioner is designed to take in warm air from the outside of your house or the building that it is attached to. It pulls that air into its condensing unit, where the refrigerant in your air conditioning unit cools it down. After cooling the air, it pumps that cool air back through the ventilation system in your area. You could think of this as a two-stage process of cooling your space by pulling the warm air out, cooling that air, and recirculating that cooler air in your area. In terms of structure, your AC unit’s air condenser is located inside of your area, and the compressor can be found on the outside of your room. 

Since the air conditioning unit itself can only blow cold air into your area, homes with their own AC systems need to have a separate furnace or heating unit that will heat your house, keeping it warm and comfortable during the cold days of fall and the frigid winter months of the year. 

Heat Pumps

Think of the heat pump as a type of combination unit. It uses something that we refer to as reversible technology to circulate heat or air, depending on the season that you are using it in. 

When it is hot outside during the late spring and summer, heat pumps can work just like your standard air conditioning unit. They pull hot air from inside of your space, cool it down, and then circulate it back through your house to make it cool and comfortable. With a name like “heat pump” most wouldn’t expect that it could also cool your house down. 

What about heating your house during the cooler months of the year?

Heat pumps work well in the winter by drawing in the outside air and the ambient heat energy available in it to heat up your area. 

Are There Advantages to One Over the Other?

Now that you have a better idea of how heat pumps and standard air conditioning units work, let’s take a look at some of the details. Does one of them offer distinct advantages that the other doesn’t?

Advantages and Disadvantages of Air Conditioning Units

Largely, we tend to see that air conditioning units have a longer viable working life than heat pumps. The main reason is that you only run your air conditioning unit for about half of the year, depending on where you live, which almost doubles the viable amount of use that you can get out of your air conditioning unit before it needs to be repaired or replaced. 

Because they are simpler in design than heat pumps, AC units are also more affordable and cheaper to install than their heat pump counterparts. 

If you do just have an AC unit, you will need a separate heating unit or furnace to heat your area during the winter months. A drawback of AC units is that they can be expensive, depending on the area that you live in and the cost of electricity. AC units need a lot of power to be able to cool and circulate air. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Heat Pumps

One of the best aspects of heat pumps is that they are incredibly energy efficient. Since they work to transfer ambient heat from the outside of your house to the inside of your house, the heat pump doesn’t have to work as hard as other heating units to heat the air. 

As you may have gathered, another great aspect of using a heat pump is that it is an all-in-one solution. This saves some space and keeps all of your heating and cooling needs into one compact device. This also makes it easier when or if you need maintenance done on your unit. 

However, there are some clear disadvantages to having a heat pump. Since they do pull ambient heat from the cold outside air to heat your area, heat pumps aren’t nearly as effective in brutally cold climates. They are far better in parts of the country that have moderate or light winters. Since the technology on them is more compact and advanced, the units themselves, as well as the installation, can be substantially more expensive than AC units. Heat pumps also wear out and burn out faster than AC units. Since you are using the same unit, year-round, their components can suffer wear and tear much more quickly. 

Maintaining your AC Unit or Heat Pump

If you have more questions about maintaining your AC unit or heat pump or installing a new unit in your area, contact our experts at Preferred Climate Solutions today.

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