Heat Pump VS Air Conditioner

There are two houses battling the Heat Pump vs Air Conditioner debate.  House A has a heat pump....and House B an air conditioner and furnace.

If House A was on one side of a "heating and cooling Tug-Of-War" and House B was on the other side.....who would win?

This is a classic battle of Heat Pump vs Air Conditioner.

What makes this question ever more difficult to answer....

Below we find two pictures; one of a Trane heat pump and the other is a Trane air conditioner.

Can you tell the difference between the two?

One is a heat pump and the other is an air conditioner.  But to tell them apart by looking at them is very difficult.

In order to answer the Heat Pump vs Air Conditioner debate we must first discuss the differences between the two.

The Difference Between Heat Pumps and Air Conditioners

When the heat pump is in cooling mode (summer), there is no functional difference between a heat pump and an air conditioner.

However.....go outside during the summer and feel the air that is blowing from the outside unit.  

Is it warmer or colder than the outside air?

It's warmer.  The air conditioner is taking heat from inside the house (by means of the refrigerant in the piping) and rejecting it outside....thereby cooling the air in the house.

How an air conditioner works

So now here is what we have been waiting for......

What makes a heat pump different from an air conditioner is that a heat pump can be reversed.

By means of a device known as a reversing valve, the heat pump is able to reverse the flow of refrigerant.

What does this do?

Essentially, it exchanges the outside unit with the inside unit and vice versa.

So now....while in heating mode.....the inside unit is now blowing warm air while the outside unit is blowing cold air.

Heat Pump Vs Air Conditioner - The Pros and the Cons

We must get one thing straight....

During the summer, the heat pump and the air conditioner are virtually the same thing.

No difference in money savings.

No difference in operation.

So when we compare the heat pump vs air conditioner....we're merely speaking about winter (heating) operation.

Now that this is straight.....below is a "pros" table of each device in comparison to the other:

"Pros" of Heat Pumps
May not require additional equipment for heating
Usually results in lower annual heating and cooling expenses
Can be used in conjunction with an energy efficient geothermal system
The heating source is better for the environment
The heating source is not a dangerous burning fossil fuel
Saves indoor space that would normally be used for a furnace
"Pros" of Air Conditioners
When a furnace is used for heating, it will not shut down at frigid temperatures like many heat pumps will
When a furnace is used, it does not require auxiliary heating for frigid temperatures like a heat pump
Cheaper first cost than a heat pump
Usually has fewer problems than heat pumps

Why Buy a Heat Pump?

When homeowners consider the heat pump vs air conditioner debate, it's usually because their entire heating and cooling system need to be redone. Using a heat pump means having one major appliance which does double the work. Heat pumps can work throughout the year to keep a home comfortable, which can help reign in some energy use.

Heat pumps are not as robust as traditional heating systems, however, and so you will still need to use your furnace from time to time. Since models typically work more effectively in climates which don't see freezing temperatures on a regular basis, this limits their use in some climates.

Air conditioners are more versatile and, for now, offer better cooling in extreme climates, but heat pumps are gaining popularity and, in time, newer models may be able to compete more effectively even in extreme climates.

Return to Heat Pump Types

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