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Heat Pumps vs. Air Conditioners

Views: 167     Author: Site Editor     Publish Time: 2023-07-28      Origin: Site

When it comes to cooling or warming your house, both a heat pump and an air conditioner can get the job done. These systems have inbuilt compressed refrigerants. However, heat pumps and air conditioners are different in terms of functions, operating priciple, energy saving, refrigerants, etc. This article will take you to understand their differences.

Heat Pumps vs. Air Conditioners


Air Conditioner vs Heat Pump: What are the Differences

When considering getting an HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) system for homes, the first two options that often come to mind are AIR CONDITIONER (AC) and HEAT PUMP. These two appliances use electricity and perform a similar function of keeping the home warm or cool by absorbing heat from the air and transferring it inside.

But even though they can keep the house warm or cool and comfortable, they have certain uniqueness, which is paramount for consideration when choosing which option to buy. Hence, in this comprehensive guide, we will discuss fully the differences between AC and heat pump systems, including their advantages, disadvantages, working principles, and differences. In fact, it's impossible for the ordinary individual to distinguish between an air conditioner and a heat pump system just by their exterior units.

What is an Air Conditioner?

An air conditioner provides cool air in the home during hot weather by extracting heat from the inside and moving it outdoors. The refrigerant gas evaporates the heat within the house and moves it out via the air conditioner’s ducts and vents. Then, it takes in warm air from outside and cools it with compressed refrigerant gas. Afterward, the newly cooled air is continuously circulated through your home, ensuring that every part of the house is cool. While some air conditioners can provide warm air in the winter.

Air conditioner

There are various types of AC systems to meet each person’s needs. The Window AC system is primarily used to provide cooling to small rooms. The Central AC system can cool the whole house. The Split AC system has indoor and outdoor units that require no ductwork and can be installed in one or more rooms. Finally, the Portable AC system is perfect for people who don’t need a permanent installation.

What is a Heat Pump?

A heat pump is similar but superior to an air conditioner in the sense that it does not perform only cooling functions, it also offers heating solutions. In warmer temperatures, it moves hot air outside to cool the house. It switches from cooling to heating in cooler temperatures by pulling the energy of air from outside to heat the home. Heat pumps are useful in very frigid seasons. When outdoor temperature drops below 30⁰F, a low temperature heat pump can warm the house.

Air Source Heat Pump Outdoor Unit

Heat pump systems can be categorized into two major installation modes – DUCTED and DUCTLESS. The ducted system is made of only a central unit installed in the basement, which is linked to the building's existing ductwork to offer heating and cooling solutions. The ductless system (also known as mini-split or multi-split) consists of one or more outdoor units that are linked through refrigerant lines and electrical wiring to the indoor units.

Ductless heat pump installation allows for room-by-room temperature control instead of ducted heat pumps that only support zone temperature control. Also, ductless installation is considerably more efficient because the cool air is dispensed directly to your space.

Pros and Cons of Heat Pumps and Air Conditioners

Now that we’ve gotten an overview of the topic, let’s start the comparison of air conditioner vs heat pump by reviewing their pros and cons.

Pros and Cons of Heat Pump



  • Heat pump is an all-in-one heating system; it offers heating, hot water, and cooling solutions.

  • The initial cost of heat pump installation is high.

  • It’s simple and requires less maintenance throughout the year.

  • Can’t work when temperature is under -30°C

  • Environmentally friendly, as heat pumps use air energy to provide warm.

  • The advanced heat pump doesn’t make noise and is so quiet that you might even wonder if it’s working.

  • Super-efficient and helps reduce energy bills.

  • Ductless heat pumps don’t require ductwork.

Pros and Cons of Air Conditioners



  • The cost of installing an air conditioner is relatively low.

  • Most air conditioners cannot perform heating functions.

  • AC filters the circulated indoor air, with effective removal of allergens in order to improve the air quality.

  • AC uses more energy than a heat pump to cool and dehumidify the house.

  • Air conditioner system uses standard technology that every HVAC expert know how to service.

Heat Pump vs AC: Working Principle

Another major factor to examine in the heat pump vs. HVAC debate is the working principle of heat pumps and air conditioners.

How Does Heat Pump Work?

A heat pump is composed of 5 key parts: evaporator coil, compressor, condenser coil, expansion valve, and reversing valve. This makes it capable of offering both heating and cooling solutions.

In heating mode, the heat pump extracts heat from outside through the refrigerant in the evaporator coil. The compressor then increases the pressure and temperature of the refrigerant gas. The high-pressure gas flows to the condenser coil that releases the absorbed heat into your indoor space, providing warmth. Afterward, the expansion valve minimizes the refrigerant’s pressure, allowing it to return to its liquid state and start the cycle again.

In cooling mode, the heat pump, using the reversing valve, switches the heating mode process. It expels heat from your indoor space to the outside environment, providing cooling comfort during hot weather.

How Does AC Work?

An air conditioner's basic function is to cool the house, hence it only has one mode. It consists of 4 key components: evaporator coil, compressor, condenser coil, and expansion valve.

The working principle begins with the evaporator coil, which contains the refrigerant. In this coil, the refrigerant evaporates, absorbing heat from the indoor air. Then, the compressor reduces the low-pressure gas into a high-pressure, high-temperature state. Afterward, the hot, pressurized gas is pumped to the condenser coil located in the outdoor unit of the AC. Here, the refrigerant releases the heat it absorbed from inside the house to the outside environment, while it condenses back to liquid.

The expansion valve comes into play by reducing the refrigerant’s pressure, preparing it to return to the evaporator coil to repeat the cooling cycle. With this continuous cycle, heat will be completely removed from your home, making it cooler and more comfortable.

Heat Pump vs. AC Solution

The main difference between heat pump and central air conditioner is that heat pump offers heating, cooling, and hot water solutions. AC, on the other hand, can only offer cooling solutions. However, advanced AC can heat and cool the house, but doesn’t provide hot water.

Heat pumps are not only used for domestic heating but can also be used to heat and provide hot water to commercial buildings and can also be used in heated swimming pools.

Deciding between these two popular home cooling systems is not limited to the solutions they offer. There are many other factors that needs to be considered before choosing between air conditioner versus heat pump, such as their energy efficiency, environmental impact, appearance, durability, installation difficulty, maintenance, cost, incentive, and resale value.

Heat Pump vs Air Conditioner

Below, each of these factors are discussed in comparison to heat pump versus AC unit systems.

Heat Pump vs. Air Condition: Energy Efficiency

A+++ sprsun heat pump

The energy efficiency of these systems is represented by Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) and Coefficient of Performance (COP). They quantify how effectively these systems provide comfort while minimizing energy usage, making it a critical factor in evaluating air conditioner vs heat pump efficiency.

Basically, SEER is calculated by dividing the amount of heat transferred from inside the house by the energy consumed by the cooling system. The higher the SEER, the more energy-efficient the cooling system is.

COP, represents the ratio of the desired output (cooling or heating) to the amount of energy input required to achieve that output. A higher COP indicates greater energy efficiency, as it means the system produces more cooling or heating per unit of energy consumed.

Actually, when in cooling mode, heat pump efficiency rating is the same as AC efficiency rating. However, heat pump has an edge, which is its capability to heat your home, and it is significantly more efficient than using a furnace or boiler.

According to a survey conducted by the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships, it was discovered that residential homes saved an average of $948 every year by using heat pumps instead of heating oil systems like furnace and boiler. Thus, in comparing the energy efficiency of heat pump vs central air conditioner, the former is better and it provides an excellent return on investment.

Heat Pump vs. Air Conditioner: Environmental Impact

In comparing the environmental impact of heat pump vs traditional HVAC, the heat pump is better because it can heat and cool your home with electricity. In heating mode, it efficiently transfers heat from the outdoor air or ground to the house, which reduces the need for fossil fuel or other heating sources.

Advanced heat pump like our R290 heat pump is made with sustainable refrigerants, resulting in 68% boost in global warming potential reduction. This leads to lower carbon emissions and a smaller environmental footprint. Also, it features multiple noise reduction and sound insulation measures like DC brushless fans, aerodynamics design, and strong pads that ensure they function effectively without making noise.

On the other hand, air conditioners primarily provide cooling functions and are not designed for heating. They do not offer the same level of year-round environmental benefits because you would still have to buy a heating system like furnace or boiler for cold temperatures.

Air Conditioner vs. Heat Pump: Appearance

A problem you might have when choosing between central AC vs heat pump is finding out which is which because they look alike. Both appliances have the same type of components but heat pumps comes with a reversing valve, which makes it able to switch between cooling and heating.

Heat pumps consist of an indoor unit (often located in a utility room or basement) and an outdoor unit (which resembles a central air conditioner’s outdoor condenser). While the indoor unit looks like a furnace or air handler, the outdoor unit looks similar to an air conditioner outdoor unit.

Air conditioner also consist of an indoor and outdoor unit. The indoor unit is installed in a utility closet or basement and is hidden from view. The outdoor unit looks like a square metal box with a fan. It’s installed outside the house.

Air Conditioner vs. Heat Pump: Durability / Lifespan

Another salient factor you should consider when examining the difference between AC and heat pump is how long they last and which one of them has a longer lifespan.

Generally speaking, air conditioners last longer than heat pumps. The average lifespan of a heat pump is 10 to 15 years, while an AC can last for 15 to 20 years. If the heat pump is well maintained, its service life can be 15 to 20 years. While air conditioners can last up to 25 years. This is solely because heat pumps work year-round (during all climate both cold and hot). On the other hand, air conditioners are only used during hot weather.

This causes heat pumps to accumulate wear and tear almost twice as fast as air conditioners, making them less durable.

Air Conditioner vs. Heat Pump: Installation Difficulty and Time

When choosing between heat pump system vs central air system, it’s important to consider the installation difficulty and time because it will add to the total cost your HVAC company will charge you.

Installing a heat pump is more difficult and time-consuming. It involves the connection of the indoor and outdoor units and a heat source like the ground loop for a geothermal heat pump. This is an extra complexity that can prolong the installation time. In fact, it requires top-grade professional expertise to ensure proper setup.

On the other hand, air conditioners are simple and quicker to install. It typically involves setting up the indoor and outdoor units, the refrigerant lines, and the electrical connections. ACs are designed primarily for cooling, so their installation process is more straightforward and quicker.

Heap Pump versus AC Unit: Maintenance

Maintenance is a crucial factor when discussing heat pump vs central air cost. Heat pumps require more maintenance than AC units because they perform all-in-one functions and work throughout the year. However, the rigors of maintenance can be reduced if you buy your heat pump form a reliable heat pump manufacturer with years of experience of providing various clients around the world with quality products.

A typical heat pump maintenance checklist you can do by yourself include:

  • During winter, check the heat pump for snow or ice buildup

  • Remove leaves, dust, or debris from the heat pump body

  • Ensure the heat pump is always elevated above the ground and away from any leaky gutter

  • Clean or change the filters as needed

  • Clean dirty outdoor coils

A typical heat pump maintenance checklist a professional technician will use include:

  • Checking all ducts, filters, blowers, and indoor coils

  • Checking air flow

  • Checking refrigerant charge and any leakage

  • Checking electrical terminals

  • Applying lubricant to motors and checking belts

  • Inspecting controls and thermostat sensors

SPRSUN launch new R290 heat pumps, which makes maintenance and repair easier. All parts can be repaired by simply removing the casing

A typical air conditioner maintenance checklist you can do by yourself include:

  • Replacing air filters every month, especially during the hot weather

  • Cleaning the coils

  • Checking drain lines and drain pans

  • Checking for loose electrical connections

  • Inspecting air registers and ducts for maximum cleanliness

A typical air conditioner maintenance checklist a professional technician will use include:

  • Checking the thermostat settings

  • Inspecting electrical connections

  • Lubing the belts and fans

  • Clearing drain lines

  • Checking the air filters

  • Checking for refrigerant leaks

Heat Pump vs. Air Conditioner: Cost

In considering heat pump cost vs air conditioner cost, heat pumps appear to be more expensive at first glance because of their up-front cost.

That’s true. Heat pumps have higher equipment, installation, and maintenance costs. Although the initial equipment investment cost is relatively high, you can get your money back after a period of time since the heat pump has high energy-saving performance, and the heating cost will be very low in the future.

Heat pump is superior to air conditioners because they heat and cool your home, eliminating the need for a separate heating system. But with an AC, you will need to factor in the cost of a furnace or other heating equipment to enjoy optimal comfort throughout the year. So, heat pumps might be a better choice considering climate changes and all-in-one functionality.

Heat Pump vs. Air Conditioner: Incentive & Rebate

Another notable factor when examining heat pump vs HVAC cost is that the former is eligible for tax incentives and rebates.

Many government and utility agencies promote heat pump installation because they are considered more energy-efficient and have less environmental impact. Hence, they offer incentives like tax credits, rebates, or reduced electricity rates. For instance, if you install a mini-split heat pump with a SEER rating greater than 16 or a ducted heat pump that qualifies for the ENERGY STAR label, you can claim 30% of the total project cost as incentive. Different country has different heat pump rebate policy. If you are interested, please feel free to contact us.

Heat Pump vs. Air Conditioner: Resale Value

Before making any investment, evaluating the product's resale value; this is another factor you need to consider when comparing the difference between HVAC and heat pump.

Because of its all-round functionalities, heat pump is perceived to have a higher resale value. However, this depends on local market preferences and the heat pump's efficiency. Homes equipped with heat pumps are more attractive to potential buyers. Its versatility is a big selling point, particularly in areas with varying climate conditions.

Air conditioners, on the other hand, is a standard feature in many homes. Its presence doesn’t really impact the resale value unless it’s a high-efficiency system or part of a larger, comprehensive HVAC system.

Heat Pump vs. Air Conditioner: Which One is Better for Your Need

Primarily, choosing between air conditioner vs heat pump is dependent on your need and environment. The major reasons that can influence your final decision between heat pump vs HVAC are highlighted below.

  • Cooling Need

If the sole reason why you need a cooling system is to keep your home cool during hot climates, an air conditioner is the best option. A heat pump can also perform this function but it is more expensive because it comes with additional capability of heating any space.

  • Heating Need

Heat pumps are the perfect choice for heating needs. Unlike air conditioners that are mainly built for cooling purposes, heat pumps offer both cooling and heating solutions. It provides year-round climate control by efficiently transferring heat outside and inside the home by floor heating and heat pump radiator, depending on your need. This makes it a cost-effective solution.

  • Hot Water Need

If you need hot water in addition to heating and cooling, a heat pump can serve all these purposes. Some heat pump systems are designed to provide domestic hot water.

  • Geographical Location

Heat pumps are versatile and work greatly in cold regions at high latitudes. They are good for both heating and cooling and can extract heat from the outdoor air or the ground. On the other hand, air conditioners are best used for regions with hot summers. They are more or less useless in colder climates.

  • Climate Compatibility

To choose which one is better for you between air conditioner versus heat pump, consider climate compatibility. Heat pumps are highly compatible with regions with a wide range of temperatures throughout the year. Since they can efficiently provide both heating and cooling solutions, they are suitable for areas with cold winters and hot summers. While air conditioners are most suitable for hot and humid climates, where cooling is the primary concern.

  • Home Square Footage

Also to choose between heat pump vs HVAC, consider your home square footage. But in all realness, this is an essential factor for both appliances. Heat pump and air conditioner can be sized appropriately to match your home's cooling and heating needs, whether small or large. You need to speak with your AC or air source heat pump supplier for the best model.

  • Insulation in the Home

Proper home insulation is beneficial for both heat pumps and air conditioners. But heat pumps are particularly important because they rely on heat transfer. A well-insulated home ensures the heat pump operates efficiently by maintaining the temperature differential between the indoor and outdoor space.

The Best Time to Invest in Heat Pumps Rather Than AC

Heat pumps and air conditioners are virtually similar. But if you need a cleaner, more efficient source of heating and cooling solutions, heat pumps are your sure bet. We believe that after considering air conditioner vs heat pump, including their pros, cons, working principles, and differences, you must have learnt that investing in a heat pump rather than AC makes sense in many scenarios.

SPRSUN can be your turnkey partner. Having over two decades of experience, we can help you design the perfect heat pump tailored specifically for your needs. Our heat pumps are made with advanced technologies that make them function efficiently with a guaranteed long lifespan. We will make professional recommendations while helping you secure incentives and rebates to reduce costs.

Ready to invest in a heat pump system? Contact us for a free quote for your project.

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