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Heat Pump vs Air Conditioner

One of the most common questions we hear from homeowners concerns what kind of heating and cooling system they should install in their home. Whether putting in a brand new system or replacing an old one, customers continually ask whether they should install a heat pump or an air conditioning unit.

Let’s be clear up front: every home is different, and thus every HVAC installation is unique. There is no blanket answer in the debate between heat pumps and AC. While a heat pump may be the best solution for one customer, an AC unit may be the right choice for another.

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to heating and air conditioning.

With that said, let’s look at some of the differences between these two systems. Hopefully, along the way, we’ll come to a better understanding about what will work best for you.

Heat Pumps vs. Air Conditioners: Cooling in the Summer

There is a fair amount of complex science and engineering behind the construction and operation of heat pumps and air conditioners. We’ll spare you the detailed explanations of the various laws of thermodynamics that go into effect, how refrigerant is turned from a liquid to a gas, how heat transfers, etc.

Instead, let’s get down to brass tacks:

When it comes to cooling your home, there is little significant difference between heat pumps and air conditioners. Both will effectively cool your home. Both are efficient machines.

Where they differ is in price. Heat pumps are a significant investment, generally costing far more up front than an AC unit. On the other hand, heat pumps are also more efficient, resulting in lower overall costs over time.

The other significant difference is that a heat pump, as its name implies, can also heat your home. An AC unit is only used for cooling.

Heat Pump: Double Duty HVAC Machine

When it comes to heating your home , a heat pump is the most efficient option.

Consider your other heat sources. A natural gas furnace can get you 1000 BTUs for a single cubic foot of gas. One cubic foot of propane will net you 2300 BTUs. And one kilowatt of electricity will gain you 3200 BTUs.

But your heat pump can serve up a whopping 13000 BTUs for every one kilowatt expended.

The heat pump can achieve this because it does not generate heat, which is how a furnace works. Instead, the heat pump merely moves heat. Moving heat is far more efficient.

Heat pumps have a downside, though. When temperatures drop below freezing, the heat pump struggles to find much warmth outdoors to utilize. Truly icy weather—especially if below freezing temperatures are sustained—will require that you supplement your heat pump with another heat source, such as a furnace.

Because most homeowners use their heat pump for both heating and cooling, annual maintenance becomes even more critical. You system is pulling double duty, year round. Heat pumps are designed for a long lifespan, but negligent maintenance will lead to breakdowns.

Heat Pump or Air Conditioner: Which is Right for My Home?

As we stated above, choosing between a heat pump and an air conditioner depends on your specific needs. Is cooling in the summer months your only concern? Can you afford to spend more up front? Do you have an alternative option during winter months if temperatures dip well below freezing?

It should be noted that the up front cost of modern heat pumps can be defrayed by the sizable rebate currently being offered from Avista Utilities. Avista offers a $900 rebate to homeowners overhauling their residential HVAC by installing a heat pump.

At AMS, we don’t endorse one single product, because we understand that the world of heating and cooling is not one with one-size-fits-all solutions. When you work with us, we will come to your home and do a full evaluation and go over the array of options that will work for you. We take careful consideration of your budget. Our HVAC experts will make suggestions based on our 30-plus years as a leader in our industry.

Give us a call today, and we will set up an inspection at your convenience.