Heat Pumps vs Air Conditioners: The Everlasting Battle

heat pumps vs air conditioners

When selecting the best option for your home HVAC system, you are always faced with the comparison of heat pumps vs air conditioners. An air conditioner is mostly the better choice when you put it together with a furnace for delivering heating during cold weather. The heat pump, however, can do both heating and cooling, and it could be an efficient choice as long as the climatic temperature changes are moderate.

You can find the best solution for your HVAC system here at Linquip, so please stay put for more details that could be handy when choosing between these two types of HVAC systems.

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The working principle of heat pumps vs air conditioners

When it comes to compare heat pumps vs air conditioners in terms of their working principles, you can see that they are very similar. In both of these devices, a refrigerant fluid, a compressor, a condensing coil, and an evaporator have the responsibility of making the process of air conditioning possible.

For both of these devices, the refrigerant experiences a raise of pressure and temperature in the compressor. This high temperature refrigerant is cooled and condensed in the condensing coil due to losing heat to the ambient air blowing through the coil. Then this cool refrigerant is taken to the evaporator coil, it expands and evaporates, absorbing the heat from the inside air blowing over the evaporator coil.

HP - heat pumps vs air conditioners

This working principle, despite being common for both of them when comparing heat pumps vs air conditioners, does not suggest that they both do the same task. Air conditioners and heat pumps can both deliver cooling, based on this principle. The evaporator coil would be placed inside the conditioned zone, while the condensing coil is placed outside, paving way for the cooling process. Nonetheless, there is a mechanism within heat pumps that reverses this thermodynamic cycle and lets them also deliver heating, while it is not the case for air conditioners.

Differences Between Heat Pumps and Air Conditioners

Air conditioners lose to heat pumps in terms of range of applicability for HVAC systems when you compare heat pumps vs air conditioners. Heat pumps can work as heating units for a building, while the air conditioners can only be used for cooling. There is a device located in a heat pump that alters the journey of the refrigerant through various system components, called the reversing valve, which makes it possible for heat pumps to also act as heaters.

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What happens inside a heat pump during the heating mode is as if the device is trying to condition the outside air by absorbing its heat and releasing it to the interiors. Therefore, it can be inferred that one must pay attention to the fact that heat pumps cannot operate efficiently when the outside temperature is very low. Of course there is an electric heating element located outside to help with heating the refrigerant, but they are not very energy efficient. Therefore, severe climatic conditions might require pairing an air conditioner with a furnace for a better air delivery.

Cost of Owning Heat Pumps vs. Air Conditioners

The initial cost for purchasing a conventional heat pump could be not so much higher than an air conditioner, which might be alluring when one is looking for an integrated system. Nonetheless, you should keep in mind that heat pumps suffer way more from wear and tear compared to air conditioners due to their operation year-round. This could lead to higher operation and maintenance costs.

When considering the cost of owning heat pumps vs air conditioners, you need to consider the site and its climate conditions to reach at a proper cost estimate for both cases. In moderate climates, heat pumps might be the better solution for you HVAC system, while in places where the outside temperature could get very cold, an air conditioner paired with a furnace would be a better choice. You can get better cost estimates talking to a professional.

Efficiency of heat pumps vs air conditioners

Since air conditioners only perform cooling, we need to compare the cooling efficiency of heat pumps vs air conditioners when comparing their performance. Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio or SEER is a measure of how well the cooling system operates. This measure is calculated by dividing the total provided cooling of the system in BTU by the amount of electricity consumption of the system in Watts. It is clear that we want a system that delivers more cooling while consuming less power; hence, higher SEER scores.

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Since both of them follow the same refrigeration cycle during cooling, they operate quite the same in terms of efficiency. However, for the same cost, air conditioners could have slightly higher SEER scores compared to heat pumps. This is naturally not the only factor that helps with the proper choice; heat pumps can also work in heating mode while air conditioner cannot. This means that they could be more cost efficient compared to air conditioners.

When to choose which

Having said all that, now how can we reach a conclusion over choosing heat pumps vs air conditioners. Well, let us see some facts that could help you finalize your decision.

Well as was mentioned before, a heat pump would normally be the better solution for moderate climates. In addition to that, we have a wider range of options for heat pumps vs air conditioners. The air water heat pumps, air-to-air heat pumps, and geothermal heat pumps. There are also ductless configurations as well the duct-dependent ones. This variety of choice might play a role in making your final decision.

Despite the fact that you can find heat pumps that are only a little more expensive than air conditioners, your HVAC requirements might find a sort of heat pump that is very much more expensive than purchasing an air conditioner. This is in addition to the fact that heat pumps cannot work efficiency where there are severely cold days during cold seasons. Moreover, you’d better purchase a central air conditioner if you already have a heating system in place.

You can consider these factors and also enjoy the consult of an expert to make a good decision of choosing heat pumps vs air conditioners.


More on heat pumps vs air conditioners

Click here for a video of how to identify heat pumps and air conditioners, and learn how to choose between them.

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