Heat Pump or Air Conditioner: What You Need to Know
Think of an air conditioner and a heat pump as twins.
Both can cool your South Carolina home by moving heat to the outdoors. Both use the same cooling fundamentals and components as refrigerators. Both employ refrigerants, coils, and fans to create a comfortable environment indoors when temperatures rise outside.
The big difference between the two systems is versatility. Heat pumps have it. Air conditioners do not.
An air conditioner is just one part of a heating, ventilation, and cooling (HVAC) system that can bring comfort to your Carolina Forest home year-round. It provides cool air in the summer and a heating unit such as a furnace keeps your home warm and toasty in winter. Two separate kinds of equipment fulfill two different needs.
On the other hand, a heat pump does it all. Despite its name, a heat pump is an air conditioning system that can work in reverse to heat your home. It fulfills two different needs with just one unit.
Which is better for you? It depends on the size of your home, winter climate in your region, and your budget. Does your home contain a furnace and ductwork? You may simply want to add an air conditioner. Is your furnace nearing the end of its service life and you plan to replace it soon? Your next purchase might be a heat pump.
The professionals at Coastal Air + Refrigeration can make that choice easier by recommending a system that delivers the comfort level you want at a price you can afford. Our experts install, repair, and maintain both central air conditioners and heat pumps.
Keeping Cool with a Heat Pump or Air Conditioner
If air conditioning is at the top of your “must-have” list, you are not alone. According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), nearly 90 percent of US homes use some kind of air conditioning equipment.
Air conditioners and heat pumps cool air by transferring heat. If you understand how one system works you will understand both.
An air conditioner, for example, has an outdoor unit that contains a condenser coil, a compressor, and a fan. Indoor components consist of an evaporator coil and fan. Tubing connects the coils and conveys refrigerant between the indoor and outdoor components.
The indoor fan blows air over the cold refrigerant-filled evaporator coils and through ducts into each room of your home. At the same time, the liquid refrigerant absorbs heat from the air and changes to a gas that moves outdoors to the compressor, where pressure turns it back into a liquid. Condenser coils and a fan inside the outdoor unit remove the heat created by the compression process. The cooled liquid refrigerant heads to the indoor unit to begin the cooling cycle again.
The most common kind of heat pump, an air-source heat pump, runs on electricity and transfers heat through air. It works best in mild climates and requires a back-up heating source, such as a furnace, when the outside temperature dips below 30 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Geothermal or ground-source heat pumps transfer heat from the earth or an underground water source. The DOE estimates that geothermal heat pumps can lower energy use by 30 to 60 percent. However, they are considerably more expensive.
Which System is Right for You?
Consider these factors:
Climate—If you live in a region of the country where winters are mild, a heat pump is a highly efficient way to cool and heat your home. Look for equipment with a SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating) number higher than the minimum federal standard of 14 for cooling efficiency that will pay off in lower energy costs. If you install a heat pump in a locale where temperatures dip below freezing, you will need a secondary source of heat, such as a furnace. Air-source heat pumps work harder–losing efficiency–in extremely cold and hot temperatures. A furnace can keep your home warm on extremely cold days until the temperature rises enough for the heat pump to kick in.
Central air conditioning works in any part of the country but is an especially good choice in the Midwest and Northeast, where it is paired with a furnace. Look for a SEER rating of 15 or higher.
Cost—The price tag depends on size, brand, quality, and other factors. You generally will pay more for a heat pump but will likely have lower utility bills. Although central air conditioning is less expensive, it can only cool your home. You need a furnace to provide heat.