Are Heat Pumps Better Than Air Conditioners?
When you're looking for a sweet relief from the summer heat, it probably doesn't matter whether you have a heat pump or air conditioner - you just want it to work. But when you're looking to install or replace an HVAC system that efficiently heats and cools your home and keeps your family comfortable, it's good to know your options.
It can be confusing when it comes to figuring out the difference between a heat pump and an air conditioner. We're here to offer a crash course in heat pump and air conditioning knowledge.
Air conditioning and heat pump operation
First, to decide whether to use an air conditioner or a heat pump, you need to understand how each system works. There are a lot of misconceptions about how air conditioners work—many homeowners mistakenly believe they produce some sort of cold air to cool the air. This may be because the stove generates heat to warm the home.
In fact, air conditioners do not create freezing conditions that cool the air. Its process is simpler than that - it transfers heat from one area to another.
How does an air conditioner move heat, you ask? Well, the process goes like this:
1. Warm air from your home is circulated to the indoor components of the cooling system.
2. Warm air passes through the evaporator coil.
3. The refrigerant in the coil removes heat from the air.
4. The refrigerant is piped to the outdoor unit and pressurized by the compressor.
5. The refrigerant moves to the condenser coil, dissipating heat to the surrounding outdoor air.
So all an air conditioner does to cool your home is move heat away from your living area. It does not produce ice or extremely cold temperatures and infuses the air with cooling.
Now that you know how an air conditioner works, we'll let you in on a big secret - a heat pump cools the same way! They also transfer heat from your home to the outside.
There are two types of heat pumps: air source and geothermal. Air source heat pumps transfer heat from one air source to another, from inside to outside. Geothermal systems transfer heat from the air in your home to the sedimentary subsurface. Alternatively, they store heat in a water source.
Geothermal systems require an additional component to function - a ground return. This consists of fluid-filled connecting pipes that carry heat away from the home and deposit it below the yard.
When it comes to cooling, all heat pumps and air conditioners use the same process to achieve the cool indoor temperatures you rely on during the hot summer months.
Air Conditioners vs Heat Pumps: The Facts
So there has to be some difference between an air conditioner and a heat pump for us to answer this question. While they offer the same cooling process, that's what they have in common. The air conditioning vs heat pump debate is usually settled for homeowners in terms of heating capacity and energy efficiency. For many homeowners, price is an important factor in the home buying decision.
Air conditioning and heat pump heating
Air Conditioning vs Heat Pump Heating There is no question, as air conditioning simply cannot heat your home. The air conditioning system is only useful during warmer months. As temperatures drop, homeowners turn off the air conditioner and use a heating system, such as a stove, to keep warm.
Unlike air conditioners, heat pumps also provide home heating! How is this possible? The process is reversed for heat pumps, as follows:
1. The condenser coil extracts heat from the outdoor air and then absorbs the heat through the refrigerant.
2. Refrigerant enters the indoor system components and reaches the evaporator coil.
3. Heat energy is dissipated from the evaporator coil and mixed with the air circulating through the system.
This process adds warmth to your indoor air. Geothermal heat pumps operate in the same way as air source heat pumps, except they extract heat from the ground or a water source instead of the air outside.
With a heat pump, you can combine two systems into one - both your heating and cooling needs can be covered by a single unit. When you have air conditioning, you must also have a heating system if you want to keep warm in the winter. Many homeowners choose furnaces for this.
If you're looking for a system to do it all, look no further than an air conditioner vs a heat pump - the heat pump wins. Air conditioning, to put it bluntly, is used for cooling.
Air Conditioning and Heat Pump Energy Efficiency
Energy efficiency is a big concern when you're choosing between an air conditioner or a heat pump, as the more energy efficient your system is, the less energy it will consume, resulting in lower utility bills.
Air conditioners and heat pumps measure efficiency using SEER, which stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. Air conditioners and heat pumps with the same SEER rating use the same amount of energy to cool a home under ideal conditions.
Now, when the outside temperature is extremely high, the air conditioner does have problems. See, air conditioning systems are designed to adequately cool your home when the difference between indoor and outdoor temperatures does not exceed 20 degrees. In summer, temperatures can climb above that point. When this happens, your air conditioner won't be able to run efficiently at cooling your home.
Heat pumps, on the other hand, do not have the problem of high outdoor temperatures. They provide the same cooling efficiency regardless of whether the temperature difference between indoors and outdoors is small or large.
Under ideal outdoor conditions, air conditioners are as efficient as heat pumps. A huge leap in energy efficiency is when using the heating mode.
Both types of heat pumps are more efficient than air conditioners, furnaces, and other types of heating systems. Air source heat pumps are between 175% and 300% efficient, while geothermal heat pumps are between 300% and 600% efficient. This means that for every unit of electricity the devices consume, they generate more units of heat.
Now, when the outside temperature drops below 25 to 30 degrees, the air source heat pump is not a very good heat source. Usually this isn't a problem for homeowners, but we do have the occasional very cold day. If you have a backup heating system in your home these days, you want to use it because it is more efficient than your heat pump when it faces these extreme temperatures.
Air Conditioning & Heat Pump Prices
It's no secret that price is an important factor when you're deciding between an air conditioner versus a heat pump. For many homeowners, an HVAC system is not a light investment! Let's take a look at what you can expect from the pricing of air conditioners and heat pumps.
Your most affordable option is usually an air source heat pump. Next is the air conditioner. The most expensive cooling system is the geothermal heat pump system. Air source heat pumps and air conditioners can cost anywhere from a few dollars to thousands of dollars to install, depending on the model. The low-end price of a geothermal system is about $10,000, and the high-end price is about $30,000+, with the ground return system being the most expensive of these systems.
Now keep in mind that with a geothermal system, you don't really need a backup heating system. With an air source heat pump, you can. With air conditioning, you absolutely can. When you upgrade your HVAC system, a backup heating unit or primary heating system will add to the cost.
How to help
Finding the right HVAC system for your home is critical to both your comfort and your wallet. Leomon experts are always ready to make sure you have the best system for your home and lifestyle. We'll guide you through your decision so you can avoid additional costs, reduce maintenance and enjoy a long-lasting system. Whatever you need, we are always just a consultation.