Heat Pump Vs. Standard Air Conditioner

Although a heat pump has a higher purchase cost than a standard air conditioner, it operates more efficiently and produces energy and cost savings over its lifetime. A standard air conditioner only cools during the summer months, whereas a heat pump functions both as an air conditioner and a heat source during the winter.

Heat pump.
Heat pump. (Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)
Mechanical Components

The mechanical components common to both a heat pump and an air conditioner are a compressor, expansion valve, evaporator coil and a condensing coil. In a cooling cycle, the heat pump and air conditioner operate exactly the same by utilizing refrigerant to transfer heat from inside the house to the outside. During the heating season, a heat pump has a special reversing valve that allows the system to extract heat from the ambient air outside the house and transfer it inside the house for heating purposes.

Air conditioner.
Air conditioner. (Evgeny Sergeev/iStock/Getty Images)
Applications

Air conditioners have a single purpose, which is to provide cooling. During the winter, they sit idle while a separate furnace provides heat for the house. Heat pumps are dual-purpose, functioning year-round for both heating and cooling. A heat pump works best in moderate climates where the temperature during the winter does not go below 40 degrees F for extended periods of time. Heat pumps are normally equipped with supplementary electric resistance heat strips to provide additional heating during colder temperature periods.

Central air conditioner.
Central air conditioner. (Comstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images)
Efficiency

The fuel conversion efficiency of a heat pump and an air conditioner are the same for the cooling cycle. A heat pump is a more efficient process during the heating season than conventional electric, gas or oil heating systems because a heat pump moves heat from one area to another rather than creating it. Heat pumps produce roughly two times more heat than the amount of energy consumed.

Heat pump.
Heat pump. (Marcus Lindström/iStock/Getty Images)
Initial Cost

In determining the initial purchase cost of a heat pump versus an air conditioner, each homeowner’s situation will be different. Generally, a heat pump will cost more when compared to the cost of a furnace or an air-conditioner individually, but a heat pump serves for both cooling and heating. Therefore, each installation must be examined for the particular circumstances to make an overall cost comparison.

Installing air conditioner.
Installing air conditioner. (Stanislav Komogorov/iStock/Getty Images)
Operating Costs

The operating costs of a heat pump and an air-conditioner are similar during the summer months, but the energy and cost savings will occur during the winter heating season. Energy costs for a heat pump are generally 30% to 40% less during winter than a conventional air conditioner and separate electric heating system.

Summer months increase energy costs.
Summer months increase energy costs. (Dirima/iStock/Getty Images)
Lifespan

Since a heat pump runs all year, its lifespan is about one-half that of an air conditioner. Quite simply, the mechanical components of a heat pump will require more frequent maintenance and will wear out faster.

A heat pump may wear out faster; consider costs.
A heat pump may wear out faster; consider costs. (ZoltanFabian/iStock/Getty Images)
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