Heat Pump vs Air Conditioner Central Air

What's the difference between a Heat Pump and a "Central" A/C?

Heat Pumps and Central Air Conditioners are essentially identical as to how they cool a house, but entirely different as to how they heat a house.

For cooling the home, they both pump heat outside of the home with compressed refrigerant. In fact, they both even look the same to the untrained eye!

As far as cooling is concerned, they’re incredibly similar in regards to energy efficiency/cost, operational use and overall installation, but heating brings a different story.

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Heat Pumps will cool AND heat your house.

Air conditioners do not heat your house, but Heat Pumps do. It essentially reverses the function it uses for cooling the home. Instead of absorbing heat inside of the home to transfer it outside, it absorbs any heat from outside and releases it inside of the home. 

Limitations to the Heat Pump

This naturally causes some limitations because the efficiency of the heat pump is reliant upon the ambient temperature outside your house. Anywhere in the world with moderate temperatures throughout the seasons, this does not pose any large problems.

However, if temperatures outside are below freezing, then you can quickly understand how this can pose a dilemma during winter months. It will still draw heat from the air but not much.

Heating the house in freezing temperatures with a heat pump

This is why homeowners typically use a hybrid system when heating a home with a Heat Pump. Most heat pumps today are installed with an auxillary electric heating for aiding the job when temperatures are exceptionally cold outside. 

For extreme temperatures, an additional electric heating unit is not enough, unfortunately. For these environments, it is often better to add a furnace to the system which will automatically switch over when appropriate. We call these Hybrid Systems.

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Installation and costs of Heat Pump vs Central Air

Air conditioners do not heat your house, but Heat Pumps do. It essentially reverses the function it uses for cooling the home. Instead of absorbing heat inside of the home to transfer it outside, it absorbs any heat from outside and releases it inside of the home. 

Costs to OPERATE a Heat Pump

Heat pumps are most cost effective during moderate temperatures. They will use only electricity which is less costly than natural gar, propane etc. 

However, when temperatures get extremely cold, the unit is not as efficient which means it will actually cost MORE money due to electrical inefficiency.

Costs to INSTALL a Heat Pump

The outside installation costs of a Heat Pump is lower for the indoor unit, but typically has a higher cost for installing the outdoor unit. To ensure you get the full picture on the total costs of installing your HVAC system, you’ll need to go get a quote to see which one will cost less for your needs.

Other things to consider

Central Air units typically last longer than a Heat Pump system for obvious reasons: heat pumps are being use ALL year long whereas the A/C systems are only being used during hot seasons.

As with any system you have, you’ll significantly elongate the life of your units by servicing them regularly.

Learn about different heating systems here

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