What Is The Difference Between a Heat Pump and an A/C Unit?

For the unschooled, a heat pump and an air conditioner might seem like the same thing. They both use a complex combination of electricity and refrigerant to condition your home.  And for the most part, they use the exact same parts and components during installation and operation.  So what exactly is the difference between heat pumps and air conditioners?

At the end of the day, it’s pretty simple. A heat pump can heat and cool the refrigerant used to condition your home while an air conditioner can only cool it. That’s it!  

Now that you’re armed with this information, how should you go about deciding between the two?

Let’s start with a few key questions you’ll need to ask yourself.

  1. What is your existing heat source?

Heat pumps effectively transfer heat throughout your home by utilizing atmospheric warmth and minimal electricity.  If your existing heating source depends on electricity, propane, oil – or if it is an inefficient natural gas furnace – a heat pump could save you a significant amount on your heating bills, while delivering relief from the summer heat.

If you have a high-efficiency natural gas furnace, your heating bills are most likely relatively inexpensive; a  heat pump may not save you as much as you’d hope.  In this scenario, an air conditioner could be all you need to keep your home comfortable when it’s hot outside.

Typically an air conditioner installation is cheaper than a heat pump, and statistically more reliable.  It’s important to be aware of your heating source before deciding between the two!

  1. Where do you live?

Since heat pumps rely on atmospheric warmth to condition your home, individuals living in cold climates may struggle to heat their homes effectively with a ductless heat pump.  When the temperature drops below 30-35 degrees Fahrenheit, a heat pump will usually rely on a secondary heat source to maintain a comfortable temperature in your home.  Fuel-burning furnaces typically burn hotter, and will perform better when extreme cold hits.  

If your region has extreme winters, pairing your fuel-burning furnace with an air conditioner may be your best bet in keeping your home comfortable all year long.  However, if you live in a region with a milder climate, a heat pump could be the best system to efficiently heat AND cool your home.

  1. Does your utility company offer any energy efficiency grants or loans?

Many public utility companies will provide grants or special energy conservation loans for households who install a heat pump. Check in with your utility company today to see if there are incentive programs available to you!  

And If you have any questions about what kind of system to install – feel free to give us a call! We service Tacoma, Puyallup, and most of the South Sound region!

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