Heat Pumps verses Air Conditioners

an air conditioning unitBy Alex Pajunen, CEC Energy Specialist

Heat pumps and air conditioners are two popular home cooling methods. At first glance both systems might look the same, but there is a major difference between how they operate.

Heat pumps move existing warm air from one area to another, whereas air conditioners can only remove the heat from a room by forcing it outside. Because heat flows from warm to cool, the refrigerant needs to be colder than the indoor air which is how it pulls the heat from inside your home. An easy example of this is how a refrigerator or freezer works. Those units grab heat from inside the appliance and move it outside which keeps the food cool or frozen.

Unlike air conditioning units, heat pumps can also provide heat during the cold winter months. With the use of a reversing valve, heat pumps can change the flow of refrigerant and circulate warm air inside the home.

Also, because heat pumps move existing warm air rather than generating it, the heating process is far more energy efficient. This allows a heat pump to provide heat at a rate that is at least twice as efficient as electric heating elements which are found in a standard electric furnace or baseboard and wall heaters. The capacity of the heat pump at lower temperatures determines how much the backup electric heating elements need to turn on. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, heat pumps can reduce your electricity use for heating by about 50% compared to furnaces and baseboard heaters.

Another important factor to consider when comparing heat pumps and air conditioners is the longevity of the system. The life span of your HVAC system depends on several factors, including how often you use it and how well you maintain it. Air conditioners generally last longer than heat pumps because air conditioners will only run during the summer, while heat pumps operate all year long. It is important to remember that both types of systems require professional maintenance every year so it can perform at its max efficiency.

To learn more about the incentives we offer through our heat pump program, visit our website or give us a call at 541-548-2144 and select option 6.