Heat Pump vs AC: Costs vs Effectiveness

Published by 
Last updated: 
March 30, 2024

Heat Pump vs AC: The Ultimate HVAC Battle

How Heat Pumps and ACs Work

Air conditioners and heat pumps use coils to circulate refrigerant, which is expanded and/or compressed when moving through the coils. The expansion process cools the refrigerant, while compression heats it up. Unlike most air conditioners that only have air cooling functions, heat pumps can use both processes to provide comfortable temperatures year-round.

Excessive humidity can make the air feel warmer or colder than it actually is, so removing moisture is essential for a comfortable environment. While air conditioners are known for controlling moisture, more heat pumps now offer this option as well.

Heat pumps and air conditioners come in various sizes and capacities. Ductless heat pumps, or mini split heat pumps, are recommended for smaller rooms or garages that do not need cooling and heating 24/7.

Heat Pump Air Conditioner Combos

Some wall air conditioners incorporate heat pumps to create a highly efficient heat pump air conditioner combo. However, they should only be used occasionally, as central air conditioners with heating functions are not efficient and can drastically increase energy costs.

A portable air conditioner with a heat pump is a great choice for small rooms that only need climate control from time to time. They take up little space and can be stored out of sight when not in use.

Effectiveness of Heat Pumps vs ACs

According to our research, there is no major functionality difference between heat pumps and ACs when outside temperatures are high, although ACs usually have higher SEER ratings when cooling the air. However, heat pumps are considered the most effective electrical heating systems currently available.

It's difficult to determine which HVAC appliance is more effective overall, as many variables are involved, such as climate, local electricity prices, and the wide variety of air conditioners and heat pumps on the market.

Costs of Heat Pumps vs ACs

Acquisition & Energy Costs

Heat pumps typically cost more than air conditioners upfront, with prices up to $2,000 more than a central air conditioner and about $500 more than a ductless one. However, if installed in appropriate climate areas and under the right conditions, they can save energy from day one. The U.S. government often provides rebates for energy savings to citizens who only use heat pumps to regulate indoor temperatures. Air conditioners initially cost less, but even the most effective ones will not help you save as much as a heat pump in the long run.

Installation & Maintenance Costs

From our research, there are no significant differences in installation costs between heat pumps and air conditioners. Troubleshooting and maintenance costs are also similar if used in the right climates. Regardless of your choice, we recommend only buying new appliances that have not been used as display models, which can be verified by looking for an original manufacturer's seal on the outside of the packaged item.

Choosing Between a Heat Pump and AC

For those living in warm areas where heating is only needed a few days or weeks per year at most, an air conditioner is the right choice. Its generally higher SEER rating and ability to cool the air like no other appliance makes it the best HVAC unit in these cases.

If you live in an area where temperatures rarely drop well below freezing, a heat pump can be the right choice. It can successfully act as both a furnace and an air conditioner with a heat pump if outside temperatures are not extreme.

However, heat pumps have limited capabilities and functionality in extremely cold climates. When temperatures drop well below freezing for prolonged periods, their outside coils can collect ice, which interferes with efficiency. Many heat pumps have special burners to remove the ice, but they are only effective above certain temperatures and can drastically increase annual operating costs. Therefore, a furnace could be a much more fitting choice for colder areas (under 30°F).

Selecting the Right Capacity

When deciding on the power of your HVAC appliance, keep in mind that a higher BTU air conditioner or heat pump is not always the best option, especially in humid areas. A powerful climate control appliance will heat or cool the house faster, but it will not properly control moisture if it only functions at reduced capacity and intermittently. This can lead to mold and respiratory issues over time.

For moist climates, the best HVAC appliance is one with a smaller capacity, as it will work at a steady speed and permanently remove moisture from the indoor air.

Solar Panel Compatible Heat Pumps and ACs

Those living in sunny areas might benefit from a solar panel compatible heat pump or AC. Although considerably more expensive, once installed, they will require little to no running costs. If you already have an environmentally-friendly house that converts solar power to energy, these might be what you need. They can be used as standalone HVAC appliances or as auxiliaries to help maintain a steady and comfortable temperature while keeping expenses to a minimum.

Energy-Saving & Health Tips

Acquiring a highly efficient HVAC appliance is a must for keeping energy bills low. The latest models have a SEER of up to 25, but anything above 18 is considered very efficient. Extra functions, such as mobile control or programming, are also important.

Regularly changing filters can help keep bills to a minimum, as dirty and clogged filters will make the appliance run at higher than needed capacities, resulting in extra monthly expenses and potential breakdowns. Changing filters is also recommended for health reasons, as they gather dust, spores, allergens, or bacteria over time that can be harmful to our well-being. Itchy or runny nose and eyes are signs that the filters need changing or cleaning, which should be done at least twice per year for temperate climates and 4-5 times for areas where the appliance is used year-round.

When using an HVAC appliance, keep windows closed to avoid wasting energy. Inside ducts or vents and outside units should not be obstructed by furniture, walls, or other objects, as this might impede proper functioning and can also damage the obstructing object. For example, heat pumps or air conditioners that can increase the amount of moisture in a room can deter furniture, doors, or other woodwork items.

Window coverings are another often overlooked energy-saving tip. Thick textile coverings can keep the house a few degrees cooler or warmer by stopping sunlight and drafts from coming in.

Heat Pump vs AC: Bottom Line

Although heat pumps generally involve lower running expenses, the cost-effectiveness of a heat pump vs AC heavily depends on the frequency of use, global positioning, individual customer needs, and local energy costs. There is no universally right choice when it comes to cooling and/or heating systems: every type and model of appliance on the market is someone's best choice, as well as the most unfit product for someone else.

Image sources: 1, 2.

All Things HVAC

Address: 4343 South view lane, Doylestown PA
Phone: 267-356-HVAC (4822)
Hours: Monday - Friday: 9am - 5pm
Copyright © 2024 AllThingsHVAC. All Rights Reserved