Heat pumps and air conditioners are two very common types of appliances that are used to control the climate within your home. However, despite having the same function, both HVAC appliances work in different ways to perform that function. This means that each has a different set of distinctive characteristics, and is well suited to a different type of climate control need. Understanding the major differences between air conditioners and heat pumps can help make it easier for you to determine which one is the best choice for you.
Heat pumps work by using a heat exchanger to literally pump heat in from outside of your home during the winter months, and to pump it outside of your home during the summer months. They don't actually generate heat or chill air themselves. This means that they are highly energy efficient, and can work year-round to keep your home comfortable, saving you money when compared to traditional forced air systems.
However, heat pumps only work in moderate temperatures. There has to be at least a little bit of heat outside in the winter, and a little bit of cold air outside in the summer, in order for them to effectively work. This means that they are not well suited for homes located in climates that have severe weather at any point during the year, since those properties will likely need to make use of supplementary heating and cooling options in addition to a heat pump, defeating the purpose.
Central Air Conditioners
Central air conditioners make use of an indoor and outdoor unit to draw air into your home, and then physically chill it through the use of refrigerant before blowing it throughout your home. This means that central air conditioners are able to work much quicker than heat pumps will, since they actually generate cold air for your home. This responsiveness can lead to higher comfort levels – especially in hotter climates that would render heat pumps inefficient.
However, central air conditioners are unable to do anything in the winter months, which means that you will need to install them alongside a central forced air furnace to make use of the same ductwork. Having two systems instead of one increases the risk of mechanical failures and the overall cost of maintenance and cleaning when compared to using a heat pump. Further, having two units in your home can take up quite a bit of space, which can be a concern for smaller homes.