Heat Pump vs. Air Conditioner

For a long time, the norm was to have a heater and an air conditioner, but in recent years, a new system has been taking over many homes in Texas. That system is called a heat pump. It can cool like an air conditioner and warm the home in the winter, and when used correctly, it’s rather efficient. In this blog, we’ll compare heat pumps and air conditioners to get a better idea of how heat pumps work, what they offer, and when they are better or worse than traditional air conditioners.

Heat Pump 101

Heat pump systems are designed to handle both heating and cooling. They can be paired with additional devices for more powerful heating or more targeted cooling. For the most part, the heat pump system uses ductwork like central heating and cooling. The only major difference is the mechanism.

How Heat Pumps Work

A heat pump works by using refrigerant and a compressor to force heat out of a body of air. This yields cool air on one end of the device and hot air on the other end. When the heat pump is cooling, the cool air is circulated through the home or building via fans and ducts. From the user end, it feels like the heat pump is blowing cold air to battle the hot day. From a physics perspective, the heat pump literally pumps heat away from the interior air.

But that’s the cooling mode. Heat pumps also have a heating mode. When they heat, they work in reverse. The hot air is pumped through the ducts instead of the cold air. So in heating mode, the heat pump works by pumping thermal energy present in outdoor air into the home, and they’re quite good at this.

When They’re Good

For cooling, an air conditioner and heat pump are very comparable. Where heat pumps shine is in the winter and under the right conditions. When it’s cool but not super cold, heat pumps can warm up your house very efficiently. Even though you think of your air conditioner as more power hungry than your heater, that’s only because both have to do so much work. If it’s 50 degrees outside, a heat pump doesn’t have to work very hard to warm that air up to a comfortable temperature. In that case, it can be more efficient than electric and gas furnace heaters.

When They Struggle

Heat pumps run into trouble when the air gets too cold. If temperatures are below freezing, heat pumps are no longer more efficient than heaters. Modern systems will have a furnace and heat pump on the same thermostat. When the air gets cold enough, heating automatically switches from the pump to the more effective furnace.

Air-conditioning Basics

Most people are familiar with air conditioners. They are the things that keep us cool in the summer. When we see exactly how they work, it makes more sense why they are frequently compared to heat pumps.

How AC Works

Air-conditioning works using the exact same principles as a heat pump. It uses refrigerant and a compressor to squeeze heat out of a body of air. The primary difference is that air conditioners can never reverse the flow. They always dump the hot air outside and the cold air inside.

Where AC Shines

Air conditioners are great in the summer. They cool air exactly like a heat pump and do a good job. Anywhere that has harsh winters won’t really need a heat pump because it’s regularly too cold for them to function properly. You might as well stick with an air conditioner. It has slightly fewer parts that can break, and the control system doesn’t have to be as sophisticated or expensive.

Where It Falls Short

The problem with air-conditioning is that it’s useless in the winter. You have this large, expensive device that sits around for half the year. In climates where heat pumps are viable, they are a superior choice. Their cost is close to that of AC units, but they provide more total value.

If you want to look into air conditioning or heat pump options, contact Metro Express Service in Carrollton. We regularly install both throughout the Dallas area. We can show you a wide range of options, and once you choose, you’ll have access to HVAC pros that can install it properly.