Icon - Phone

Serving Wasatch Front, UT and Surrounding Areas

(801) 355-9500

What is the difference between Heat Pump and an AC Unit?

If you are currently caught up with the heat pump vs. AC debate, we can help shed light on their differences and similarities. Both heat pumps and air conditioners make reliable and sustainable HVAC systems against freezing temperatures and the summer heat. Still, they don’t go through the same process for heating or cooling, and one might fit your needs better.

After reading through our article, you might be able to tell which heating and cooling system is a cut above the rest.

What Is The Difference Between a Heat Pump and an AC Unit?

An air conditioner cannot facilitate heat in and out of your home without the help of a built-in heat pump or furnace attachment. Unlike an air conditioning system, heat pump systems work independently of any other HVAC system.

Air conditioners depend on other systems to manage your home’s indoor air temperature. Still, both a heat pump and an air conditioner rely on outdoor air to function, unlike a furnace that generates its own heat.

How Do Heat Pumps Work?

A heat pump works by absorbing naturally occurring heat energy from the different elements. It is an efficient heating system that simply converts outside air into quality breathable air at your desired temperature. You can set indoor temperatures for your heat pumps to achieve with naturally-sourced heat.

You might have had the impression that air conditioners blow cold air inside your home, but they don’t do that. However, a heat pump can produce cold air. While it does not directly convert hot air into colder air, its indoor air handler has coils that extract heat from your home to dispose of outdoors. Heat extraction is an effective technique for producing quality cooling output in enclosed spaces, making refrigeration easier for cooling systems.

Parts of a Heat Pump

There are different kinds of heat pumps, but they all share three major components:

  1. Compressor (Outdoor Unit) 
  2. Air Handler (Indoor Unit)
  3. Thermostat (Temperature Manager)

Inside its outdoor unit, you will find vital heat pump heating components, including the condenser coils, outdoor fans and motors, and connecting valves.

Linking the compressor to the indoor air handler is the reversing valve. Reversing valves allows for inverse heating which is essential for cooling mode.

Indoor air handlers contain evaporator coils, heat exchangers, and air filters. An evaporator coil absorbs ambient heat inside and transfers it to the corresponding coil outdoors for disposal.

Air Source Heat Pump

Air source heat pumps use outdoor air to provide various types of heating. While outdoor temperatures influence it, it holds up against cold and moderate climates just fine. An air source heat pump provides your home with sufficient ambient heating. Its outdoor unit absorbs heat energy from the air and transmits it to a transfer liquid, usually refrigerant, for compression before it is transferred to air handlers for distribution.

Air-to-air source heat pumps are typically the type of pump built into air conditioning systems. Some air conditioners don’t come with a heat pump configuration and instead depend on a furnace attachment for temperature management.

Water Source Heat Pump

Water source heat pumps work with external pipelines as part of their outdoor units. Both heat pumps (i.e., air source and water source) provide ambient heating, but water source heat pumps absorb heat from bodies of water instead of outdoor air.

A water source heat pump collects heat input from a more reliable resource. Climate and weather changes can make air source heat pumps more erratic, consuming more power against cooler temperatures. The heat collectors of water source heat pumps don’t rely as heavily on outdoor temperatures. Natural bodies of water remain at more constant temperatures than other elements and take longer to absorb the surrounding hot or cool air.

Ground Source Heat Pump

Its heat pump efficiency is the gold standard because of one special step in its heating mode. During colder months, heat is harder to come by. While most modern heat pumps come with supplementary heating, your home heating system might overcompensate by doubling down on energy consumption to produce higher temperatures indoors when outdoor temperatures drop.

Unless it has some other kind of auxiliary electric heater to aid in its heating process, a heat pump may overcompensate and cause your utility bills to surge. This energy-efficient heating system recycles resources by storing any surplus heat it collects in the summer for later use, which helps you save on energy costs.

How Do Air Conditioners Work?

Air conditioners cool enclosed spaces…or so we thought. An air conditioner also relies on outside air. Still, it can’t facilitate temperature changes without relying on other heating systems, whether built-in or external.

An air conditioner with a heat pump facilitating temperatures is the most common eco-friendly type of home heating system you will find in the country today. It is sustainable and affordable. Its heating or cooling mode also maintains great indoor air quality the best. There are more layers of filters against contaminants and pollutants, beginning with heat absorption by the heat pump to the transmission into the corresponding indoor unit.

Parts of an Air Conditioner

An air conditioner works by adjusting temperatures and implementing filtration systems to produce quality breathing air indoors. There are different kinds of air conditioners, but they all share three major components:

  1. Condenser (Outdoor Unit)
  2. Air Handlers (Indoor Unit)
  3. Thermostat Panel/Controller (Temperature Manager)

An air conditioner also features an evaporator coil, which is great news for Utahns suffering under the sweltering heat. An evaporator coil is a heat exchanger within the heat pump system that helps transfer heat indoors to the outside.

If your air conditioning system isn’t built with an integrated heat pump, it may be attached to a natural gas furnace for heat management. A furnace attachment is more typical for a traditional central AC system. But more energy-efficient air conditioners feature integrated heat pump systems. What’s the difference? Let’s find out.

Ducted Central Air Conditioner

A centralized air conditioner might not be right for you if we discuss energy efficiency. A central air conditioner doesn’t only have a higher installation cost, but its extensive ductwork is harder to integrate into existing structures. Some structures opt for exposed ducting to save on renovation costs, but not everyone appreciates its aesthetic. A new air conditioner with ducted systems may not be appealing, and its risks for energy loss are just as unappealing.

The greater the distance your air travels, from the source to the destination (outdoor handler to indoor handler), the more air is lost along the way. It delays the process of your HVAC system, and you might end up paying more for less. However, central air conditioning has withstood the test of time, and they are still the most prominent air conditioner nationwide.

We think ductless systems are the future. They are not only more energy-efficient but make more accessible add-ons to existing indoor structures.

Ductless Mini-Split Air Conditioner

If you have ever seen a smaller air conditioning unit attached to the inner wall of a home or establishment, chances are you are looking at a ductless mini-split air conditioner.

Don’t mistake them for a window unit air conditioner because mini-splits are longer and more rectangular than box-type air conditioners. A ductless mini-split air conditioner also has higher energy efficiency ratings than most other HVAC systems. Air is transmitted through copper coils instead of ducts or pipes, and its single-zoning area of responsibility keeps energy consumption more focused. Unlike a central AC that maintains one constant temperature for an entire structure, ductless mini-splits have independent thermal controls.

It means your air conditioner doesn’t have to use more energy to provide and sustain even heating or cooling for the entire house.

Heat Pump VS Air Conditioner: Energy Efficiency

In the heat pump vs. air conditioner argument, energy efficiency is one of the biggest criteria up for debate.

Most of us like to look at the bigger picture before we make an electronic purchase. We look at how much an appliance will cost us in the long run and how much we get from it in return. The former might have the upper hand in overall efficiency, sustainability, and utility between heat pumps and air conditioners. The versatility of the right size heat pump in providing your home with cool or warm air is next to nothing. However, heat pumps have higher upfront costs. Still, they last longer, endure better and are more cost-reliable.

While nearly all modern air conditioners come with heat pump installations, they can cost at least twice as much. You can opt for an air conditioner with a furnace attachment instead if you aren’t keen on spending too much overall. However, if you want energy efficiency, we think air conditioners with built-in heat pumps are the way to go!

Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER)

Here’s one way to tell if your heat pumps and air conditioners are energy-efficient. Look for their Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER). You might see it indicated on its stickers or the box your heat pump or air conditioner comes in, saying HIGH SEER UNIT or Energy Star-certified. The higher their SEER ratings, the more overall efficiency they possess.

Preventive Maintenance for Your HVAC System

Regular tune-up and maintenance are important for your home heating and cooling system. Even the most efficient heat pump system can deteriorate over time. If you don’t want to be startled by next month’s utility bills, don’t forget to check your system for leaks and other damages regularly. Don’t worry about spending a little on preventive maintenance. They might save you from costly repairs in the future.

One-Stop Heating and Air Conditioning

It would be best if you didn’t settle for unreliable contractors; luckily, you don’t have to. Reach out to Utah’s most trusted HVAC specialists! One-Stop Heating and Air Conditioning technicians help Utahns with all their furnace repairfurnace maintenance, and heating system installation needs.

Don’t hesitate to call our team for any emergency assistance 24/7!

Call (801) 355-9500