Heat Pump vs. Air Conditioner | What’s the Difference?Service Champions
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Heat Pump vs. Air Conditioner | What’s the Difference?

August 29th, 2017

What is the difference between an air conditioner and a heat pump? Are they the same thing?

Heat Pump vs. Air Conditioner

In many ways, heat pumps are functionally the same as conventional air conditioners. The only real difference is that a heat pump can reverse itself so it can provide heating when needed. So basically, it’s an air conditioner that can reverse itself.

Think of air conditioners as heat pumps that can only pump heat in one direction—from the inside to the outside. Although we can technically call an air conditioner a heat pump, the term “heat pump” is generally used to refer to an HVAC system that can pump heat inside or outside.

Heat pumps are machines that can pump heat in both directions—from the inside to the outside (cooling) and from the outside to the inside (heating).

Air conditioners, heat pumps, and refrigerators all use a similar process to transfer heat energy. If you have ever taken a look behind your refrigerator, you may have noticed coils that can get hot to the touch. This is where the heat from inside the refrigerator is dispensed.

Although many people think that air conditioners and refrigerators add cool air to indoor spaces, they actually subtract heat from the air.

They are absorbing heat inside and then discharging it outdoors. By doing so, the air inside cools down. So, when a heat pump reverses itself to heat your home, it is functionally air conditioning the outside environment by extracting heat from the outdoor spaces and transferring it indoors.

You may be asking yourself how a heat pump can remove heat from the outdoors during the winter months when you need heating the most. Well, consider that your freezer is very cold, but it is still able to transfer heat from the cold inside environment to the coils in the back. There is still heat energy in cold environments. The temperatures would have to be very cold for this process not to work.

Learn more about the refrigeration cycle and how air conditioners work.

Do I Have a Heat Pump or an Air Conditioner?

The best way to tell if you have a heat pump or air conditioner is by checking the manufacturer sticker on the side of your outdoor unit. Look for the Model Number (M/N) and write it down. Once you are back inside, enter the number into your internet search engine. The results will tell you what kind of system you have (plus a lot of other information).

Should I Get a Heat Pump or an Air Conditioner and Furnace?

So, which type of HVAC system is right for your home, an air conditioner and furnace or a heat pump that can both heat and cool your home?

Even though heat pumps can absorb heat from cold environments, when temperatures drop below freezing it can be very inefficient. That is why most heat pumps work in conjunction with a furnace to provide efficient heating in the winter months. It’s called hybrid heating.

In areas with mild winters, however, a heat pump may be all you need. For instance, in many areas of Northern California, heat pumps are extremely efficient. They are a great option that won’t require a lot of retrofitting.

Additionally, you may be eligible to receive various tax credits, rebates, and other incentives for heat pump upgrades.

Learn more about the different types of heating and cooling systems available in Northern California.

If you have any questions whatsoever, don’t hesitate to contact Service Champions.

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