The Difference between Air Conditioner and Heat Pump


The Difference between Air Conditioner and Heat Pump

Updated: 6/29/2017

When it’s time to replace or install an HVAC system in home or office, a common dilemma for most is selecting between an air conditioning system and a heat pump. While the systems mostly work in a similar way when they cool, there are some significant differences during heating. In this post, we will talk about some major differences between an air conditioner and a heat pump, their functioning, and factors that you should consider when selecting between the two.


The Difference

Both air conditioners and heat pumps are considered as a type of heat pump which transfers heat from within the structure to outside for cooling the inside temperatures. The most important difference between air conditioner and heat pump is the fact that heat pumps have the ability to reverse the direction of flow and can transfer heat from the outside environment to the inside for increasing the temperature of a room or house.

They do so with the help of a reverse valve that is built in their compressors. On the other hand, standard air conditioning systems are required to use heat strips that are electric-resistant in their air handle or use the furnace heat for distributing or producing warm air.


Their Functioning

While the air conditioning systems and heat pumps are different, they basically use similar principles for conditioning the inside temperature of air. Both of them use a compressor for compressing refrigerant stored in the system.

Within the compressor, compression of gas takes place which helps in significantly increasing the temperature. This high-temperature gas flows through condensing coil where the temperature gets reduced to the ambient temperatures. The gas then gets into evaporator coil which is located in the room or house and expands. Due to this expansion, the temperature of the gas drops significantly and the evaporator coil gets cool.

A blower or fan assembly in the air handler draws the air through this cooled evaporator coil for providing conditioned air to the interior of the home. The major difference between the two systems is that a heat pump has the ability to reverse this process by changing the function of condenser coil and evaporator to increase the inside temperature.


Selecting the Right Option

Selecting between a standard HVAC system and heat pump requires you to consider a number of factors, the most important of them being the climate of the place where you live. Places where the temperature is generally around 40 degrees or below do not require a heat pump. This is because when the temperature falls, the pumps are required to work harder in their effort to keep the temperature at desired levels. Needless to say, they require more electricity for this and this can significantly increase your electricity bill.

Moreover, when the temperature is below 40 degrees, most of the heat pumps start losing the heating efficiency and are required to switch to the emergency mode which makes use of heat strips that further consume more electricity. So, make sure that you understand the general climate of the place where you live and other factors like your requirement, energy efficiency, and costs to make the right decision.

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