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Heat Pump vs. Air Conditioner

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Heat pump vs. air conditioner is another one of those spirited debate topics. It ranks right up there with oil vs. natural gas and thin crust or deep dish pizza. And like these other decisions, whether a heat pump or air conditioner is better for your home depends on a number of factors.

When looking down the barrel of increasingly warmer days ahead, it probably doesn’t matter whether you have a heat pump or an air conditioner. You just want it to work. But when you are looking to install or replace an HVAC system that efficiently heats and cools your home and keeps your family comfortable, it’s important to know the facts.

Similarities of a Heat Pump and Air Conditioner

  • In cooling mode, heat pumps and air conditioners cool by moving heat and humidity from inside the home and depositing it outside
  • Both have indoor and outdoor components.
  • Heat pumps and air conditioners use refrigerant to cool the air.
  • Air is circulated throughout the home using ductwork in both types of systems
  • Central air conditioning systems and heat pump systems use replaceable or washable air filters to remove dust and allergens from the air before returning it to your home.

Differences Between a Heat Pump and Air Conditioner

  • Heat pumps provide both heating and cooling.
  • Air conditioners only provide cooling.
  • An air conditioner is usually paired with a furnace or boiler to provide heat during the winter months. Together, these units make up a complete heating and cooling system.
  • In milder climates, heat pumps are usually a complete heating and cooling system on their own.
  • Heat pumps have a reversing valve in the outdoor unit. This allows it to absorb heat energy from outside air, even in cold temperatures, and transfer the heat inside the home, where it releases it into the air.

Heat Pump vs. Air Conditioner — Which System is Right For You?

Both a heat pump and an air conditioner can be good choice, but one might be more appropriate for you, depending on your budget and the climate you live in. But consider that only 5 million of New England’s 15 million households use electric heat pumps, according to the National Energy & Fuels Institute. And since Levco’s customers live in the colder climate of Connecticut, our experts tend to side heavily with Team Air Conditioner. Here’s why:

Energy Efficiency

A heat pump works best when the temperature is above 40 degrees. When outside temperatures drop below freezing – as they often do in this part of New England – a heat pump starts losing efficiency and consumes more energy to do its job.

As long as the outside air temperature is above 30 degrees, a heat pump can pull enough heat from the outside air to warm a home to 70 degrees. But when the temperature dips below 30 degrees there isn’t enough heat in the outside air to pull in. When that happens, the system needs to switch to its supplemental heat source, such as an electric auxiliary heater or a furnace, to heat the home faster and save energy and money.

Installation and Equipment Costs  

It is important to understand the total costs of a system that can both heat and cool your home properly. While a heat pump system has a lower cost indoor unit, the outdoor unit can come with a higher upfront cost compared to an air conditioner. In addition to the higher equipment costs, the installation of these systems can be more complicated, thereby increasing labor charges.

Operating Costs

In milder climates, heat pump systems are often a more energy-efficient heating unit because they use only electricity. But when temperatures drop below freezing, a heat pump requires more energy to maintain a comfortable temperature inside. Not only does your electric bill increase, but there’s the added cost of oil, propane or natural gas to fuel the backup furnace.

In cooling mode, the costs to run both heat pumps and air conditioners is similar. That’s because both run on electricity. The higher the SEER rating for both types of systems, the more efficient the unit. In heating mode, heat pump efficiency is expressed in HSPF. The higher the HSPF, the higher the efficiency.

So, the energy efficiency and cost to operate factor usually comes down to location. A heat pump is a better option in with moderate temperatures than in areas with extremely cold winters, like Connecticut.


Another important factor is the longevity of the system. There are several variables that greatly influence the life expectancy of a HVAC system. But AC units typically last a bit longer than heat pumps (20 – 25 years vs. 15 – 20 years). This is because heat pumps heat and cool a home, so they are used year-round. Air conditioners get a break during the cooler months when a separate heat source is used to heat the home. Of course, annual tune-ups can extend the life of both heat pump or air conditioning system and help keep it running at maximum energy efficiency.

Ask Levco If Equipment Replacement Is Right For You

Whether you’re replacing an existing HVAC system for your home, or purchasing one for the first time, there’s a lot to debate between a heat pump vs an air conditioner. Besides climate, you need to consider the size of your home, the efficiency rating of the units and the costs. Let a Levco professional help evaluate your home’s heating and cooling needs and recommend the best option for you. Give us a call to help settle the debate of heat pump vs air conditioner!

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