Before you call your air conditioning service for an upgrade or replacement, you must keenly analyze the heat pump vs air conditioner debate.

If you are in a moderate climatic area, you can choose between several heating options, such as a heat pump or an air conditioner.

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However, the thing about having this choice is you may not know what is good for you. There are many ways a heat pump system is similar to an air conditioner. And this is just at face value. On the deeper side, there are several distinct differences.

This leads to the question, which is the best option for you, a heat pump or an air conditioner system?

Read on as we analyze the head on between a heat pump and air conditioners.

Let’s go.

 What is a Heat Pump?

A heat pump working principle is it is easier to move something than to make it from scratch.

Therefore, heat pumps remove heat from the inside and release it outside to cool a house. It reverses the process of warming a house, on the other hand.

Heat pumps are efficient enough to extract warm air even from a freezing outside. However, sometimes there is no more heat; a supplementary heating option has to step in.

You can choose from the two significant categories of heat pumps:

  • Air source heat pumps that extract warmth from the air,
  • Geothermal heat pumps that acquire heat from the ground,

Also, you can choose from two designs of heat pumps:

  • The split type is made up of two separate outdoor and indoor units,
  • The packaged type is made up of a cabinet housing all the system’s components.

Sometimes, the packaged unit comes with a gas furnace and electric heating coils. This supplements the heat pump to deliver warmer air indoors whenever the temperatures are frigid.

What is an Air Conditioner?

An air conditioning system works pretty much like a heat pump; it extracts heat from the indoors and transfers it outdoors. The most notable difference is that central air conditioning systems do the cooling job exemplary.

This HVAC system comes with ductwork that distributes cold air throughout your house.

The components of air conditioners are almost similar to those of heat pumps. The cooling system comes with a compressor, a condenser and a fan for the outdoor unit. The indoor unit is composed of an evaporator and a fan.

A refrigerant circulates through the evaporator and the condenser, absorbing heat from the indoor air. The resulting cool air moves through the ductwork.

There are several types of air conditioner systems you can choose from. These include:

  • central air conditioners,
  • window air conditioners,
  • split-type air conditioners,
  • portable units.

Despite the differences and configurations, the working principles of these air conditioners remain the same. 

How Similar are Heat Pumps and Air Conditioners?

If you are looking for a cooling system, both an air conditioner and a heat pump will do the job. The two come with compressed refrigerants that will absorb heat from your indoor air. They both essentially move heat from indoors to outdoor locations.

They both pump hot air from the outside, which is why it is difficult for an average person to tell them apart.

However, the difference comes in other factors and technicalities. We go past the face value and look deep into the operation of the two below.

How Does a Heat Pump Differ from an Air Conditioner?

If you are looking to upgrade your cooling system, you need to know how to choose between these two. And for you to choose appropriately, you need to understand their differences.

Look below for the performance and technical differences between heat pumps and air conditioners.

Let’s go!

Heat Pump vs Air Conditioner Costs

Cost is a vital factor when it comes to installing a cooling system. And, it is not just about installation. The operation costs are a significant factor to keep in mind.

The cost of a heat pump’s indoor system will be lower than that of an AC unit. However, a heat pump’s outdoor unit is more expensive than an air conditioner’s.

The installation cost will vary depending on a few factors, such as the size and type. You need to consult with your local HVAC technician to get accurate estimates.

However, generally, the total installation cost of a heat pump is higher than that of an air conditioner.

Heat Pump vs Air Conditioner Energy Efficiency/Operation Costs

A heat pump provides more energy efficiency by using only electricity in moderate temperatures. It is more energy efficient to operate in these conditions than using other fuel options such as oil, propane, and natural gas. We discuss this comprehensively in the heat pump vs gas furnace option.

However, when outdoor temperatures drop below zero, heat pumps cease to be energy efficient(1). Below the freezing points, they need support from a heater, which increases the energy bills. However, pairing your heat pump with a furnace can create a hybrid heating system to solve this efficiency problem.

That is, it is in the heating mode. However, both the heat pumps and air conditioners come with a SEER rating in the cooling mode. The higher the SEER rating of your system, the higher the energy efficiency. Therefore, always go for one with a higher SEER for both systems. The purchasing cost may be higher, but lower operating costs will all be worth it.

And even much better, go for a system with an Energy-star rating for increased efficiency.


Heat pump systems have a significantly lower lifespan than conventional air conditioners.

This is because heating pumps handle both cooling and heating, while an air conditioner handles only heating.  They, therefore, run all year round, and it is only logical that they will go out quicker than a conventional AC unit. 

Air conditioners take a breaker during the cool winter months.

However, to increase the lifespan of both your heat pump system and your air conditioner, always have regular air conditioning services and maintenance from your local HVAC experts.

How a Heat Pump vs AC Works

As we have already stated, heat pumps and air conditioners have the same cooling principles. They both use a compressor to compress the refrigerant in the system. They work the same in cooling a house. The gas is compressed, lowering the temperatures significantly, and allowing it to absorb indoor heat.

However, the difference comes when the heat pump can reverse this process. It can switch the function of the evaporator and condenser coils depending on the temperatures. This means that it can raise and lower the temperatures indoors, depending on what is needed. An air conditioner can only lower the temperatures.

Heat Pump vs Air Conditioner: Which is the best option for you

Heat Pump vs Air Conditioner pros and cons infographics

From the differences between the two systems, it is clear that what works for your friend may not work well for you.

So, how do you know what the best option for you is?

We look at the pros and cons of heat pumps and air conditioners to help you make the most appropriate choice.

Pros of a Heat Pump

  • Heat pumps are super energy efficient for people living in moderate climates. If your climate never drops below freezing points, heat pumps will work perfectly for you,
  • You do not need a separate heating and cooling system as a heat pump will do both; heat pumps are simpler to maintain. Scheduling maintenance at least twice a year is generally sufficient,
  • Heat pumps are generally environmentally friendly

Cons of a Heat Pump

  • Heat pumps are only efficient for moderate temperatures. If the temperatures dip during winter, they will call for support from other systems, which consume more energy;
  • Since they work all year round, they are prone to more wear and tear. They, therefore, have a shorter life span;
  • Heat pumps cost more to purchase and install.

Pros of an Air conditioner

  • Air conditioners are the best cooling options as this is their specialization. If you are heavy on the cooling part during summer, go for an air conditioner,
  • Air conditioners come with ventilation and filtering features. They, therefore, help improve the quality of indoor air and also reduce the presence of indoor allergens,
  • If you have an already existing ductwork, installing an air conditioner can be very cheap,
  • They are great cooling options for bigger homes with already existing duct networks,

 Cons of Air Conditioners

  • It can not heat your house. You, therefore, need a separate heating system, especially if your temperatures go below 60 degrees during winter,
  • The option many times end up being a furnace. You, therefore, need sufficient space for both the systems,
  • Purchasing and installing two systems for heating and cooling can be expensive.

So, which is the best cooling option for you?

At HVAC Santa Clarita, we always recommend a heat pump for people who live in moderate temperatures like here in Santa Clarita.

However, if your temperatures drop so much in winter, you are better off with an air conditioner.

Some people take the risk of a heat pump as they only experience a few freezing days per year. However, in this case, we often bring up Joe Williams quote, “Who knows how long the cold weather will last”. It very much applies, so make an informed choice. 

Also, if you have a large home with existing ductwork, you are better off with an air conditioner. If in doubt, your local HVAC expert can always help you choose the most appropriate option.

Noise is another factor that people consider. In these two, generally, an air conditioner is more silent. However, if you are keen on a silent option, an evaporative cooler may work better for you; check its pros and cons on the evaporative cooler vs air conditioner head on. 

Heat Pump vs Air Conditioner Frequently Asked Questions

We answer some air conditioner vs heat pump FAQs below. We hope that these will help you make a more informed choice.

However, if your question goes unanswered below, we would be glad to answer you; don’t hesitate to contact us.

Which is better for cooling a heat pump vs AC?

Generally, heat pumps put out more warm air and cool air by volume than the amount of energy they consume. They are, therefore, high energy efficiency.

However, your choice has to consider your climate. Heat pumps work efficiently for moderate climates that don’t dip into freezing during winter.

 Do heat pumps work as well as an air conditioner?

Heat pumps and air conditioners are essentially the same from the cooling perspective. Air conditioners may cool more as they are made specially, but the difference is not as significant.

However, there is no significant difference in the cooling capacities of the two. So yes, a heat pump can cool and an air conditioner.

 Is an AC cheaper than a heat pump?

Yes, an AC installation is cheaper than a heat pump. Heat pumps are typically 1.5 to 2 times more than an air conditioner(2). This is, however, logical because a heat pump handles both heating and cooling.

Can a heat pump replace an air conditioner?

Yes, a heat pump can comfortably replace an air conditioner. However, an air conditioner alone cannot replace a heat pump.

You need to consider all the essential factors if you are planning to install one to replace another.

 Do I Still Need a Furnace with a Heat Pump?

If your temperatures do not drop below 30 degrees, a heat pump can pull enough heat to keep your house warm. However, below that, you will need an additional heat source like a furnace.

So, this entirely depends on what your climate is like.

 Can a Heat Pump Heat my Whole House?

Yes, you can invest in a whole-house heater. This is an energy-efficient cooling and heating option for your house.

 How Long Does a Heat Pump last?

They typically last 10-20 years. Fifteen years is the average. If your heat pump is more than a decade old, it is time to start planning for a replacement.

 Does a Heat Pump Use a lot of electricity?

Heat pumps need a relatively low amount of electricity to run. If you install a modern heat pump, it will transfer three to four times more thermal energy than the amount of electricity it consumes. That right there makes it highly energy efficient.

Final Thoughts

AC vs heat pump analysis too long to read? A quick summary would be a heat pump heats and cools while an air conditioner only cools. You will, therefore, need a separate heating system if you have an air conditioner.

Also, a heat pump is highly energy efficient, but not as much when it freezes outside. It will need support from another device when the temperatures drop below 30.

And finally, heat pumps may be expensive to install, but it is logical because it does two jobs, heating and cooling.

These features should help you choose the best system for you. Have any more questions on air conditioner heat pump analysis? We would be delighted to help you out. Give us a call today.

call 661-888-0248

Contact us 24/7 for HVAC services!


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