Heat pump vs central air conditioning: which is the best cooling system for you?

Deciding between a heat pump and central air can feel like a heated debate. While both have merits in maintaining your home’s comfort, understanding the nuances is essential, especially when considering factors like gas furnace repair and heat pump installations. Dive into this guide to uncover which system might just be your home’s perfect match.

When it is time to get a new cooling system, homeowners are constantly faced with this dilemma: central air conditioning or heat pump systems?

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If you cannot choose, you are not alone. You have no reason to worry; this article is here to sort you out.

We look at the similarities and differences between the two. And more importantly, we help you choose the best system for you.

Let’s get down to the AC unit vs heat pump business.

Heat Pump vs Central Air Conditioner: How Do They Work?

First, a heat pump and a central air conditioning system will do the job if you are looking for a system to cool your house.

Both systems have a compressor that compresses the refrigerant liquid. As air passes over the coils in the air handler, the refrigerant liquid collects heat from the air. The liquid then transfers the heat outside and releases it to the surrounding area.

This is what an air conditioner and a heat pump in a cooling mode do.

Also, the outdoor units of both systems look pretty similar. A regular homeowner cannot tell them apart.

So, where does the difference come in? Find out below.

Heat Pump Systems vs Central Air Conditioners: How Do They Differ?

The main difference between a central AC and a heat pump is that a central AC just cools the house.

A heat pump can cool and warm the house. To do the warming, heat pumps reverse the direction of refrigerant transfer and transfer warm air from the outside to the inside. Since they work all year round, it is clear that heat pump repair is done more often.

Heat Pump vs. Air Conditioner Energy Efficiency

Energy efficiency is a significant factor when choosing between heat pumps and air conditioning.

Both systems use SEER to measure energy efficiency. A heat pump with the same SEER rating as a central air conditioner will consume the same energy to cool the house under similar conditions.

Also, both heat pump systems and central ACs have Energy Star systems.

Note: Central AC systems with Energy Star ratings are approximately 8% more effective than those without. On the other hand, heat pumps with an Energy Star rating are at least 5% more energy efficient than those without.

The difference, however, comes in when the temperatures are extreme. In many cases, a central air conditioner has issues in extreme temperatures. They can effortlessly cool your house even when the difference between indoor and outdoor temperatures is within 20 degrees.

However, when the temperature difference exceeds 20 degrees, an air conditioner will have issues cooling your house. It will be very inefficient to run an air conditioner during such temperature drops.

On the other hand, a heat pump will have no issues cooling your house in extreme temperature differences. If you experience high outdoor temperatures, you are better off with a heat pump.

Note: Under even and regular conditions, the energy efficiency of an air conditioner and a central air conditioner are pretty even.

Central AC vs Heat Pump: Life Expectancy

If you are spending lots of money, you want to buy something that will last you longer. 

An air conditioner generally has a longer lifespan than a heat pump. And the reason is pretty apparent: your air conditioner will have a break during the winter. You will only use it for one half of the year.

On the other hand, a heat pump cools and warms the house. You will, therefore, use it all year round. It makes sense when it does not last as long as an air conditioner.

However, geothermal heat pumps typically last longer than central air conditioners and conventional heat pumps.

Note: One thing you should know is your using habits and AC maintenance heavily affect the lifespan of your cooling system. The ground loop heat pump can last up to an incredible 50 years!

Remember: Because your AC runs all year round, it is more prone to breakdowns and wear and tear. We, therefore, advise you to be in contact with your local AC repair company

Central Air Conditioner vs Heat Pump: Price

It is no secret that an HVAC system is not a light investment. This is why it is essential to compare the prices of the two systems.

If you are looking for the cost-friendliest option, an air-source heat pump is a perfect match for you. On the contrary, a geothermal heat pump is the most expensive option; it can cost you over $30,000 (each case is completely different)

An air conditioner would be cheaper than a conventional heat pump system. It makes sense to have cheaper air conditioners than heat pumps, as you will need to buy a separate heat system.

You can talk to local HVAC contractors to help you determine whether a heat pump system or AC system is worth your money. 

When to Choose a Heat Pump over a Central AC

One reason people find the heat pump more appealing than the central AC is that a heat pump can warm a house. When it is cold outside, it warms the house. When it is hot outside, it cools the house.

Who doesn’t like to buy versatile things? You do not have to install a separate furnace with a heat pump.

Therefore, a heat pump is only ideal without a heating system. Installing it is like killing two birds with one stone.

If you live in moderate climates, you will enjoy heat pump benefits. Heat pumps can warm up your house well in mild winters. However, it will be a hassle if things drop low.

In frigid winters, your heat pump will have to overwork, consuming more energy.

Also, with a heat pump, you will not experience the temperature fluctuations that sometimes happen when you start your central air conditioning system.

If you are looking for a heating system too, you may want to make a heat pump vs furnace comparison. 

When to Choose a Central AC over a Heat Pump

Central air conditioners are cheaper to buy and install. You may spend several thousand less if you use an air conditioning system.

For instance, an air conditioner’s average price is $2000 to $5000 depending on many factors such as the central air conditioner brand. On the other side, a heat pump would cost $40000 to $10000. (1)

Therefore, be prepared to cough more money if you go for high-end heat pumps such as the geothermal type.

Another perfect situation to go for air conditioners if you only need a cooling system. For instance, if you already have a heating system in place. In this situation, getting a central AC is more realistic and cheaper.

If you are considering buying a central AC unit, do not purchase without looking at the types of central air conditioning for homes

Heat Pump Pros

  • Cheaper options such as air source heat pump,
  • no need for an auxiliary electric heater as you can get both cold air and warm air in its heating mode,
  • heat pump efficiency is excellent when the outdoor temperatures drop,

Heat Pump Cons

  • generally more expensive than central air conditioners,
  • have a shorter life span than air conditioners as heat pumps serve you all year round,

Air Conditioners Pro

  • Generally Cheaper than heat pumps,
  • last longer as they will serve you only one half of the month,

Air Conditioner Cons

  • Not efficient when the outdoor temperatures drop is extreme,
  • With an air conditioning unit, you will need a separate heating system

Central Air vs Heat Pump Systems Frequently Asked Questions

At this point, you could have decided which is on heat pump cooling vs central air. If not, we hope that these FAQs will help you make the final decision on which HVAC system is best for you.

Which one is right for you: AC vs Heat Pump

Different factors will determine which system is better for you. However, the rule of thumb is if you have a heating system already, go for central air. However, heat pumps would be a good choice if you have no heating system.

Does a heat pump cool as well as an air conditioner?

A heat pump and an air conditioner excellent in warm and mild climates. You need to ensure you buy the right system for your climate.

Which one is cheaper: AC unit vs Heat Pump?

Installing a heat pump is generally more expensive than installing an air conditioner. However, the installation and operating cost of an air conditioner plus a furnace will be higher than just air source heat pumps.

What are some downsides of a heat pump?

The main downside would be the high upfront cost. They are also complicated and expensive to install.

How cold can a heat pump get a house?

We merge this question with another HVAC FAQ, “do heat pumps cool a house?”

Yes, they cool a house, contrary to what many people think.

And, they can cool a house down by 15 to 20 degrees.

Can Heat Pumps replace Air Conditioning?

Yes, they can replace air conditioning and possibly your furnace too.

Final Thoughts on Central Air Conditioner vs Heat Pump

For homeowners with a duct system, choosing between a central air conditioner and a heat pump can be very challenging. However, we are assured that that is not the case anymore with our guide.

Go through the pros and cons of both heat pumps and central AC. In the case you are not sure, feel free to contact us. We would be glad to help you choose the cooling system that is most appropriate for you.

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