A heat pump, as its name suggests, works by “pumping” thermal (or heat) energy from a lower temperature space to a higher temperature space. Typically heat flows from higher temperatures to lower temperatures. Heat pumps force the energy to follow opposite to where it would naturally go.
An air conditioner is a type of heat pump that specifically transfers heat from a cool indoor space to the warm (or really hot) outdoors. When we talk about “heat pumps”, we’re typically referring to units that provide both cooling in summer and heating in winter.
So how do you decide which one is right for you? Here are some questions you need to answer to help with that decision:
Do you need heating and cooling or just cooling?
The first question might seem obvious but there are situations where you already have some heating and need supplemental heat. Or you might be considering other options for heating in addition to the heat pump.
What’s the climate like where you live?
Because heat is being transferred from low temperatures outside to higher temperatures indoors, the efficiency drops off significantly as the outdoor temperature drops. For extreme cold weather applications, like climates in the far north, a furnace, boiler or even electric heat will work better for the coldest winter months. This is because when the temperature is consistently below freezing, the heat pump will have to work so hard to warm your home that its efficiency suffers and your electricity bill spikes.
Air source heat pumps are ideal for areas with mild winters. They also work well if you already have heating and just need a little extra for the shoulder seasons (spring and fall).
The initial cost of a heat pump is not significantly more than an air conditioning unit. However, the operating cost is higher since it runs year-round and requires more maintenance. Greater wear and tear as well as more components that need attention will add to your maintenance bill.
As with the cost, the lifespan of your heat pump is affected by the fact that it runs for longer periods of the year than an air conditioner. You will have to replace it sooner so talk to a professional to ensure that you’ll benefit from the heating given by a heat pump.
Deciding between the systems isn’t always black and white. If you need help or if you already have an option in mind, give us a call and we can help you get the right unit for your home.