Heat Pumps vs Air Conditioners: The Ultimate Comparison

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By Debarghya Roy

Heat pumps can both warm and cool your home, while air conditioners only provide cooling.

In order to make an informed decision, it is important to understand the differences between heat pumps and air conditioners including cost and installation, how they work, energy efficiency, noise levels, and life expectancy.

How Do Heat Pumps Work?

Heat pumps use the two-way flow of refrigerant containing energy by moving it from indoors to outdoors when cooling and from outside to inside when heating.

Heat Pumps vs Air Conditioners

The refrigerant in the system is used to transport heat from one part of the system to another. 

Their primary components are an evaporator coil, compressor, condenser, and expansion valve or device.

How Air Conditioners Work?

In order for air conditioners to work effectively, they must be able to maintain a difference in temperature between two places, usually indoors and outdoors.

Heat Pumps vs Air Conditioners

It allows them to absorb heat from one side using various components such as compressors, valves and other parts that control how hot or cold air is moved around your home through pipes.

Cost To Purchase And Installation Cost: Heat Pump Vs Air Conditioner

When comparing the cost to purchase and installation cost of heat pumps and air conditioners, it’s essential to consider not only the upfront costs but also the long-term energy savings each system offers. 

To provide a clear comparison, we’ve outlined the costs of both systems below in a comprehensive table.

SystemHeat PumpAir Conditioner
Cost to Purchase$4,200 to $7,600$3,000 to $7,000
Upfront CostHigher Lower
Installation CostsIncluded in purchase costIncluded in purchase cost
Estimated Energy Savings20% to 70% less than traditional central air conditioning systems.Less energy savings compared to heat pumps.

Energy Efficiency And Cost Savings: Heat Pump Vs Air Conditioner

The energy efficiency and cost differences between heat pumps and air conditioners are worth considering when making a decision on which system to purchase for your home. 

The following table compares the average cost savings and energy efficiency ratings for heat pumps and air conditioners.

CategoryHeat PumpsAir Conditioners
Energy EfficiencyHeat pumps generally have higher SEER ratings than air conditioners, making them more energy-efficient.Air conditioners may have lower SEER ratings than heat pumps, which can contribute to higher energy consumption.
Average Cost SavingsWith higher energy efficiency, heat pumps can result in lower energy bills over time. Homeowners can expect to save approximately 30-40% on heating costs when compared to traditional furnaces.Air conditioners may not provide the same level of cost savings as heat pumps, especially in colder climates where heating is required more frequently.
Energy Efficiency RatingsHeat pumps typically have SEER ratings between 14 and 20 or higher, showcasing their energy efficiency capabilities.Air conditioners usually have SEER ratings ranging from 13 to 21, but higher-rated units tend to be more expensive.
How to Maximize SavingsTo maximize savings with a heat pump, homeowners should choose one with a high SEER rating and consider proper insulation and weatherization to reduce heat transfer.For air conditioners, choosing a unit with a higher SEER rating and ensuring proper maintenance can help maximize energy savings and reduce operating costs.

Noise Levels: Heat Pumps Vs Air Conditioners

The table below compares the noise levels of various types of heat pumps and air conditioners, taking into account factors such as compressor location, fan speed, and insulation.

Type of SystemHeat PumpsCentral Air ConditionersDuctless (Mini-Split) Heat Pumps
Decibel Rating Range70-75 dB70-75 dB59-62 dB
Factors Contributing to NoiseCompressor location, fan speed, insulation, and ductworkCompressor location, fan speed, insulation, and ductworkCompressor location, fan speed, and insulation

Lifespan: Heat Pump Vs Air Conditioner

Heat pumps and air conditioners both have a limited lifespan depending on maintenance , usage, quality of the system, geographic location and climate. 

On average, a heat pump has an expected lifespan of between 10 – 15 years if properly maintained while the life of an AC unit is approximately 8 -12 years.

Heat pumps last longer in mild climates compared to those located in hot climates as they are required to work harder by cooling or heating more frequently year round such as cold-weather locations with extended summer months or warm summer regions for winter weather systems .

In addition, squeaking rattles from loose parts over time shortens the lifespan considerably so it’s best practice to routinely inspect and look after all components mechanically before doing anything else major.

Good practice requires often changing filters which will prevent dust build up thus prolonging its overall longevity.

Advantages Of Using Heat Pump 

Heat pumps offer several advantages such as inverter technology, environmental benefits, and zoned heating and cooling capabilities that make them an attractive option for many homeowners.

Inverter Technology

Inverter technology is a highly efficient hybrid type of compressor system that has become the industry standard for most mini split systems. 

The heart of an inverter-driven air conditioner or heat pump consists of an electronically controlled rotary compressor, which can vary its speed according to the required cooling or heating capacity.

This allows it to be up to 50% more energy efficient than traditional compressors, while delivering optimal comfort levels in all climates and demands. 

Compared with regular reciprocating compressors, inverters also ensure quieter operation and are almost maintenance free due to their simpler construction.

Environmental Benefits

Heat pumps are an economical and eco-friendly way to cool or heat a home. As opposed to air conditioners, they use less energy as their conversion rate from energy to heat is more efficient.

This significantly reduces carbon emissions that would otherwise be created with other heating methods, making them much easier on the environment. 

Ductless models of the pump can provide just as efficient cooling or heating without contributing any noise pollution either indoors or outdoors.

Heat pumps also improve indoor air quality by circulating filtered fresh air throughout houses and providing temperature control at various zones in larger homes so that extra conditioning isn’t used where it’s not needed.

Zoned Heating And Cooling

Zoned heating and cooling is an effective way to optimize a Home or Building’s HVAC system for maximum energy efficiency, cost effectiveness, and comfort. 

This means that entire sections of the house no longer have to be heated or cooled at one time; only those with active occupants are adjusted as necessary. 

This leads to far more efficient use of energy, since only desired parts of the building are consistently being conditioned.

In addition, this allows individual temperatures in each room or area within the overall Zone to be precisely adjusted using thermostats independently set for differing locations in a space according to occupant preference and individual activity levels without ever changing settings elsewhere in the zone.

Portable electronic thermostat devices offer added convenience by allowing users control their own environment from any location in a room. 

Installation costs for zoned systems may vary compared to traditional systems; additional equipment needs installation along with extra piping work due to its complexity but this initial investment will often result in improved overall efficiency reducing monthly utility bills by as much as 40%.

Disadvantages Of Using a Heat Pump 

The main disadvantages are as follows,

Low Refrigerant Levels

A heat pump needs the correct amount of refrigerant in order to operate effectively. Low levels will result in poor performance and a reduction in overall efficiency. 

To fix this, check for any possible refrigerant leaks, then recharge or replace the system with fresh fluid as needed.

Faulty Thermostat 

Your thermostat needs to be functioning correctly to ensure your heat pump is producing efficient temperatures throughout your home or workplace space. 

If not, replace it with a new one that’s compatible with your unit’s requirements.

Frozen Coils 

This issue can commonly occur when outside temperatures drop too low, causing the condenser coils and evaporator coils inside the machine to freeze up and stop cooling properly making repair necessary for operation to resume normally again (a compressor might also need repaired/replaced). 

One way to help prevent it from happening is by cleaning air filters regularly so air flow isn’t restricted, which could cause further freezing issues due to circulation being limited.

Leaking Water

Troubleshooting water leaking from a heat pump may require professional assistance if you’re uncertain about how or why water is pooling around the unit itself.

It could indicate problems like clogged drains or faulty gutter systems nearby (or perhaps improper installation). 

Inspect surrounding areas visually before calling an expert technician out for more specific advice on what steps should next be taken.

Disconnected External Components

Your outdoor connections are essential components of your total HVAC setup.

They secure power supply into the equipment while maintaining safe insulation requirements around wires and other electrical current carriers entering/exiting rooms within families’ dwellings.

If connections appear loose or disjointed look over all connection points both inside & externally then tighten them securely

Too Much Noise From Unit

Noises coming from your Heat Pump indicate various things such as blocked vents ,blowers off balance ,outdated motors requiring upgrades ,loose parts also having poorly installed units may contribute to loud noises as well.

To rectify this kind of problem locate potential noise sources through visual inspections plus listening tests conducted periodically paying close attention while responding when performing general maintenance tasks throughout its life cycle

Advantages Of Using Air Conditioner 

SEER Ratings

  • SEER ratings are a measure of efficiency used to compare the cooling capacity of a wide variety of air conditioners and heat pumps. 
  • Higher SEER ratings represent more efficient systems, which can result in significant cost savings over time due to lower electricity bills. 

Using Commercial AC Technology

Commercial air conditioning systems can vary greatly depending on the size and layout of a business. 

Some of the most commonly used commercial AC systems are central air, packaged systems, and split systems. 

Central air units are usually found in larger businesses with multiple rooms or sections requiring climate control. 

These ACs work by drawing outdoor air into the building then circulating it through all connected rooms as cooled/heated air before exhausting it out again via vents. 

Packaged units combine both cooling/heating components inside one unit to be installed outside a building or within an attic space making them highly versatile for small-medium sized businesses where space is limited or difficult to access for traditional HVAC installers. 

Reliability is crucial when selecting an AC system for any commercial property since downtime leads to lost customers and revenue potential. In general, central air conditioners offer high levels of reliability due to their backup power sources.

Energy efficiency wise, classic solutions such as central sets (90+ SEER models) tend to perform better than smaller alternatives such as PTACS which can range at 78–82 SEER ratings; mini-split indoor heads will also typically have higher numbers given its modernized design albeit with lower heating capacities . 

Hybrid Systems With Air Conditioner

In a hybrid system, an air-source heat pump is backed up by an auxiliary system that kicks in during particularly cold temperatures.

Hybrid systems are typically more energy efficient than traditional furnaces and heat pumps operating alone because they often feature advanced inverter technology which helps them anticipate demand and adjust output accordingly to save energy over the course of any given day or season.

Heat pumps and air conditioners organized in this format can provide better climate control throughout multiple rooms thanks to zoned HVAC solutions which offer greater customization options than single stand-alone connection systems do.

Disadvantages Of Using Air Conditioner 

Here are some potential downsides of using air conditioners.

Common AC Issues And Troubleshooting

Poor Circulation

  • Improperly sized or installed air conditioners can lead to poor air circulation. 
  • Check the filters, blower settings and ductwork for blockage that may be preventing adequate airflow.

Broken Thermostat 

  • If you’re experiencing uneven temperatures in rooms connected to the same AC system, it may indicate a malfunctioning thermostat. 
  • Replace with a new one if needed as this is a cheaper solution than replacing the entire unit.

Clogged Drain Line

  • Clogged drain lines are common occurrences in AC units which reduces their efficiency significantly or even cause them to fail completely due to water damage from overflowing buckets and condensation lines.
  • Unclog them regularly using an eco-friendly cleaner like vinegar mixed with baking soda and distilled water for effective cleaning action without damaging surfaces.

Refrigerant Leaks

  • Refrigerant leaks can occur either internally (from damaged tubing) or externally (external corrosion). 
  • To inspect for refrigerant leaks use soap bubbles followed by heat guns around the suspected area until bubble size increases indicating presence of leak. 
  • Have a professional technician repair any damaged parts before proceeding further as repairs/replacements need specialized tools/knowledge as well as safety measures while working with chemicals etc.

Blocked Condenser Coils

External elements such dust, dirt and debris blocking condenser coils act as insulation resulting in overheating of compressors leading to premature failure of the unit & shortening its lifespan drastically hence regular professional cleaning recommended on monthly basis.

Air Quality Improvements

The main purpose of a Heating, Ventilation, and Air-Conditioning system is to maintain good indoor air quality through adequate ventilation.

In addition to providing cooling relief during hot summer months, ACs also dehumidify interior spaces keeping mold at bay as humidity levels are continuously monitored throughout the year.

Factors To Consider While Choosing Between A Heat Pump And An Air Conditioner

When deciding between a heat pump and an air conditioner, there are various factors to consider such as climate, energy efficiency, cost, and system type. 

It’s important to take into account these key points in order to make an informed decision that best meets your needs.

Evaluating Heating And Cooling Needs

When deciding between a heat pump or air conditioner for a professional setting, it is important to evaluate heating and cooling needs. 

In a 12000 square foot warehouse that requires 24 hour operation with many pieces of machinery running annually across 3 shifts and little insulation would require significantly more cooling power than the traditional AC system described previously meaning one may have to invest in a larger heat pump or other appropriate commercial HVAC solution.

When determining which system will best suit your facility’s particular needs, it is essential to also consider localized temperatures as equipment might need modifications if operating outside in extreme hot temperatures.

Geographic Location And Climate Considerations

The geographic location and climate of the area where a heat pump or air conditioner is used can heavily influence its effectiveness and efficiency.

For instance, if an area has mild weather that rarely dips below freezing or rises above 90 degrees Fahrenheit on a frequent basis but experiences great humidity levels it might be better suited for an air conditioning unit rather than a heat pump.

An AC system is better able to provide adequate cooling while still being energy efficient when faced with high temperatures coupled with a large amount of moisture in the air.

If a region tends to have cold winters paired with moderate summers then selecting between either could just come down to cost related considerations since both systems are suitable at providing comfortably heated interiors regardless of outdoor weather conditions.

Budget And Energy Efficiency Factors

When choosing between a heat pump and an air conditioner, budget and energy efficiency should be taken into consideration. 

The initial cost of purchasing a heat pump is usually higher than that of an air conditioner, with the average cost for installation ranging from $2,000-6,000 depending on your model choice.

In addition, their improved efficiency can provide long-term savings in terms of electricity bills due to using less power to generate similar amounts of heating/cooling compared to ACs.

High-efficiency models boast ratings up to 370 percent efficiency while more standard models range from 175 percent – 300 percent performance rating respectively when comparing SEER (seasonal energy efficiency ratio) values.

Prioritizing Key Factors

When it comes to choosing between a heat pump and an air conditioner, it is important for professionals to prioritize key factors that play into the overall decision. 

  • When comparing these two types of home comfort systems, efficiency should be at the top of the list.
  • For example, look at SEER ratings to compare energy efficiency in air conditioners and consider inverter technology when evaluating heat pumps.
  • An efficient system can save money over time while providing optimal performance throughout its lifespan.
  • Budget and climate should also be considered when selecting a heating or cooling system type.
  • A professional must determine whether their home’s heating and cooling needs will require more investment upfront (as with an air conditioner) or over time through potential maintenance issues (as with a heat pump).
  • Additionally, climate-based considerations such as severe weather may impact which option offers better protection against elements like snow or humidity levels depending on the local region.
  • Professionals who prioritize these key factors when making their decision can make an informed purchase that meets both their current budget constraints as well as long term goals like saving energy expenses every month.

Performance In Different Climates: Heat Pump Vs Air Conditioner

When choosing between a heat pump and an air conditioner, it is important to consider the climate in which you live as well. 

A heat pump can be more effective than an air conditioner in regions that experience mild temperatures year-round, while an air conditioner may provide better comfort in extreme temperatures. Generally speaking, both systems have advantages that make them suitable for different climates.

In areas with mild climates and low humidity levels such as coastal communities or desert regions, using a heat pump can be ideal due to its capability to transfer any existing warm air from the environment without having to generate additional heating energy. 

Additionally, heat pumps are able to offer efficient performance during cold weather months since they work by transferring ambient warmth from outside into your house indoors.

On the other hand, in places where hot summers occur and cool winters last longer, especially cooler climates like those found at higher elevations or areas along coasts near large water bodies where night breezes often linger through early morning hours.

Moreover, air conditioning units have SEER ratings indicating their efficiency rating while running making some models more eco friendly than others too depending on what one needs given their ability to economically manage hot humid high powered summer seasons.

SEER ratings up to 14-19 might generally result in lower monthly bills due electric companies allowing further accessible pre-paid costs all around.

Maintenance For Heat Pumps And Air Conditioners

  • Regularly scheduled maintenance is essential for both heat pumps and air conditioners. 
  • Suggested service times range from every 6 months to once a year, depending on usage habits.
  • A thorough inspection should include cleaning the interior/exterior components, checking seals and drain lines to detect leaks or clogs, verifying airflow throughout the system, running diagnostic tests to identify potential problems.
  • Changing filters regularly.
  • Exact frequency of preventive maintenance will vary according to manufacturer instructions as well as use patterns of each individual unit. 
  • Prolonging recommended service times can lead to more extensive damage than if proper attention had been given at regular intervals.
  • Professional technicians should have necessary tools and materials including vacuum cleaners for flushing out coils and motors that may be heavily caked with dirt or debris build up over time due customer negligence.


What is the main difference between a heat pump and an air conditioner?

Heat Pump uses the outside air to generate either warm or cooled air indoors, while an air conditioner works by transferring the existing indoor hot air, cools it down using coils and circulates it back into the room.

Heat Pumps provide better energy efficiency than ACs as they use renewable sources of energy like geothermal resources for heating. On the other hand, most conventional AC systems consume more electricity than a properly installed heat pump.

Is a heat pump better than an air conditioner?

It depends on many factors including geographic location, climate considerations and budget limitations. 

Heat pumps require less maintenance over time due to its single unit structure compared to separate heating and cooling units installed in traditional households which have higher running cost overall.

Are there any drawbacks for using either one system? 

Heat pumps can be noisy especially if you do not install them carefully according to manufacturer’s instructions so soundproofing measures should be taken beforehand as well as proper installation by licensed HVAC technicians depending on your local building regulations or codes.

Processing permits in your area required during the installation process may result in increased costs associated with the labor part of the whole job being bigger compared to a regular setup.


When it comes to choosing the best system for home heating and cooling, there is no clear-cut winner between heat pumps and air conditioners. Both offer advantages with different levels of energy efficiency and cost, though they often require different maintenance due to varying components used in their construction.

Heat Pump