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The Differences Between a Heat Pump and Central A/C

The Differences Between a Heat Pump and Central A/C

When it comes to cooling and heating your home, you have several options to choose from, with heat pumps and central air conditioning (A/C) being two popular choices. Each system has its own set of advantages and limitations, making it essential to understand the key differences between them.

In this article, we’ll explore the distinctions between heat pumps and central A/C to help you make an informed decision for your home comfort needs.

An Introduction to Heat Pumps

Heat Pumps - Carrier

How Does a Heat Pump Operate?

A heat pump is a vital component of an HVAC system that utilizes refrigerant to condition the air in your home by either adding or removing heat through thermal exchange. To provide both cooling and heating, the heat pump can reverse the direction of refrigerant flow, effectively moving heat from one place to another based on your thermostat settings.

A typical heat pump system comprises an outdoor unit and an indoor air handler connected by refrigerant lines. A compressor circulates the refrigerant throughout the system, while a condenser coil or evaporator coil is responsible for either heating or cooling the air. In cases where the outside temperature drops below 30 degrees, heat strips are activated to provide additional warmth to the cold air.

What are the Different Types of Heat Pumps?

There are three primary types of heat pumps:

  1. Air-Source Heat Pumps: These heat pumps extract heat from the outdoor air, making them the most common and cost-effective option.
  2. Water-Source Heat Pumps: These systems draw heat from a water source, such as a pond or well, offering efficient heating and cooling.
  3. Geothermal Heat Pumps: Geothermal heat pumps utilize the stable temperature of the ground to exchange heat, providing highly efficient climate control.

Heat pumps have gained popularity among homeowners due to their energy efficiency and versatility in both cooling and heating functions.

Need an immediate service for your heat pump? Contact our technicians today!

An Introduction to Central Air Conditioning

Air Conditioning - Carrier

How Does Central Air Operate?

Central air conditioning is designed to cool indoor spaces by drawing heat from the outside air, cooling it, and then distributing the cooled air throughout your home.

This process involves compressing refrigerant gas, which evaporates outside, removing heat from the air in the process. The cooled air is then circulated through ducts or vents, creating a comfortable indoor environment.

It’s important to note that unlike heat pumps, central air conditioning systems are solely designed for cooling. To heat your home during colder months, you’ll need a separate heating source, such as a furnace.

What is the Difference Between a Heat Pump & A/C Unit?

Heat pumps and air conditioners share similarities in that they both use electricity and refrigerants to cool indoor air. However, the main distinction lies in their operation. Heat pumps have the capability to move heat from one location to another, allowing them to provide both cooling and heating. In contrast, air conditioners only remove heat from indoor spaces by expelling warm air outside.

The use of a reversing valve in heat pumps enables this dual functionality, making them a more energy-efficient choice for year-round climate control. Air conditioners, while effective at cooling, lack the heating capability.

Overall Cost

Heat pumps typically come with a higher upfront cost compared to air conditioners. On average, the installation of a heat pump, including equipment and labor, ranges from $4,200 to $7,600, with additional costs for ductwork installation if necessary. Geothermal or solar heat pumps can be even more expensive, ranging from $18,000 to $34,000. Despite the initial expense, heat pumps often prove to be a cost-effective investment in the long run due to their energy efficiency.

Central air conditioning has slightly lower installation costs, ranging from $3,800 to $7,500. However, keep in mind that you’ll need a separate heating system, such as a furnace, to address your heating needs during colder months. The overall cost of an HVAC system, including both A/C and furnace, ranges from $5,000 to $12,000. Your choice between a heat pump and an air conditioner should consider your budget and long-term energy efficiency goals.

Energy Efficiency

The energy efficiency of a cooling system is measured using the seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER). Heat pumps are known for their superior energy efficiency compared to air conditioners. They consume less electricity, provide better dehumidification, and outperform standard AC units.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, heat pumps can reduce electricity usage for heating by approximately 50% compared to traditional furnaces and baseboard heaters. However, their efficiency can vary based on climate conditions.


In terms of longevity, air conditioners generally have a longer lifespan than heat pumps. This is because air conditioners only operate when cooling is required, while heat pumps run year-round. However, the longevity of either system depends on factors such as usage frequency, maintenance, and the climate in which they operate.

Both systems benefit from annual professional maintenance to ensure optimal performance and extend their lifespan.

Related: Air Conditioning Maintenance Tips You Should Know

Heat Pumps & Air Conditioners: In Conclusion

Choosing between a heat pump and an air conditioner ultimately depends on several factors, including your location, budget, and energy efficiency priorities. Heat pumps offer efficient year-round climate control, but they come with a higher initial cost and may require more maintenance. Air conditioners, on the other hand, are more budget-friendly and easier to maintain but are limited to cooling functions.

Consider your specific needs, climate conditions, and desired level of efficiency when making your decision. Whether you prioritize heating and cooling efficiency or seek a more affordable solution, the choice between a heat pump and an air conditioner should align with your home comfort goals.

Why Choose Modern HVAC for a Heat Pump or A/C Installation?

Modern Sheet Metal is experienced in any HVAC service you need! From heat pump and A/C installations, to indoor air quality, we provide any air conditioning and heating installation, replacement, repair, or maintenance service you need. Our technicians have years of combined experienced, are fully licensed, and provide services to the cities of Appleton, Neenah, Menasha, Darboy, Kimberly, Kaukauna, Greenville, and the greater Fox Valley.

Contact Us

Questions for our team? Please contact us at (920) 733-4713 or email us at and we’ll be in touch shortly. We provide installation, replacement, repair, and maintenance services for air conditioning and heat pumps alike.

Further Reading:

Heating and Cooling Guide

Air Conditioner Troubleshooting Guide

10 Air Conditioning Myths That are Costing You Money

How To Prevent Bugs From Coming Through Air Conditioner Vents

How Weather Affects Your HVAC System

10 Things to Check Before Calling an HVAC Technician

Modern Sheet Metal provides furnace and air conditioner service, repair, replacement and installation throughout Appleton, Neenah, Menasha, Darboy, Kimberly, Kaukauna and Greenville. Please call us at 920-733-4713 to discuss your residential or commercial heating & cooling needs!