May 1, 2024
What's the Difference Between Heat Pumps and Air Conditioners?

The right HVAC equipment for your Bellevue, NE home will give you a modest carbon footprint, manageable operating costs, and ongoing comfort. For whole-house cooling, you have the option of installing an air conditioner or a heat pump. Although both have indoor air handlers and outdoor condenser units, they’re hardly the same. Read on to discover some of the important differences between these two popular appliances.

Heat Pumps Provide Year-Round Climate Control

In summer, air conditioners and heat pumps are functionally identical. They both draw warm, indoor air in and pass it over their cold, refrigerant-filled evaporator coils. The icy refrigerant absorbs this air’s heat before it’s routed throughout buildings via HVAC ducting. Once heated, hot refrigerant transitions from a vapor to a liquid state and moves to the outdoor condenser to release its heat.

One of the biggest differences between heat pumps and air conditioners is the fact that heat pumps can also provide heat. During the chillier months of the year, heat pumps work in reverse to source heat from outdoors and funnel it inside. Heat pumps have reversing valves that automatically switch their operations from heating to cooling or vice versa, according to the signals received from their connected thermostats.

Heat Pumps Can Be More Efficient Than Air Conditioners

Despite similarities in their designs and cooling processes, heat pumps are significantly more efficient than air conditioners. They’re recognized by the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) as being critical tools in meeting ambitious, worldwide emissions-reduction goals. In the right conditions, some heat pumps can produce up to four times as much cooling energy as they consume in electric energy. Switching to a heat pump for cooling could lead to significantly lower summertime energy bills.

Heat Pump Maintenance vs. AC Maintenance

Much of the required maintenance for heat pumps and air conditioners is the same. Both units require monthly filter inspections and should have their air filters changed every 30 to 90 days. All AC and heat pump condenser units require at least 24 inches of clearance on all sides. You should regularly clear brush, weeds, leaves, and other obstructions from the unit.

Both air conditioners and heat pumps also require annual maintenance service. This keeps them working efficiently, staves off the need for major repairs, and adds to the lifespans of these appliances. Annual maintenance is a written requirement in all HVAC equipment manufacturer warranties. However, if you use your heat pump for both heating and cooling, you should schedule professional maintenance service twice each year.

Refrigerant Types

Refrigerants drive the heat transfer process that air conditioners and heat pumps use. Each AC and heat pump refrigerant operates under different pressures and requires its own set of operating conditions. For many years, Freon was the industry standard for residential air conditioners and it was also frequently used in heat pumps. Also known as R-22, Freon was phased out for both types of equipment in 2010 in favor of options deemed better for the environment. As of 2020, Freon is no longer imported or domestically produced. Thus, if you have cooling equipment that still relies on this coolant, upgrading to a new model could prove cheaper than paying for recharge services over time.

Puron or R-401a refrigerant replaced Freon. For several years, all new air conditioners used Puron and many new heat pump models did, too. However, you can also find heat pumps that rely on refrigerant types that aren’t suitable for use in ACs. For instance, there are medium and large heat pumps that use R-134a or Norflurane, which operates at significantly higher levels of efficiency than R-401a.

If you intend to use your heat pump for year-round climate control, you might be advised to install an option that uses either R410a or R407c, especially if your home requires a smaller or medium-sized heat pump. The flexibility of these coolants makes them well-suited for both heating and cooling operations.

Across all residential cooling systems, Puron is gradually being replaced by a new generation of Opteon refrigerants. These coolants are even less detrimental to the natural environment than Puron, and there are multiple Opteon types. Both heat pumps and ACs can use Opteon XL20 (R-454C), Opteon XL41 (R-454B), and Opteon XL55 (R-452B). However, overall, heat pumps give consumers access to a much broader range of refrigerants and the ability to choose models with coolants that are perfectly in line with their needs and efficiency goals.

We help residents of Bellevue, NE make informed decisions about their home heating and cooling systems. We offer outstanding heating, air conditioning, and duct cleaning services. You can also count on us for top-notch indoor air quality improvements, smart thermostats, and ductless ACs. To find out about our preventative maintenance plans or schedule service for your AC or heat pump, contact Apollo Heating & Air Conditioning now.

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