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Carolina Climate Control Blog

Heat Pump vs. Air Conditioning: What’s the Difference?

Whether you’re a new or seasoned homeowner, chances are you’ll repair or replace at least one heating and cooling system during your lifetime.  


Generally, homes in Charleston have either a heat pump or a traditional central air conditioning system installed. When it’s your turn to update your heating and cooling system, which one do you choose?


In today’s post, we’re breaking down the differences between heat pumps and air conditioners. Take a minute and read our brief guide so that you can decide which is suitable for your home.



Heat Pumps 101


A heat pump uses electricity to move heat from one place (the outside) to another (your home). Heat pumps can cool your home during warm months, but they also transfer warmth inside when temperatures drop below freezing.


Heat pumps make an excellent option for keeping your home comfortable during both summer and winter. Think of them as reverse-cycle heating and cooling systems that run on electricity.



How Air Conditioners Work


On the other hand, an air conditioner cools your home by removing warm indoor air so that cooler outdoor air can replace it. Air conditioning units are most effective at lowering the indoor temperature when used with insulation, which helps keep heated interior air from escaping outside.


While its primary role is cooling your house down during summer, an air conditioner has other functions too. One task is drawing out humidity levels from the rooms in your home.


The most common air conditioning system is an HVAC unit powered by gas or electricity.



Benefits of Installing a Heat Pump


A heat pump has several benefits for homeowners.


First, heat pumps remove heat in the summer, and put it back during winter, so operating costs can end up being more affordable than most traditional AC systems. Second, heat pumps usually use less electricity to cool down a house.


Most homeowners can lower their energy bills by installing this type of system. Heat pumps make an excellent option if you only need one heating and cooling system for your whole house.



Looking at the Differences


While both systems have the same end goal — keeping the temperature inside your home cool and comfortable — there are some key differences.


With a growing interest in using renewable energy sources, such as solar or geothermal energy, many homeowners find using a heat pump reduces their impact on the environment.  Since air conditioners rely on gas or electricity to operate, they don’t need renewable energy sources to function.


Using a process called heat exchange, heat pumps require an adequate intake system to move heat from outside into your home. Air conditioners don’t need a method of transferring heat from outside because they’re designed to draw in hot air and expel it back out again within their unit.


Heat pumps can also be used as an alternative heating source during winter months while air conditioners can’t perform this function.



Where Do Heat Pumps Work Best?


Many people associate heat pumps with winter because they absorb heat from the outside and distribute it inside. However, if there’s not enough insulation on your house or you don’t have an adequate intake system in place (i.e., no cold air return), then heat pumps can cause indoor temperatures to drop below freezing point.


Heat pumps function best when temperatures are between a certain temperature range. They’re not suitable for extremely cold or hot climates. The moderate climate in Charleston makes heat pumps an ideal choice for cooling and heating.



The Cost of Heat Pumps vs. Air Conditioners


Cost is another factor homeowners need to consider when installing one vs. the other system. Generally, it’s more expensive to purchase a heat pump than a traditional AC unit.


Even so, a heat pump can save you money in the long run because it will use less energy.


If you’ve heard air conditioners are efficient, it could be the truth. If you’re talking about a newer unit. All AC units tend to lose their performance over time because of(among other things) how quickly dust can accumulate inside the unit.



Maintenance Matters


Heat pumps have fewer moving parts than air conditioning systems. That causes some homeowners to assume heat pumps don’t require a lot of maintenance or upkeep.


You must schedule heat pump maintenance regularly to keep it working at optimal levels. Even though they may not be as high maintenance as air conditioners, skipping maintenance on heat pumps may introduce multiple issues. One of those is the development of mold inside the system.


While most homeowners can handle many DIY home maintenance tasks, heat pump maintenance should be taken care of by a qualified HVAC service provider. Most people schedule service at least once a year.



Air Conditioners Need Maintenance Too


Air conditioning systems have a lot of moving parts and require more upkeep. Most HVAC service contractors recommend maintenance annually at a minimum.


Maintenance service for an AC unit should include the following checks:


  • Check filters
  • Drain lines
  • Refrigerant levels
  • Electrical components


The HVAC technician should also inspect the condensate pan. 


Depending on how much you use your air conditioner (some people use them year-round), you may need to schedule a bi-annual service.



Schedule Your Heat Pump Service Today


Understanding how a heat pump works and its unique service needs will help you ensure your heating and cooling system works properly year-round.


Suppose your heat pump works as your primary heating and cooling system. Then, it’s wise to schedule maintenance in the spring and again in the fall.


The team at Carolina Climate Control specializes in maintaining heat pumps. Contact us today to schedule your routine service.

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