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Heat pumps vs. air conditioners: Tips to select the best unit for your home

(BPT) - When deciding on HVAC solutions, choosing between a heat pump or an air conditioner continues to be a hot debate for many homeowners. The truth of the matter is, both options can efficiently cool your home and provide comfort. The units look almost identical from the outside and work by extracting heat from the air inside of your home. Then, the units use refrigerant to transfer that heat outside on warm days, thereby cooling your home.

The choice between the two ultimately depends on factors homeowners need to weigh such as location, efficiency and sustainability. To make a well-informed decision, the following compares what homeowners should consider in order to select the best unit for a home's needs.

Comfort year round: Unpacking the versatility of heat pumps

While heat pumps and air conditioners can cool a home effectively, only heat pumps can provide warmth during colder weather. Heat pumps can operate in reverse, efficiently extracting heat from the outside air, even in lower temperatures, and transfer it inside to create a warm and comfortable home. Advancements in heat pump technology have greatly improved heat pump operation and performance, even in very cold conditions, making them a great choice for colder areas that may not have been considered heat pump territories in the past. If one lives in an area that experiences cooler temperatures, a heat pump may be the better choice.

When considering a heat pump, it's important to evaluate the following factors:

  • Geographic location: The outside temperature plays a significant role in the efficiency of a heat pump. If a potential user lives in an area with chilly temperatures, a heat pump can provide both cooling and heating, making it a suitable option. However, if a user lives in a place that experiences frigid temperatures, a dual-fuel option may be a better fit. Often overlooked, a dual-fuel system includes a heat pump and gas furnace. On days with extreme cold temperatures, the furnace will ensure that homes stay comfortable despite freezing weather conditions.
  • Size of home: A properly sized heat pump is crucial for optimal performance. A unit that is too small may struggle to adequately heat or cool a home, while an oversized unit can lead to energy wastage. Variable capacity heat pumps can modulate their capacity to match the load inside the home, allowing them to provide the proper amount of heat without the need to oversize the system.
  • Existing systems: Assess the home's infrastructure, including ductwork, electrical wiring and any pre-existing temperature control solutions. This is essential to determine if a heat pump can be seamlessly integrated into a home's current setup.
  • Budget: Heat pump installation costs can vary depending on the home and location. To evaluate the cost for a heat pump system, a homeowner should first assess their current system. If a homeowner's current system is older, a new system with a higher energy-efficiency rating could reduce energy bills and help offset the cost of the new system. It's also worth noting that if a home is located in an area where electrical rates are lower than gas prices, this may also offset the cost of installation by providing a total reduction in energy costs. Contact a professional who can run a whole-home evaluation to help figure out potential energy savings.

Cooling comfort explored: Unveiling the cooler side of air conditioners

Air conditioners also offer cooling capabilities, making them another option for those residing in warmer climates who solely require a reliable cooling solution for their homes year-round. With a focus on efficient cooling, air conditioners excel at providing a refreshing and comfortable indoor environment (even more so when using inverter technology). In situations where both cooling and heating are necessary, and if a homeowner already has an AC unit installed, an additional heat source, such as a furnace, is required.

Consider the following factors when opting for an air conditioner:

  • Geographic location: If the home is located in an area that experiences predominantly warm temperatures, an air conditioner can successfully cool the home year-round.
  • Size of home: Similar to heat pumps, selecting the proper sized air conditioner is crucial for efficient cooling. An appropriately sized unit will maintain a comfortable indoor environment without wasting energy. If the unit is undersized, it will never reach the desired temperature. Whereas if it is oversized, it will reach the temperature too quick and cycle off, allowing the space to heat back up quickly leading to temperature spikes and in humid climates it will not run long enough to remove humidity from the home.
  • Existing systems: Assess the home's infrastructure to ensure compatibility with an air conditioning system. Proper ductwork and electrical wiring are essential for seamless installation.
  • Budget: Air conditioners generally have a lower upfront cost compared to heat pumps. However, it's important to consider the long-term energy consumption and operating costs required to operate an air conditioner.

Other factors to consider when selecting an effective home unit are Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) approved match and home energy incentives. By selecting an air conditioner or heat pump that is an AHRI approved match, it will ensure the units run at optimal efficiency. Additionally, matched systems may qualify for rebates and incentives that can effectively reduce the overall cost, making them more budget friendly.

Many government organizations and utility companies offer incentives to encourage homeowners to choose energy-efficient solutions. These offers can come in the form of tax credits, rebates or other financial incentives. Both heat pumps and select air conditioners align with the growing trend toward electrification. By utilizing electricity as the main power source, these units reduce dependence on fossil fuels and contribute to a more sustainable future.

Consulting an HVAC expert will ensure a thorough evaluation of specific needs and help homeowners determine the most suitable unit. Rheem®, an innovator in manufacturing HVAC equipment, offers Rheem Pro Partners. Pro Partners are well-equipped resources to provide professional advice and assistance to homeowners throughout the process, ensuring customers find the perfect solution for home comfort needs. Find an independent Pro Partner in local neighborhoods to learn more about heat pumps and air conditioners or for help with installation.


August 17, 2023
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