Heat Pumps vs Air Conditioners: How Do They Differ and Which One is Right for Me?

When it comes to cooling off your home in the summer, you have two primary options: an air conditioning system or a heat pump. Despite the name, a heat pump actually heats and cools. Keyser Energy installs and maintains AC and heat pump systems throughout Vermont. We are happy to help you decide which system will be the best fit for your home. Here’s what you should know about each option, including the benefits and drawbacks of each, to help you make an informed decision. 

Types of Air Conditioning Systems

There are many types of air conditioners to choose from. The right option will depend on the size of your home, your budget and whether your home has, or can accommodate ductwo. Here are the three most popular options. 

  • Central AC. In most areas of the country, this is the most common type of cooling in larger homes because it can cool very efficiently. A central AC works by circulating cool air through return and supply ductwork. Supply ducts and registers in the floors or walls move cooled air into your home. When the air becomes warm again, it circulates back to the supply registers and ducts and goes back to the air conditioner. A central AC system can be a major investment. If your home does not have ductwork, it’s probably not the most efficient or cost-effective option.
  • Ductless mini-split air conditioner. This type of air conditioner is commonly used to retrofit a home with AC when it does not have ducts. Like a central AC system, a ductless system is comprised of two units: an indoor handling unit and an outdoor compressor and condenser. A ductless AC system can have up to 4 air handling units to cool several rooms. Each area will have its own thermostat.
  • Window AC unit. A window unit is a compact unit that only cools one room. This type of AC is usually installed in a window but it can also be installed in an exterior wall. It works by blowing cool air into the room and exhausting warm air out the back.

Benefits of an Air Conditioning System

  • Most efficient way to cool your home
  • Less upfront cost

Cons of an Air Conditioning System

  • Can be cost-prohibitive to install central air conditioning system in a home without ducts
  • Only works to cool your home.
  • If you need both heating and cooling systems, installing separate systems can double the maintenance, repairs, and total installation.

What Is a Heat Pump?

A heat pump is essentially the same as a regular air conditioner with the ability to reverse its process to heat and cool. A heat pump has all of the same parts as an air conditioner and cools your home in the summer. In Bucks County and Montgomery Counties, a heat pump can remain effective throughout winter. 

Benefits of a Heat Pump

  • Does not require ductwork. A heat pump can use existing ducts for a gas furnace and central air conditioning, but a heat pump can also be installed with no ducts at all. 
  • Energy efficient. When you replace electric baseboard heaters with a ductless heat pump, your energy costs can be reduced by anywhere 25% to 40%. A heat pump is also about 4x more efficient than oil furnaces and more than twice as efficient as electric furnaces. 
  • Does not require a separate heating and cooling system – this is probably the most significant benefit as you don’t need to install both an air conditioner and a furnace. This also means a lower cost for installation and maintenance with just one system. 

Cons of a Heat Pump

  • Lower lifespan than an AC system. Heat pumps usually last 12-15 years versus 15-20 years with an air conditioner. 
  • Not effective at very cold temperatures. A heat pump will pull warmth inside your home from outside to keep you warm, even in very cold temperatures, however, there’s a limit. When the temperature reaches freezing, a heat pump will struggle and may not be able to warm your home to your desired temperature. 

Which Is Right for You

Keyser Energy has served Vermont with heating oil and heating and cooling installation for more than 90 years. If you need help choosing the right system for your home, please give us a call to explore your options.