How Do Heat Pumps and Air Conditioners Differ and Which One Is Right for Me?

Air Conditioners and heat pumps both have their pluses and minuses, and the best option is largely specific on your current home’s system. Metro Energy installs and maintains AC and heat pump systems throughout Northern New Jersey. We are happy to help you decide which system will be the best fit for your home. 

What Is Air Conditioning?

Air conditioners have been around for more than 100 years. The technology was actually developed by Carrier to solve a humidity issue at a publishing company as warm summer air and humidity caused paper stock to stick together. By blowing air across chilled pipes, it solved not only the humidity problem but also cooled the air. Today, we use air conditioning on a larger scale, to keep our homes and buildings comfortable, even on the hottest of days. 

Types of Air Conditioning Systems

There are many types of air conditioners to choose from. The right option will depend on your budget, the size of your home, and whether your home has ductwork. 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. 
  • 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 on 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. An air conditioner is the most affordable cooling unit you can install for your home. It can keep your home comfortable on even the hottest days.
  • Less upfront cost. If you are concerned about the upfront cost of a new cooling unit for your home, an air conditioner offers a lower cost up-front cost than a heat pump.

Cons of an Air Conditioning System 

  • Can be cost-prohibitive to install central air conditioning system in a home without ducts. A ductless mini-split system can also be costly when multiple units are installed throughout the home.
  • Only works to cool your home. If you already have a system to heat your home, this will not be a concern.
  • Installing separate systems for cooling and heating can double the maintenance, repairs, and total installation.

What Is a Heat Pump?

A heat pump has the ability to heat and cool your home. A heat pump is an ideal solution for adding heat to a home that was built without ductwork. Also known as a ductless mini-split AC system, heat pumps are both heating and cooling systems. 

Benefits of a Heat Pump

  • Does not require a separate heating and cooling system. This is a big benefit as you do not need to install both an air conditioner and a furnace. This also means a lower cost for installation and maintenance with just one system. At Metro Energy, we usually recommend a heat pump if you do not have AC in your home. 
  • 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. If you have the typical Montgomery County or Bucks County home with no ductwork, you can get whole-house cooling and heating without the high cost of duct installation.
  • Energy efficiency. When you replace electric baseboard heaters with a ductless heat pump, your energy costs can be anywhere from 25% to 40% lower. A heat pump is also about 4x more efficient than oil furnaces and more than twice as efficient as electric furnaces. 

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 can pull warmth inside your home from outside to keep you comfortable and warm, even in exceptionally cold weather, but there’s a limit. When the weather reaches freezing, a heat pump will struggle and may not be able to warm your home to your set temperature. 

Which One is Right for You? 

Choosing between a heat pump and an air conditioner can seem like a tough decision but the right choice will depend on your goals. If you already have a good heating system and just want to add a cooling system for your home, an air conditioner is probably the best solution. If you need both a heating system and an air conditioning systems, heat pumps are usually the best option. 

Metro Energy has served Northern New Jersey 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.