top of page

Understanding the Differences Between a Heat Pump and an Air Conditioner

Carrier heat pump unit outside a home

What’s the difference between a heat pump and an air conditioner?


Most people have at least one of these in their homes, but they may not actually be sure what the difference between the two is.


Read on as we outline the differences and give you some advice on which one is best for you.


Comparing Heat Pumps vs Air Conditioners


When you are looking into ways to keep your home cool, both heat pumps and air conditioners can do the job. In fact, when a heat pump is operating in cooling mode, they are essentially the same machine, and even look similar to each other.


Both systems collect heat from inside your home and transfer it outside. This is done via compressed refrigerant in coils. The refrigerant coils have air pass over them, transferring the heat to the coils and causing the refrigerant to evaporate.


The coils then move the refrigerant outside, where they expel their heat energy and condense the refrigerant into a liquid. This cycle happens over and over, keeping the air in your home nice and cool.



If they’re basically the same machine, what’s the difference then? Is there a difference?


The difference is in the valve! While they both rely on the same cooling method, a heat pump comes with a key difference – it’s reversible! Heat pumps are built to allow a change in the direction of the refrigerant flow, which means you can operate it to heat your home in the winter as well as cool it in the summer.


The change in direction means that the refrigerant instead is absorbing heat energy from the outside, turning from a liquid to a gas, then cycling indoors to release that heat energy. This may sound strange – how can it absorb heat energy from outside when it’s below freezing out there? The answer would involve a high-level physics lesson, so just trust us – it works!


Which One Should You Get?

When deciding which one to get, there are a few different factors you should consider:

  • Cost – a heat pump comes with a lower-cost indoor unit, the outdoor unit can have a higher upfront cost when compared to an air conditioner. When you’re thinking about costs, you need to understand the total costs for a system that can both heat AND cool your home.  

  • Energy Efficiency – in cooling mode, both machines provide energy-efficient operation during the summer months. Heat pumps also provide energy-efficient heating in moderately cold outdoor temperatures, but become less efficient than other heating sources, such as natural gas, oil, or propane, when the temperatures start to drop below zero. Modern heat pumps are much more efficient but could still be more expensive depending on the model.


Come to Don’s Heating and Cooling for All Your Heat Pump and AC Needs

Whether you are looking for a heat pump or an air conditioner, you can find it with Don’s Heating and Cooling. Our goal is to provide our customers with top-quality HVAC systems, no matter what their requirements are.


To request a quote, please give us a call. We’ll be happy to hear from you.


bottom of page