There’s a lot of information floating around about heat pumps and how they compare to central air conditioners. Here are some of the differences between these two cooling systems and some tips on how to determine which is better for your Amherst home.
Differences Between a Heat Pump and Central Air Conditioning
Before we can explore the nuances between a heat pump and a central air conditioner, it’s important to start with the larger differences. Conceptually, an air conditioner and heat pump work in the same way. They both use refrigerant to transfer heat from inside your home to outside your home, at least while in cooling mode.
The big difference is that a heat pump does more than cool your home. Rather, it has a reversing valve that allows it to act as a heat source during the cooler months. An air conditioner, on the other hand, only cools your home, requiring a separate heating system.
Different Types of Heat Pumps
When it comes to heat pumps, there are three different types available: air source, ground loop, and water source. The difference between them is where the heat transfer happens outside your home. Which option you consider will help determine if a heat pump is better than central air for your home.
An air source heat pump works much like an air conditioner, transferring heat to and from the air outside. This is great until the weather becomes extremely cold or extremely hot; then, the efficiency starts degrading. This is the least expensive of the options but also is the least dependable.
Ground loop heat pumps are a form of geothermal system. These use a series of loops buried in the ground, allowing the refrigerant to transfer heat to and from the soil. The loops are buried deep enough that the ground temperature doesn’t change with the air temperature.
Water source heat pumps are similar to ground loop models, except that the refrigerant loop runs through a water source such as a pond or river. The challenge is that the water must be deep enough not to freeze through in the winter.
How Efficiency Differs
Air conditioners report efficiency in their SEER rating, or seasonal energy efficiency rating. This rating is a ratio of the cooling output divided by the energy consumed. When comparing heat pumps to central air, it’s best to compare units with similar SEER ratings.
Central air systems and air source heat pumps have many of the same vulnerabilities. As the heat climbs more than 20 degrees higher than the set temperature, the unit loses its efficiency and struggles to cool.
Ground loop and water source heat pumps don’t have that same issue. The refrigerant loops stay cool enough that they continue to work at their optimal efficiency, regardless of the weather. Thankfully in Amherst, there are only a few days that get warm enough to consider this.
Central air conditioners cost the least to install and usually come in under $10,000. Air source heat pumps start at about $10,000 with ground loop and water source models starting at around $18,000. The greatest cost for the ground loop and water source is running the coils.
As you consider these costs, keep in mind that heat pumps do both jobs of cooling and heating. However, on the cool days and nights where temperatures drop below about 20 degrees, you’ll need a secondary heating system if you opt for an air source heat pump.
Both central air conditioners and heat pumps use the same technology, making you think that they have about the same service life. However, heat pumps tend to wear out sooner because they pull double duty and run year-round. In both systems, you can expect the service life to last somewhere between about 10 and 15 years.
Which Is Better for Your Home?
There is no single correct answer for homes around Amherst. Rather, you need to evaluate your needs, budget, tolerance for investment in your home, and concern for environmental considerations. A heat pump is more expensive but costs less to run than a traditional heater in the winter. You’ll also have a smaller carbon footprint because of the improved efficiency, especially over the winter.
People around Amherst have turned to Heatwave Heating & Cooling to keep their homes comfortable since 2005. Our NATE-certified technicians provide heating and cooling installation, maintenance, and repair combined with indoor air quality and home generator solutions. Call to schedule your air conditioning or heat pump consultation with one of our installation technicians today.