Differences between air conditioners vs heat pumps | Home Comfort Inc.

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

Air Conditioner and Heat pump on a blue and red background

We get asked all of the time, what is the difference between an air conditioner and a heat pump? In many ways, the two systems function the same (They even look the same in most cases), but heat pumps can, as the name implies, create heat AND provide cooling. 

Air conditioners function by removing the heat from the air, thus making the air cooler. Heat pumps can do the same thing, but they can also reverse operation, and push in warm air. 

Heat pumps, air conditioners, and even the common refrigerator all use a similar system to transfer heat. If you've looked closely at an air conditioner (likely behind a cover) or looked behind your refrigerator, you've likely seen the copper coils. Both of these systems are used, not to cool air, but they work to subtract heat from the air. The coils absorb the heat inside and then discharge it, and in the process, the air inside cools down. 

Once we explain this, the next question we are often asked is, how can a heat pump pull heat from outside, when it is cold out?

Again it works the same way as your freezer, except in reverse. Pretend that the outside of your home becomes the inside of your fridge, and then imagine that the inside of your house is like the coils on the back of the freezer. The heat that is produced by these coils is transferred into your home as heat. Now if you live in an area of Oregon that gets really cold weather for longer periods of time than we do in the Willamette Valley, then it may make more sense to go with a traditional A/C and Furnace combination because extremely cold temps make your heat pump less effective and efficient.

Should I Get a Heat Pump or an Air Conditioner and Furnace?

Even though heat pumps can absorb heat from cold environments, when temperatures drop below freezing they become very inefficient. That is why most heat pumps work in conjunction with a furnace to provide efficient heating in the winter months which is often called hybrid heating. If you have to choose we suggest that you go with a heat pump because of where we live our temperatures, make heating and cooling with a heat pump much more efficient than an AC and furnace combination. This efficiency translates into money saved on your utility bills. 

If you have any questions about the best way to keep your home comfortable in Oregon, don’t hesitate to contact us today!