Central Air Conditioner VS Heat Pump: When to Switch to Heat Pump?

For homeowners who already have a duct system in place, there are two main options to choose from when it comes to interior climate control. They are central air conditioning or a heat pump system. But choosing which to install in your home can be quite a challenge especially when you are not sure what conditions are ideal for each one of them.

Below, we look at the situations where installing a specific system would be better. The main goal is to have a system that functions well and is energy efficient. Eventually, your choice should be influenced by factors like budget, existing HVAC system, local climate and personal needs.

When to Choose Central AC?

One of the biggest advantages of a central AC is the lower upfront cost. Compared to a heat pump, you can expect to spend several thousand dollars less to buy and install a central AC system. The average cost of a central AC adequate for a full sized house is $2,000 to $5,000. A heat pump will cost you between $4,000 and $10,000. Some heat pumps like the geothermal ones will cost you even more.

Another situation where a central AC might prove better is when you only need a cooling system. Perhaps you already have a heating system in place and only need an AC for the hot summers. In this case, using a central AC is a cheaper, easier and more efficient way to cool your home for the few months when the temperatures are running high.

When to Choose Heat Pump?

A heat pump functions in almost the same way as a central AC. They both use refrigerants to cool air, which is then sent into the house. But there is one major difference with a heat pump; it can also do the reverse and warm the house. This is one of the main reasons why you might find a heat pump more appealing than a central AC. When it’s warm, it can cool and when it’s cold, it can warm up the house.

You do not have to install two systems to be able to keep your home comfortable all year through. This can save you a lot of hassles and costs.

When it comes to the ideal climate for a heat pump, people in moderate climates will enjoy the most benefits. While a heat pump is very efficient at warming up the house in mild winter areas, things get more challenging when temperatures drop too low. The system has to work much harder, and thus use more energy, to keep the house cozy. During this time, a heat pump becomes more inefficient compared to systems such as a high-efficiency gas heater.

A heat pump also comes with a much wider variety of options than a central AC. For instance, there are geothermal heat pumps that pull heat from the ground, air-to-air heat pumps that take heat from the air and water heat pumps that pull heat from a water source. You can also choose whether to go for a duct-dependent or ductless heat pump system. So when you need a cooling/heating system but have no existing ductwork, the ductless heat pump is an excellent choice.

Related Article: Detailed Heat Pump Buying Guide

Written by

Rene has worked 10 years in the HVAC field and now is the Senior Comfort Specialist for PICKHVAC. He holds an HVAC associate degree and EPA & R-410A Certifications.

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