Heat Pump VS. Air Conditioner

At the first glance of an HVAC system the majority of people that have not had any experience in the industry, all assume that the metal box outside is an “Air Conditioner”. Well, this is not necessarily true. When it finally is time to replace that old unit the most important thing other than choosing a professional company to perform the install is knowing the ins and outs of the equipment being purchased. In terms of “ducted systems” the most common residential systems you are going to find are either going to be “straight AC, natural gas” systems or “heat pump” systems. Yes, the outdoor units look very similar. However, the way they work, perform and cost to operate is very different.
• Air Conditioner’s- A true AC system is made up of three parts of equipment. The outdoor unit is called the condensing unit, indoor cased coil, and then normally a natural gas furnace. Within this system, the condensing unit handles 100% of the cooling and that’s all it does. It works as a team with the indoor cased coil with the connection of refrigerant lines of course. Then the natural gas furnace handles all of the heating with heat exchangers within. The furnace also contains the blower for all the systems airflow making it a key part of this system. Efficiency speaking AC units offer a range of options from 14 SEER to 21 SEER but when it comes to comparing AC cooling cost to heat pump cooling costs the heat pump tends to be more efficient. However, when it comes to the efficiency of the heating part of a natural gas system, natural gas heating is extremely efficient therefore not super expensive to use. A few downfalls of natural gas systems are, not every home has the opportunity to have natural gas. Also when it comes to installation it is a little more complicated to install. Natural gas is not something you want to play with. Furnaces need proper venting of the system as well as combustion air to feed the system. It is very key to have a person conduct the work that has knowledge of these systems and can make sure that the system is brought up to code as well as safe for your family. Natural gas systems are very beneficial in cold climates because of the instant powerful heat and how affordable it is to run those systems in that climate.
• Heat Pump’s- These systems consist of two parts of equipment. The outdoor condensing unit and an indoor air handler. These are the larger rectangular boxes. In this system, the heat pump is responsible for cooling and a large part of the heating. Heat pumps work by moving heat from one location to another. Even when it is cold outside energy is present. In colder temperatures, heat pumps extract heat from the outside and then transfer it inside with indoor and outdoor heat exchangers. When the temperatures become warm again the system reverses directions and then it extracts heat from inside the home. However, heat pumps contain one more key item when it comes to heating. Within most air handlers upon installation, an “emergency heat kit” will be installed inside of it. This heat kit is energized by electricity. Depending on the size of the home and location the kits typically range from 5KW to 15KW. This kit is not something that is used every day. It is put in place for a backup to the condensing unit in the case that it simply is so cold outside that the heat pump cannot simply produce the Btu’s needed to provide the proper heat for the home. At this point, these heat kits work as an extra push for the system to continue to do what it is being asked. This is why heat pumps tend to be super popular in the Deep South where it just simply does not get that cold. For example in north Florida in a typical year, the heat strips on the average kick on eight to ten times a year. The negative side to these heat kits is they use a significant amount of energy when used and up north running these systems all winter in a very cold climate can become costly. Heat pump systems also provide dehumidification to the home, this can be a very important factor to a homeowner especially if you are in the south. Without a doubt in a mild climate heat pumps are significantly more efficient than traditional systems. Just like AC heat pump condensing units range from 14 to 21 SEER. However, on average a heat pump system typically has a lower initial purchase cost than a natural gas system. That being said, when it comes to deciding what type of system is best for you. Be sure to consider climate, location, dehumidification, natural gas options, and what is going to provide the best comfort for the home.

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