Heat Pump vs. Air Conditioner: Which Is Best for My Home?

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Central Illinois households rely on their cooling systems to stay safe and comfortable throughout the hot summer months. If you’re shopping for a new one, you should compare a heat pump to an air conditioner, as these are the most common central air conditioning systems.

Edelman Inc. shares the differences between these two cooling units so you can decide the best choice for your home.

Heat Pump vs. Air Conditioner Operation

In the world of cooling, it can be tough to differentiate between a heat pump and an air conditioner, especially for the average homeowner. Each HVAC system has indoor and outdoor components, so they look very similar. The outdoor heat pump is paired with an indoor air handler, while the outdoor air conditioner is linked to an indoor air handler or furnace.

Both a heat pump and an air conditioning system work in very similar ways – in fact, their cooling processes are identical. 

The process is as follows:

  • Cool air from your home’s living areas is pulled into return vents and circulates through the ducts to the evaporator coil. The evaporator coil contains refrigerant, which pulls heat out of the air passing over it. This cooled air is then circulated back into your home by the furnace or air handler’s blower fan.
  • The refrigerant liquid inside the evaporator coil heats up, changing form from a liquid to a gas. Refrigerant circulates out to the outdoor unit to complete the transfer of heat.
  • Refrigerant coming into the outdoor unit first goes through the compressor. The compressor exerts pressure to lower refrigerant volume while increasing its temperature and pressure.
  • The superheated refrigerant vapor flows into the outdoor unit’s condenser coil. Here, heat is released from the system. The condenser fan keeps air moving through the outdoor unit and pushes the released heat into the atmosphere.
  • Once the heat is released from the refrigerant, the refrigerant cools and becomes liquid once more. It circulates through the expansion valve and back to the evaporator coil to continue the cooling cycle.

Differences Between Heat Pumps and Air Conditioners

When comparing a heat pump vs. an air conditioner, the differences distinguish these two cooling system options from one another. To determine whether a heat pump or an air conditioner is best suitable for your home, see which qualities fit your cooling needs.


The most significant difference between a heat pump and an AC unit is that the air conditioning system can only cool, while the heat pump can both heat and cool. This is because the heat pump system has the ability to reverse its operation, extracting heat from the outdoors and transferring it indoors – something an air conditioner cannot do.

The ability to heat and cool makes the heat pump much more versatile than other HVAC systems, which can only serve one function. Heat pumps are also typically more efficient than other conventional heating systems, making them a good choice for energy efficiency and cold-weather comfort.


Regarding your cooling system budget, air conditioners are typically the more affordable option. While the initial cost of a heat pump may be higher than other HVAC system options, it is important to remember that a heat pump system can also act as an air conditioner. This means that you won’t have to purchase two separate units, which can ultimately save you money in the long run.

System Lifespan

Because air conditioning systems are used for half of the year while heat pumps can run year-round, air conditioners tend to last longer. In terms of heat pump vs. air conditioner service life, the average heat pump lasts 10 to 15 years while the average air conditioner lasts 15 to 20 years. Usually, this means heat pumps will need to be replaced more frequently than air conditioners. Still, if you consider the cost and schedule of replacing separate heating and cooling systems, you may decide heat pump systems with a shorter lifespan are right for you.

Heat Pump & Air Conditioner Installation

Edelman Inc. can help you make the call between heat pump vs. air conditioner. Whichever new cooling system you choose, our team guarantees expert installation and quality customer service. Contact us today to receive a quote for a new cooling system installation.


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