Heat Pumps Vs. Air Conditioners: How Are They Different?

Heat Pumps Vs. Air Conditioners: How Are They Different?In the Bloomington, IL area, our expert technicians here at Compass Heating & Air are asked all the time- What’s the difference between a heat pump and an air conditioner? Our years of experience in installing, repairing, and maintaining heating and cooling systems help us answer these questions, and guide you when you are making decisions about your home HVAC system.

Understanding Heat Pumps

A heat pump is a type of HVAC system that can provide both heating and cooling. Unlike air conditioners that only provide cooling, heat pumps can reverse the direction of their refrigerant flow to provide heating. Heat pumps have four main components: a compressor, a refrigerant, a condenser, and an evaporator.

The Heating And Cooling Processes of Heat Pumps

The heating process of a heat pump starts with the outdoor unit, which contains the compressor and refrigerant. The refrigerant is compressed and gains heat from the outdoor air. The refrigerant then travels to the indoor unit, where it releases that heat into your home through a series of coils.

For cooling, the reversing valve in the heat pump switches the direction of the refrigerant flow, which allows the evaporator coils to absorb heat from the indoor air. The refrigerant then travels to the outdoor unit and releases the heat into the outside air using a fan to help dissipate the heat.

Geothermal heat pumps work slightly differently. Instead of using outdoor air to release heat, they use a ground loop, which is a series of pipes filled with an anti-freeze solution, buried in the ground, to absorb or release heat.

Overall, heat pumps are highly efficient and can provide both heating and cooling output, making them a popular choice for homeowners looking for a versatile HVAC system.

Types of Heat Pumps

Heat pumps can be classified into two main types: geothermal systems and air-source heat pumps. Geothermal heat pumps use the ground loop to extract or discharge heat from or into the earth, while air-source heat pumps extract heat from the outside air. Heat pumps can also use supplemental heat, such as electrical heaters, natural gas, or propane tanks, to provide warmth in colder outdoor temperatures.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Heat Pumps


Heat pumps have become a popular choice for homeowners due to their energy efficiency. They are capable of heating and cooling homes using less electricity than traditional heating systems, making them a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly option. Moreover, heat pumps are known for their durability, requiring minimal maintenance and lasting for many years.

Heat pumps also have a sleek and modern appearance, which is an attractive feature for homeowners who want to enhance their home’s curb appeal. They provide heating abilities that traditional air conditioning systems do not, making them an ideal choice for homes in areas with mild winter climates. Heat pumps can also be used as a supplemental heat source during cold snaps or in areas with icy conditions.

Most heat pumps are extremely quiet, both indoors and out, meaning they generate less noise in operation than their traditional HVAC counterparts.


One of the main disadvantages of heat pumps is their inability to operate efficiently in extremely cold outdoor temperatures. As the temperature drops, the heating output of a heat pump decreases, and supplemental heat may be required to maintain a comfortable indoor temperature. Most modern heat pumps can work efficiently down to -20F, a temperature we see rarely, if at all in the Bloomington area. When it’s extremely cold, heat pumps have to work harder, and this can raise your energy bills, just like with traditional HVAC systems.

Another disadvantage of heat pumps is their reliance on an outdoor unit. This can be problematic for homeowners who have limited outdoor space or live in areas with strict zoning laws. Additionally, the outdoor unit can be an eyesore, which may not be desirable for some homeowners.

Exploring Air Conditioners

Benefits of Daikin VRV: Green HVAC for Green BuildingsAir conditioners are systems designed to cool indoor air by removing heat from it. There are various types of air conditioners available on the market, ranging from window units to central air conditioning systems. Carrier cooling products, for example, offer a wide range of air conditioning options to fit different needs and budgets.

The Cooling Process of Air Conditioners

Air conditioners use a refrigeration cycle to remove heat from indoor air. Just like a heat pump, the cooling system consists of an outdoor unit, which houses the compressor and condenser, and indoor components, which include the evaporator and air handler. The warm indoor air is drawn into the system and passed over the evaporator coils, which contain cold refrigerant. The refrigerant absorbs the warmth and cools the air, which is then blown back into the room. The absorbed heat is then transported to the outdoor unit, where it’s released into the outside air.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Air Conditioners


Air conditioners are a popular choice for cooling homes and buildings. Here are some of their advantages:

Energy efficiency: Modern air conditioning units are designed to be energy-efficient, which can save homeowners money on their energy bills. However, when compared to heat pumps, traditional air conditioners can use up to 30% more energy.

Durability: Air conditioners are generally durable and can last for many years if maintained properly.

Maintenance: Air conditioning units require regular maintenance, but it is generally easy to do and can be done by homeowners.

Appearance: Air conditioning units are available in a variety of sizes and styles, so homeowners can choose one that fits their home’s aesthetic.


While air conditioners have many advantages, there are also some disadvantages to consider:

Heating abilities: Air conditioners are designed primarily for cooling, so they may not be as effective at heating a home as other types of heating systems.

Outdoor temperatures: Air conditioning units can struggle to cool a home in extremely hot temperatures. As they work harder, they can ice up and lose efficiency. It is also difficult to insulate a window air conditioning unit sufficiently, and they can often leak condensed water.

Types of Heat Pumps

Heat pumps come in different types, each with its unique features and advantages. One common type of heat pump is the air-source heat pump, which uses outside air to heat or cool your home. Air-source heat pumps can be more energy-efficient than traditional air conditioners and furnaces because they move heat rather than create it.

Another type of heat pump is the water-source heat pump. Instead of using air, this type of heat pump uses water to transfer heat. Water-source heat pumps are more efficient than air-source heat pumps because water has a higher heat capacity than air. However, water-source heat pumps can be more expensive to install because they require a nearby water source.

Geothermal heat pumps are another type of heat pump that uses the earth’s constant temperature to heat or cool your home. Geothermal systems can be more efficient than air-source and water-source heat pumps, but they can be more expensive to install because they require drilling into the ground.

Air Conditioners

Air conditioners are a type of cooling system that removes heat from your home and transfers it outside. There are different types of air conditioners, including central air conditioning systems and window units. Central air conditioning systems use ductwork to distribute cool air throughout your home, while window units are self-contained and installed in a window.

Air conditioners can be powered by electricity, natural gas, or propane. Some air conditioners also have an electrical heater, which allows them to provide heat during colder months. However, air conditioners are typically less energy-efficient than heat pumps because they create cool air rather than move it.

Comparing Heat Pumps and Air Conditioners

When it comes to home comfort, selecting the right HVAC system is an essential part of home renovation or home purchase decisions. Both air conditioners and heat pumps are commonly used to regulate indoor temperatures, but they have distinct differences in functionality and cost.

Costs: Purchase and Installation

Heat Pump

Heat pumps are a great alternative to traditional HVAC systems. A new heat pump can cost around $5,000-$10,000, with installation costs ranging from $3,000-$7,000, depending on the complexity of the installation. The selection process is critical when it comes to purchasing a heat pump, as it must be appropriately sized for the family’s cooling demands. The cost of operating a heat pump can be less than that of a traditional HVAC system, as it is designed to transfer heat rather than generate it.

Air Conditioner

Air conditioners are less expensive than heat pumps, with prices ranging from $1,500-$4,000, with installation costs ranging from $2,000-$5,000. However, the operating costs of an air conditioner can be more expensive than a heat pump, as it uses electricity to cool the air. An air conditioner’s selection process is also critical, as the unit must be appropriately sized for the home’s cooling demands.

…expert heat pump installation in Bloomingdale, ILEnergy Efficiency: Heat Pump vs. Air Conditioner

What Types Of Heat Pumps Are There?When it comes to energy efficiency, heat pumps are generally more efficient than air conditioners. Heat pumps are designed to move heat from one location to another, whereas air conditioners can only cool the air. Heat pumps use electricity to move heat, while air conditioners use electricity to cool the air.

One of the biggest benefits of using a heat pump is that it can provide efficient heating and cooling. In the winter, the heat pump can extract heat from the surrounding outdoor air and bring it into the home. In the summer, it can do the opposite and extract heat from the indoor air and transfer it outdoors. By using the same system for both heating and cooling, homeowners can save money on energy costs and reduce their carbon footprint.

Life Expectancy: Comparing Heat Pumps and Air Conditioners

Heat pumps generally have a longer lifespan than air conditioners. A heat pump can last between 10 to 15 years, whereas an air conditioner typically lasts between 10 to 12 years. However, the lifespan of both systems can vary depending on factors such as maintenance, usage, and the surrounding environment.

It’s important to note that misconceptions about the lifespan of heat pumps and air conditioners can occur due to the lack of maintenance or the use of unskilled technicians. Homeowners should consider working with NATE-certified cooling technicians to ensure that their systems are well-maintained and functioning properly. This can help extend the life of their HVAC system and ensure optimal home comfort.

DIY Installation: Ease and Feasibility

When it comes to installing HVAC systems like heat pumps and air conditioners, there are options to do it yourself or hire a professional. However, there are important considerations to keep in mind before attempting a DIY installation.

Heat Pump

Installing a heat pump may be more complex than an air conditioner because of its additional components, such as an air handler, electrical heater, and refrigerant lines. Therefore, it’s recommended to hire a professional for installation to ensure safety and efficiency. While DIY installation may save money upfront, it can result in costly repairs down the line.

Air Conditioner

Air conditioners may be simpler to install than heat pumps, but they still require knowledge and experience to do so safely and effectively. Attempting a DIY installation may result in errors that lead to system malfunctions or safety hazards. It’s best to consult with a professional to get an estimation fee, response time, and the task type of the installation process.

Regardless of the system you choose, it’s crucial to work with skilled technicians who have experience in HVAC installations. They can help you determine the best system for your home’s cooling demands and ensure the installation is done correctly.

Deciding Between a Heat Pump and an Air Conditioner

When it comes to selecting a home comfort system, it’s essential to consider your family’s cooling demands, home renovation plans, and home purchase decisions. A heat pump or an air conditioner can offer reliable, energy-efficient cooling during the hot summer months. To decide which system is best for you, there are several factors to consider.

Aesthetic Considerations

Heat pumps and air conditioners both require an outdoor unit that can be an eyesore for some homeowners. While heat pumps are generally less noisy than air conditioners, some homeowners prefer the compact size and sleek design of an air conditioner. A skilled technician can help determine the best location for the unit to minimize its visibility.

Ultimately, whether you choose a heat pump or an air conditioner depends on your preferences and home’s specific needs. Consult with a qualified HVAC contractor to assess the task type, estimation fee, and response time required to install either system. With the help of a professional, you can enjoy reliable, energy-efficient cooling throughout the summer heat.

How much more efficient is a heat pump than an air conditioner?

Heat pumps are significantly more efficient than air conditioners because they don’t generate heat but rather transfer it. They can produce 3-4 times more heat energy than the electricity they consume, making them an excellent choice for cold climates.

Can a heat pump cool a house in 100 degree weather?

Yes, heat pumps can cool a house even in 100-degree weather. However, if the temperature outside is too high, the heat pump may not be as effective at cooling the indoor space. In such cases, a backup air conditioner may be necessary to supplement the heat pump.

Do heat pumps use a lot of electricity?

Heat pumps do consume electricity, but they are highly efficient and can be more economical than other heating and cooling options. While the amount of electricity a heat pump uses varies depending on factors like the size of the unit and the climate, they typically use less energy than a traditional air conditioner or electric heater. Expert heat pump installation in Bloomingdale, IL.

Call Compass Heating and Air for your trusted expert heat pump installation in Bloomingdale, IL.