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Heat Pump vs. AC: What's Best For Me?

Heat pump vs. AC (air conditioner)When it comes to staying cool during a Minnesota summer, the default device that many think of to keep them comfortable is an air conditioner. The next appliance that may come to mind is a heat pump. Although not as popular in our state, a heat pump can provide not only cool air in the summer, but heat in the winter too. Let’s look at a comparison of heat pump vs. AC to find what’s best for you!

Cooling Effect & Heating Bonus

ACs and heat pumps both have the ability to cool your home in the summer. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, your AC and heat pump work by using the same basic principles that it takes to get your refrigerator to work. They use energy/fuel to transfer heat from the cool interior and push it to an outside environment. For your fridge, it gets pushed into your house, and for your AC or heat pump, it gets transferred to the outdoors.

Our resident expert Keith Hill, technical support manager at Minnesota Air, says that both ACs and heat pumps have a compressor, an outdoor coil, outdoor fan/motor and an indoor coil (A Coil), but there is a big difference.

“A heat pump also has a reversing valve that redirects the hot refrigerant gas to the indoor coil to reject the heat indoors for heat mode and the reverse valve also redirects the ‘cool’ refrigerant outdoors to extract heat from the outdoor air,” says Keith. “In addition, there is a defrost system (similar to your freezer) that prevents buildup of frost on the outdoor coil.”   

In basic terms, a heat pump is an enhanced air conditioner that also provides heat in the wintertime. The flipping of the cooling process occurs in heating mode because of extra components that allow it the capacity and efficiency for extracting heat from cold air.

What About Humidity? 

While your AC not only cools but also conditions the air (hence the name air conditioner) a heat pump can do the same. According to the Department of Energy, “high-efficiency heat pumps also dehumidify better than standard central air conditioners, resulting in less energy usage and more cooling comfort in summer months.” 

What About The Cost?

Operating costs for both an air conditioner and a heat pump are dependent on the efficiency rating – some are just better than others. Nevertheless, according to Keith, when it comes to operating costs, there are advanced models of heat pumps like the Carrier Greenspeed heat pump that rival the efficiency and low, low operating costs of a geothermal heat pump. However, when it comes to the upfront costs for the product and installation, a heat pump will typically cost you more than an AC, so you need to take into consideration that cost vs. the difference in monthly operating costs. 

Am I In The Right Climate To Use A Heat Pump?

Lastly, Keith says you may have heard that heat pumps only work well in moderate climates and that our freezing cold Minnesota winters are just too frigid to use one. That’s not entirely true. According to the Department of Energy, they’ve been used all over the U.S., “but until recently they have not been used in areas that experienced extended periods of subfreezing temperatures.” But now, air-source heat pump technology has advanced so much that it’s a legitimate space heating alternative in colder regions.

Those advanced heat pumps may cost you a little more, but even so, there are some heat pumps – called dual fuel or hybrid heat – that can also be used in conjunction with a secondary gas furnace that will take over heating duties once it’s too cold. 

Whatever you decide to invest in – a heat pump or an AC -- remember to talk to an HVAC professional like the experts at with your questions first. For more information on the types of heat pumps click here, and for more information on the types of air conditioners click here.

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