Choose your HVAC wisely! This guide will take you through the pros and cons of heat pumps and traditional AC.
Heat pump vs air conditioning: What’s the difference? And which one is the best for your house and local climate?
If you’re on the fence about whether or not you should upgrade your home’s HVAC to a heat pump or AC system, this is the guide for you.
(You can stop your internet search now. You’re welcome.)
- The difference between a heat pump and traditional AC system
- Pros and cons of both conventional air conditioners and heat pumps
- Cost considerations between AC and heat pump systems
- Heat pumps vs AC: What’s the best choice for your home?
- How to get a heat pump at no upfront cost (if your house qualifies)
And you’ll also get answers to popular questions, including:
- Are heat pumps as good as air conditioners at cooling?
- Does it cost more to run a heat pump or air conditioner?
- Can I cool a whole house with a heat pump?
Tap here to jump ahead for more FAQs about AC vs heat pumps.
We’ll give you the pros and cons of both heat pumps vs AC, but spoiler alert: We’re very much pro Team Heat Pump, and we hope you will be, too. We’ll explain why heat pumps are the best way to cool a home in-depth below.
AC vs heat pump — What’s the difference?
First, we need to explain that air-source heat pumps and traditional air conditioning systems are similar HVAC technology… sort of.
Both heat pumps and AC run on electricity—and both appliances work to keep your whole home cool by removing heat and humidity from inside your home and transferring it back outside.
But a traditional central air conditioner can do only one job and usually requires ductwork for central AC, while a heat pump can do several, all in one appliance. And not only does a heat pump do all of these jobs excellently, but it also can condition your home evenly with comfy, continuously fresh airflow—without ductwork installed.
In fact, a heat pump does more than cool your home. It’s also a dehumidifier, air filter, and a whole-home heating system—all in one.
A heat pump can replace all the other HVAC equipment you have. (Check out the video below for a quick explainer.)
Remember, much like an air conditioner, a heat pump doesn’t produce heat; it transports heat instead. But the big difference between a heat pump and AC is that, in winter, a heat pump can also move heat in the atmosphere that’s outside your house inside to keep you warm.
That might sound like space-age HVAC technology, but it’s not.
Heat pump technology has been around for a while—you can find it in your refrigerator and your old central AC right now—but in recent years it’s gotten exceedingly advanced at keeping homes warm in the winter, even in really cold temperatures and countries like Switzerland and Finland (1, 2).
Looking for more info? You can read about how heat pumps work in our ultimate guide.
Can a heat pump replace an air conditioner?
Not only can a heat pump replace an air conditioner, but it can also replace your home’s heating system.
So if you’re wondering if it can take over your air conditioner’s old job—yes, definitely. And it can cool your whole house more efficiently, more comfortably, and with a lot less noise.
Air conditioners — Pros and cons
Before we jump into the pros and cons of heat pumps, let’s discuss the advantages and disadvantages of traditional air conditioning via central ductwork.
Pros of traditional central AC:
- The cost of swapping out your old central AC unit for a new one is lower than installing a new heat pump.
- Air conditioners use traditional technology that most people are familiar with.
- Traditional AC can be hooked up to your current ductwork (if it’s still in good condition).
- AC systems are standard technology that every HVAC tech knows how to service.
Cons of traditional central AC:
- Traditional central air conditioning requires ductwork, which can directly cause energy waste if it’s not in good condition (3).
- Traditional AC uses more energy than a high-efficiency heat pump to cool and dehumidify your home (4).
- It’s only one appliance; your heating system must be purchased, installed, and maintained separately.
- An AC and heating system combo (like a furnace or boiler) is less efficient year-round and can contribute to energy waste and indoor air quality problems.
Heat pump — Pros and cons
Next, let’s dig into the advantages and disadvantages of heat pumps.
Pros of high-efficiency heat pumps:
- They’re an all-in-one system. When you update your AC with a heat pump, you’re also updating your heating system simultaneously.
- They’re simple and require less maintenance throughout the year.
- Heat pumps can improve your indoor air quality when you use them as your primary heating system.
- They’re quiet—so quiet, you might even wonder if it’s running. (It is!)
- Heat pump HVAC is an energy-efficiency and comfort upgrade to your home. Over time, you’ll waste less money on your energy bills.
- Heat pumps offer fresh, consistently flowing air and consistent temperatures.
- Some models (called ductless heat pumps or mini splits) don’t require ductwork. So if your current ductwork is in bad shape or you don’t have any at all, you’re in luck.
- Heat pumps run on clean energy. That means cleaner air in your home and on our planet.
Cons of high-efficiency heat pumps:
- Even though they’re less expensive to operate, one of the biggest downsides to heat pumps is the initial cost of installation; they replace all your old HVAC equipment. (But with Sealed, you can get a high-performance heat pump installed at no upfront cost. Learn how.)
- If you live in a very, very cold climate—and regularly have winter days far below -13 degrees—you may need to supplement your heat pump with another form of heating, although cold-climate heat pumps work excellently in most climates. Discover the temperature a heat pump stops working here.
Are heat pumps as good as air conditioners at cooling?
Heat pumps are not only as good as air conditioners at cooling your home, they’re superior. They’re used in famous buildings all over the world—from Shanghai Tower to Buckingham Palace.
When you upgrade your traditional AC to a heat pump, your home will feel more comfortable—all while cutting energy use.
Does it cost more to run a heat pump or air conditioner?
When you look at year-round numbers, it usually costs more to run an air conditioner and furnace or boiler combo than a heat pump system.
In fact, we’ve seen homeowners cut up to 50% of their energy waste with a combo of insulation, air sealing, and heat pump HVAC upgrades.
Those 3 improvements work together to make your home super efficient and super comfortable.
Want to learn how? Get our FREE 17-page guide on home energy efficiency (bonus checklists and case studies included).
49% of homeowners don’t know that most energy waste is related to heating and air conditioning.Sealed US Homeowner Survey 2021
Heat pump vs air conditioner: What’s the best choice for your home?
Every house is different, and that means every house needs a customized approach to essential comfort upgrades.
We don’t do cookie-cutter HVAC solutions at Sealed, and we’ll tell you when getting a heat pump installed with us might not be the right fit.
Whether or not a heat pump is best for your home depends on your local climate, your budget, your house, and your comfort preferences.
A high-efficiency heat pump might be the right upgrade for your home if…
- You want the best, most efficient HVAC on the market, and you’re willing to pay more upfront to make that happen (or your house qualifies to get a heat pump for no upfront cost!).
- You don’t have ductwork in your house, or your ductwork is in need of serious repairs.
- You’d prefer to avoid thinking about your HVAC system (heat pumps require very little maintenance).
- You’d like the room-by-room temperature control that ductless heat pumps offer.
- You want to improve your indoor air quality with your HVAC upgrade.
A traditional AC system might be right for you if…
- You prefer the lowest installation cost—even if your HVAC costs more over time to run and maintain.
- Your house doesn’t qualify to get a heat pump installed for no upfront cost with Sealed.
- You need only AC—you don’t need heating for your home at all.
- You don’t mind having a home cooling and heating system that requires more maintenance.
- You’re confident you don’t have indoor air quality concerns, like excess humidity, dust, or moisture build-up.
- Your ductwork is in amazing shape and requires no expensive repairs or replacements.
- You’re not concerned about higher energy costs in your area.
See if you qualify for an energy-efficient heat pump for zero upfront cost
Energy costs are increasing—but you don’t have to sacrifice feeling great in your own house.
You deserve a healthy, comfortable, and energy-efficient home, no matter what… and Sealed is here to help make it happen for you.
We upgrade your home with high-performance insulation, professional air sealing, and heat pump HVAC to make it feel better year-round and waste less energy.
- We take a customized approach to every home upgrade project
- Manage it from start to finish
- Negotiate project costs on your behalf
- Hire vetted expert contractors in your area
- And pay for all the upfront costs
You simply pay us back for your new heat pump based on a rate of the energy you save each month. You can reinvest your energy waste into increasing the comfort and efficiency of your home with Sealed’s payment program.
And if you don’t save energy, we don’t get paid. (Yes, you read that correctly.)
See if your house qualifies for a brand-new heat pump—at zero upfront cost—with Sealed.
FAQ: Heat pump vs air conditioner
Still have questions? Check out this list of common questions about heat pumps vs. air conditioners below. (Use the links to jump ahead to what you need today.)
- Which is better: a heat pump or AC?
- Do heat pumps work well in hot weather?
- Can a heat pump cool a house in 100-degree weather?
- How long do heat pumps last?
- Can I use a heat pump for AC only?
- Can I cool my whole house with a heat pump?
Don’t see your question here? Don’t fret. Talk to us at Sealed, and we’ll point you in the right direction.
Which is better: a heat pump or AC?
A heat pump by far is superior HVAC technology compared to traditional AC. Heat pumps are more comfortable, more efficient, and can do multiple jobs in one:
- Heat your home in winter
- Cool your home in summer
- Filter your indoor air and improve air quality
- Dehumidify your home
Do heat pumps work well in hot weather?
Yes! Heat pumps thrive in warmer temperatures. They’re pros at removing heat from your home and transferring it outdoors, keeping your home feeling cool and fresh. They also dehumidify your home more effectively than traditional AC.
Can a heat pump cool a house in 100-degree weather?
A heat pump can definitely cool a house in 100-degree weather. The most important thing is to have a heat pump professionally sized, zoned, and installed so that it’s customized to your home.
Your HVAC technician or home performance contractor will expertly size your new heat pump for the unique layout and size of your house, ensuring excellent performance year-round—even on the hottest 100-degree days.
How long do heat pumps last?
Heat pumps last about 15 years on average and up to 20–25 years if well-maintained and in a well-insulated home (5, 6). However, the lifespan of your heat pump will depend on your local climate, how well your home is insulated, and whether or not you keep a regular maintenance schedule.
Can I use a heat pump for AC only?
Technically, you could use a heat pump as AC to cool your home only, and HVAC equipment manufacturers do make AC-only heat pumps. But you’d be keeping your heat pump from really shining!
Modern heat pumps are 3 times more efficient at heating your home than traditional heating systems, like furnaces or boilers. So you don’t want to miss out on this key benefit.
But if you live in a very, very cold area (and regularly have temperatures well below -13 degrees) and are concerned about having a safety net on the coldest winter day, some homeowners choose to run a dual-fuel system, which is still more efficient than traditional home heating methods, like furnaces and boilers.
Can I cool my whole house with a heat pump?
Yes, you can cool your whole house with a heat pump. As mentioned above, a home performance contractor or HVAC technician will correctly size your new heat pump for your house so it cools the whole thing excellently.
Ready to upgrade to a heat pump?
If your home qualifies to work with Sealed, you can get a high-performance heat pump at no upfront cost… and you pay us back for the work done based on a rate of your monthly energy savings.