This question only really applies to those who either have a forced air system utilizing a furnace to heat their home OR if you are considering the high velocity system which can be installed in your attic. If you are wanting to go with a ductless mini split system then no need to concern yourself! Ductless mini split systems are heat pump systems.Hope this helps you with your questions!
Heating & Cooling
A heat pump uses a reversing valve to change over from cooling to heating so all your climate control is handled by the heat pump system. Your air conditioner can’t do that. However, if you’ve already got an energy-efficient furnace to heat your home, you may not need a heat pump.
A heat pump will cost you more upfront. Assuming you already have the ductwork in place, you can expect a heat pump to cost about 1.5 to 2 times the cost of whole-house AC. A big part of the cost differential is that your heat pump handles cooling and heating.
There are rebates available that are quite good although there are a lot of hoops to jump through in order to be approved for them. In the end, with rebates, the cost of a heat pump will come down to only slightly more then the cost to install an AC system.
Servicing costs: They both have similar costs involved when it comes to basic servicing of the unit but when it comes to repair, when needed, the heat pump will generally always cost more. There are just simply more components to a heat pump that can fail as compared to your bread and butter AC system.
AC units typically last longer than heat pumps. They’re only used for part of the year during the cooling season while heat pumps are used for both cooling and heating. You’ll need to balance that out against the cost of maintaining both a separate heating and cooling system.
Heating & Cooling Efficiency
If you’re wondering whether heat pumps cool as well as air conditioners, the answer is yes – if you buy the right one. When you’re considering a heat pump vs AC, you’ll want to check the Seasonal Energy Efficient Rating (SEER). As long as the numbers are the same, you’ll get the same efficient performance out of a heat pump that would from a stand-alone air conditioning system.
Heat pumps will see diminished efficiency for heating when it drops below freezing. They’ll use more energy to draw heat out of the cold outside air. Many heat pump systems in colder climates include an auxiliary electric heater to maintain heat in extremely cold weather. This can also add to costs. That’s why some homeowners use a furnace and a heat pump.
To conclude: The main difference between the two is that the heat pump can do heating. It has limitations to the heating side of things and the closer the temperatures outside get to freezing the less efficient it becomes. If you already have an upgraded high efficient furnace then the AC option is what we suggest would be best for you.
Let’s start out with a basic explanation of what the difference is between a heat pump and an air conditioning only system and then we can start identifying what your options are for air conditioning in your home.
The difference between an “air conditioning only” system and a “Heat pump” system is that a heat pump can run in reverse. An air conditioning only system runs the refrigerant through the system in one direction and that direction creates the cooling effect (without getting too scientific). A heat pump is just an AC system that has more complicated integral components inside of it which allow for you to switch the flow of refrigerant into reverse which creates a heating effect. We can get into the pros/cons of each later. For now, you understand the basic difference between the two.
Keep in mind that, if your home is not under a major renovation, it is the type of heating system as well as the layout of your home that does most of the choosing for you when it comes to AC.
For example, if you have a furnace heating your home then you are obviously going to choose a centralized air conditioning system for your home. Not only is it cheaper to install but its also the best option. In this case you are lucky. If you do not have a furnace then you will have to go with a mini split system or an air handler in the attic. Below I run through each system! Take a look!
Central Air Conditioning System
With this type of system you can install it using a heat pump or just an AC unit.
Utilizing your furnace we would install a “coil” onto your furnace. This coil will be what makes the air cold. We then install the outdoor unit. Once the indoor coil is installed on the furnace and the outdoor unit is sitting in its permanent position outside, we run what is called a “line set” from the outdoor unit to the coil which we have just installed on the furnace.
The lineset is essentially two copper tubes. The outdoor unit moves the refrigerant through one tube to the indoor unit (the coil) on the furnace and back through the other tub returning to the outdoor unit. This process makes the coil get very cold.
In the summer you switch the thermostat from “Heat” to “Cool”. This tells your furnace that it no longer needs to create a flame when it turns on. It now simply tells the AC/Heat pump to turn on which blows air through the freezing cold coil, then through your duct work and out through your floor registers. It is centralized AC because the cooling comes from one central location and is carried to all of your floor registers, cooling every room with a register.
Here is a photo for help. You can see the out door unit, the twe copper tubes called linesets, and then the coil on top of your furnace.
Ductless Mini Split System:
This system is generally a heat pump system and can carry out heating and cooling for each room it’s installed in.
A ductless mini split is utilized when you do not have a furnace. Without the ductwork to carry AC to each room this system is generally the best option for retrofitting a home to have AC. Houses that end up going with this option generally have hot water or electric heating systems.
You know those units you often see on the wall of a hotel? You pick up the remote and turn the temperature all the way up or down, the little grill opens up and then it begins blowing warm or cold air? That is a ductless mini split “head”. But dont worry, the ones you will buy for your home are much more aesthetically pleasing!
We start out by choosing which rooms you would like to have cooling in. You might say, for example, want cooling in the kitchen, living room, and 3 bedrooms. This means you would need 5 heads. Depending on the layout of your home we might be able to do this with a single, large, outdoor unit or we might have to use two outdoor units. We would then need to run line sets from the outdoor units to each individual head. See the photo below? Not much different from how the furnace and the coil works except with this system you need power and a lineset to run from the outdoor unit to each room that you want to have cooling rather than just to the furnace. Which is why this system can cost quite a bit more.
Diagram of a single head and an outdoor unit showing the lineset.
High Velocity Central Air Conditioning System (Attic Air Handler)
The air handler in the attic is another option if you do not have a furnace in your home. In a nut shell, we install an air handler in the attic and then we run ducts from the air handler to each room that requires cooling. We then, just like the furnace, install an encased coil onto the air handler. We run line sets from the coil to the outdoor unit. Once the air handler is installed in the attic, the coil is connected to it, duct work is installed and ran to every room and the lineset is now connecting the outdoor unit to the coil we have successfully added a cooling system to your home. Heat too if you decided on a heat pump!
This system is slightly cheaper then the ductless mini split system but typically requires a little more drywall damage just to get the ducts to everywhere you want them to go. Although we are generally very good at keeping that damage to a minimum.
Diagram of how this system works in your home.