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Heat Pump Vs Air Conditioner: Which Is Better?

Note: This post may contain affiliate links. This means that at no cost to you, we may receive a small commission for made purchases.

There is nothing worse than feeling uncomfortably hot in your own home.

You cannot relax if you feel hot and bothered, and it can make you feel irritable and short-tempered.

Heat Pump vs Air Conditioner

When your house is too warm it can make you lethargic, stopping you from getting on with things.

It also becomes challenging to cook nice meals as it gets far too hot in the kitchen to stand over a stove.

If you are looking for the best way to keep your home cool in warm weather, you have probably considered an air conditioner (see also ‘ 6 Types Of Air Conditioners For Your Home ‘).

You may have also researched a heat pump. But which one is better? What is the difference between the two?

How do you know which one is best suited to your home? Both heat pumps and air conditioners work but move warm air out of your home, so why are they not the same thing? 

It can be confusing to understand air conditioners and heat pumps.

That is why we have put together this helpful guide which explains the difference between a heat pump and an air conditioner.

We also provide our recommendation of which one is the best for keeping your home cool. Keep reading to find out more. 

What Is An Air Conditioner?

A lot of people think that air conditioners work by pumping a room full of cold air, but this is not the case.

Air conditioning units remove the warm air from the room and send it outside, bringing down the temperature inside.

You can get ductless air conditioning units that just work in one room, or you can get air conditioning systems that benefit the whole house. 

The main components of an air conditioning system are: 

  • Outside unit – The unit that attaches to the outside of the house comprises a compressor and a condenser unit
  • Refrigeration Lines – These lines connect the inside unit to the outside unit and allow the refrigerant to travel between the two 
  • Refrigerant – The refrigerant passes along the refrigeration lines between the indoor and the outdoor unit
  • Fan – The fan intakes air and helps to circulate it around your house 
  • Evaporator coils – The evaporator coils on the inside unit absorb the hot air from your home 
  • Thermostat – The thermostat allows you to decide what temperature you want your home to be which controls how long the air conditioner needs to stay on for 

The air conditioner not only cools your home but also removes some of the humidity which makes it easier for you to control your body temperature.

This is why some people find the air to be dry if they use an air conditioner. 

What Is The Main Benefit Of An Air Conditioner?

Air conditioners (see also ‘What Is An Air Conditioner Pad?’) are designed to do one thing and do it well – keeping your home cool.

They are very efficient and reliable and can bring down the temperature of your home very quickly. 

If you live in a hot and humid climate and you use an air conditioning system with a thermostat then your home will always stay at a comfortable temperature. 

What Is The Main Downside Of An Air Conditioner?

The main downside to using an air conditioner is that it is not a full temperature control system.

It can cool your home down but it cannot heat it. This means that it needs to be paired with a furnace to use in the winter. 

However, this also makes the air conditioner last longer as it is not used all year around. 

What Is A Heat Pump?

When it comes to science and practicality, it is easier to move something from one place to another than to create something entirely new.

heat pump

This means it is easier to move hot air from one location to another rather than trying to create cold air.

This is the idea that brought about the creation of the heat pump. 

Most heat pumps are made up of two main parts – the inside unit and the outside unit.

The inside unit stays inside your home and the outside unit is attached to the outside of the house.

These two units are connected by refrigerant lines. 

Various components come together to produce the great results achieved with a heat pump:

  • Compressor – The compressor moves the refrigerant material through the pump system. 
  • Refrigerant Lines – These tubes connect the inside unit to the outside unit
  • Air Ducts – These ducts are what allow the warm and cool air to circulate in your house 
  • Coils – There are two coils in the heat pump- a condenser coil and an evaporator coil. They are responsible for heating or cooling the air
  • Valve – The reversing valve can change the flow of the refrigerant depending on whether you are cooling your home. There is also a thermostatic expansion valve that helps to regulate the flow of the refrigerant through the refrigerant lines. 
  • Accumulator – The accumulator is what adjusts the settings on the heat pump as the season’s change

A heat pump can warm your home as well as cool it down.

Even in cold temperatures, the heat pump can absorb any heat that can be found in the air outside and transfer it into your home.

This is the reverse of how it cools your home – the warm air is moving from outside to inside rather than the other way around. 

However, once the temperature outside gets down to freezing the heat pump is no longer efficient at heating your home.

You can use the electric heater that often comes attached to the heat pump, but it is not as good as using a furnace. 

This is why a lot of people choose a system with Hybrid Heat technology.

This is when the heat pump is used as the main source of heat, but the heating system switches to the furnace when the heat pump is no longer efficient. 

What Are The Benefits Of A Heat Pump?

There are two main selling points for using a heat pump – electricity and efficiency. 

Heat pumps (see also ‘Best Heat Pump Water Heater‘) run on electricity.

Whilst the running cost of a heat pump is similar to an air conditioner (see also ‘Air Conditioner Keeps Running When Turned Off? Here’s What To Do!‘) when it comes to cooling your home, it is significantly cheaper to heat your home with a heat pump than a furnace.

The system of air ducts also ensures that warm air is circulated throughout your entire house. This can save you a lot of money on your utility bills. 

Heat pumps are very energy efficient. This will depend on the energy efficiency rating of the model that you buy, but the whole system, in general, tends to do an excellent job without having to use up too much energy. 

What Are The Downsides Of A Heat Pump?

Whilst heat pumps are great for keeping your house cool, there are some issues with using them to heat your home.

Heat pumps are great if you live in a moderate or mild climate and the temperature outside doesn’t drop below freezing.

If you live in a cold climate then the heat pump may not be very efficient at heating your home during the winter. 

Heat pumps run on electricity which can be a great way to save you money.

However, if there is a power outage in the winter then you could be left without heat.

This is why it is a good idea to have a furnace as well.

This means that on particularly cold days or when the power is out you will still be able to heat your home. 

Heat pumps are more expensive to install than furnaces, and they also tend to cost more to purchase.

As heat pumps are used all year round they don’t last as long as furnaces or air conditioners which are only used during certain seasons. 

What Are The Main Similarities Between An Air Conditioner And A Heat Pump?

Now that you understand more about how air conditioners and heat pumps work, you will see that they have a lot in common. The main similarities are:

  • They both used a compressed refrigerant to collect the heat
  • They both take the heat from the room and expel it outside to cool the room down 
  • They both look alike and it can be difficult to tell them apart from the outside 
  • They are comparable in terms of running costs when being used to cool a room

When air conditioners are operating in cooling mode, it is virtually the same thing as a heat pump.

However, when you are using the alternative settings on either machine then they become quite different. 

What Are The Main Differences Between An Air Conditioner And A Heat Pump?

What Are The Main Differences Between An Air Conditioner And A Heat Pump?

Whilst there are a lot of similarities between an air conditioner and a heat pump, they also have some significant differences. Here are the main ones:


Air conditioners cannot provide heat, but heat pumps can.

This is because heat pumps can take on any heat that is found in the air and transport it into the house to release into the room.

Air conditioners need to be paired up with some kind of furnace to act as a full heating system. 

Installation Cost 

Heat pumps tend to cost more money upfront to install than an air conditioner (see also ‘ Through The Wall Air Conditioner Installation ‘).

This is because the unit that attaches to the outside of your house is more expensive than the indoor unit. 

Running Cost 

The running cost of heat pumps and air conditioners (see also ‘Is It Cheaper To Leave Your Air Conditioner On All Day?’) tends to be pretty similar, as long as you compare models with a similar energy efficiency rating.

However, using a heat pump to warm your home rather than just a furnace is often more cost-efficient.

This means that the heat pump can help to bring down your utility bills.  


Overall, air conditioners tend to last longer than heat pumps (see also our guide on how to fix a heat pump that is constantly running).

This can depend on the brand, the model that you choose, and of course how you use and maintain it.

However, heat pumps are used to cool down your home and heat it which means they are used in various seasons- often all year round.

As air conditioners are only used in the warmer months, it would make sense that they tend to last longer as the parts will be less worn. 


Which one should you get? A heat pump or an air conditioner?

There isn’t a lot of difference between them if all you want to do is cool your home, but if you are looking for a full temperature control system then you will need a heat pump that can also keep your home warm in the colder months. 

That being said, heat pumps are only useful in moderate climates and won’t be much good for warming your home if the outside temperature is below freezing. 

author avatar
Anthony Barnes
Anthony Barnes is the founder of Water Heater Hub and a second-generation plumber by profession. Before developing Water Heater Hub, Anthony Barnes was a full-time plumber, and he has undertaken a wide variety of projects over the decades. As a second-generation plumber, it was easy for Anthony to get used to the technicalities of all from a tender age


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