Heat Pump vs. Furnace & AC Combo

Many of our customers ask us about the difference between an air conditioner/furnace heating and cooling system and a heat pump system. At Home Comfort Experts, we install heat pumps and furnace & AC systems in Indiana homes, so here is a basic rundown of the differences between them.

What’s the Difference Between the Heating Systems?

The major difference between a heat pump and an air conditioner is that an air conditioner can only cool a home, but a heat pump can cool and heat. Heat pumps and air conditioners function similarly. An AC transfers heat from the home to the AC unit where it is dissipated into the air. The refrigerant is pumped into a compressor where the molecules are pushed together causing the temperature of the gas to rise. The refrigerant gets pushed into the condenser where it is changed from a gas to a liquid and it cools down. When this cold liquid enters the evaporator inside your home, it collects the heat from inside your home to convert itself back into gas. When it leaves to go to the compressor, the heat from your home goes with it. That is how your home is cooled.

The Basics: How Heat Pumps Work

The process a heat pump uses is the same, however, a heat pump can reverse this process and heat your home as well as cool it. When you run your heat pump like a heater, the refrigerant liquid is converted to a gas outside the home and as it converts, it picks up heat from outside. It brings this heat into your home with it, thus warming the air. Heat pumps are most efficient when the outdoor temperature is around 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Which Heating & Cooling System to Use for Your Home

So, if one machine (a heat pump) can do the job of two (a furnace and an air conditioner), why doesn’t everyone just purchase a heat pump? While heat pumps are very efficient, they do have some limitations. They can only keep your home warm until the temperature drops below the upper 30s. Once temperatures drop below 37 degrees, your heat pump has to work full time to keep your home warm. And when it gets even colder, it just won’t be able to provide enough heat to keep you comfortable. So, it may make sense to buy a heat pump to save you money year round, but here in Indiana where the weather gets pretty cold for extended periods of time, you will have to have a furnace installed as a backup.

Because heat pumps basically transfer heat from one place to another rather than burn fuel to create heat, you can save on your energy bills. Some homeowners use a heat pump until the temperature gets too cold and then use their furnace when necessary. One more advantage heat pumps offer is that they are more environmentally friendly than gas burning furnaces. If you are considering installing a heat pump, talk to one of our Home Comfort Experts heating and cooling technicians and he will help you decide if it’s right for your home.