Central Air Conditioner VS Heat Pump: How To Choose Between These Two?

Central Air Conditioner VS Heat Pump

When you’ve got all the required ductwork installed and gaps sealed off in the room, there is really only one thing left for you to do: Install an HVAC system. 

Most homes today use his forced-air system to shelter a heating or cooling system that will provide them with all-year-round comfort.

What kind of a system you put up, then, is going to significantly impact your indoor living and lifestyle as this is a big and long investment, so you don’t want to end up stuck with something for the next 20 years that you’re not satisfied by.

And this is why the HVAC market has options for you, which is fortunate because you get to choose what suits your preferences, and unfortunate because now you’ve got the burden of making a decision that is commonly between A Central Air Conditioner VS a Heat Pump. 

However, you are not without help. There are a lot of factors and monetary aspects that can go into determining whether the Central AC or Heat Pump will be the lucky newcomer in your home, and every section in this article is intended to help you to that point.

About Central Air Conditioners

If you have a refrigerator at home, you basically already have an operational mini Central AC lying around.

Only, a Central Air Conditioner is a traditional air conditioning system that inhibits the entirety of your home through a ductwork system and focuses on blowing cool and often dehumidified air into multiple rooms and keeping the temperatures low and stable. 

Much like a fridge, an AC also uses components including a condenser, evaporator, and compressor in its operation. Through return ductwork, air from the room is absorbed in, and circulated through the ducts through the different parts.

Heat existing in the absorbed air is usually removed with the help of a refrigerant liquid, and then the air is cooled and dehumidified, then filtered before it is blown into the room. 

Most Central ACs also have a furnace so that the system may remain resourceful even during winters. When the performance required is heating, the system draws in cold air from the outside and heats it as per the temperature set on the thermostat, and then releases it to warm up the room.

Heat pumps- What are they, and How do they work?

The Heat Pump is another variation of the AC, intended to fulfill your home’s heating and cooling needs. Much like the Central Air Conditioning system, the heat pump also has its roots in the operational principles of the refrigerator.

The heat pump works on the natural inclination of heat to travel from places with high temperatures to low-temperature areas. 

In summers, the heat pump works by removing heat from inside your home and adding heat to the same air in the cooler months.

A heat pump does this through a medium of heat exchange rather than generation, i.e, it simply displaces the heat from the outside air and moves it indoors. This process is very similar to Air Conditioners’ cooling strategy.

How are Heat Pumps and ACs similar?

Since both systems work towards the same goal, it can be conflicting to decide which one is worth your money. Do not be discouraged, the systems do have some marked differences which we will elaborate on soon. But first, here are some aspects shared by both systems:

Both the heat pump and the Central air conditioning system work with a compressed refrigerant whose function is to pull in heat from the absorbed air that is being circulated throughout the ductwork.

Also, when it comes to cooling, both systems adopt a similar path of operation by which they remove heat from indoor air and send it outside. Even the AC moves heat as opposed to actually producing cooler temperatures. 

Heat pumps also work on the principle of transferring heat from high temperatures to low temperatures, so they absorb heat from indoor air and exhaust it outside.

Another similarity is that both use a fan or a blower motor to pump out the air through the ductwork and let it distribute evenly across a room. Thus, it is not surprising that both Central Air Conditioners and Heat pumps are far more similar than they seem.

Differences Between Central Air Conditioners and Heat Pumps

Perhaps one of the biggest differences between the two is in their heating mode. Heat pumps use a technology that is predominantly reversible.

That is, even in heating mode, they simply work on the basis of extracting heat energy from outdoors and delivering it inside to create sufficient warmth. Central Air Conditioners, on the other hand, make use of a furnace for active heat generation.

Thus, where a heat pump has a dual role in both heating and cooling, a Central Air Conditioner by itself can only cool. It is only when it is paired with a furnace that it is able to heat and cool alternatively throughout the year. 

This is the biggest and the main difference between the systems. There is also the fact that, unlike a Central AC, the heat pump’s efficiency is lowered during winters as it requires more energy to maintain the heat for long durations.

Factors Influencing The Right Choice

To make the correct decision as to what heating or cooling system should take its rightful place in your home, there are certain aspects that can make the division between the two more distinctive and comparable. Here are some:

Energy Efficiency

Usually, this is one of the first factors homeowners are concerned with, as it contributes to the system’s operating costs- and HVAC equipment is designed to remain operational for… a long time.

It is only right that you don’t have to spend every month of that time period worrying over high electricity bills thanks to your system’s faulty and irregular efficiency.

Heat pumps convey great efficiency in moderately cold climates compared to other HVAC systems. However, it is in freezing cold temperatures that they start to require more and more energy to keep up the heat.

If you experience harsh winters, it is possible that your electricity costs may go up over the cooler months with a heat pump around. 

This can be particularly disadvantageous if you’re on a budget, as heat pumps are already quite expensive by themselves. Add to that high operational costs and you’re going to start wishing money really does start growing on trees.

Look to the SEER ratings to help you decide what kind of energy efficiency rating works best for you within your climate zone.

Initial and Upfront Costs

When talking about initial and upfront costs, I am referring to how much it generally takes to buy and install a system. It is commonly believed that Central ACs have a leg-up over Heat Pumps in terms of upfront costs, as they are cheaper and cost less to install. 

While indoor units in Heat Pumps are as inexpensive as they come, the outdoor unit costs really weigh in heavily and increase the upfront costs by a lot.

However, it is important to remember that the total costs really matter more, so make sure that you keep an eye out for SEER and HSPF ratings for whatever system you come across. The higher the ratings, the better the system.


You’re also going to want to include the lifespan of your system on the list of things to be on the lookout for. After all, when you’re dropping thousands on a system, wouldn’t you want it to last as long as possible?

Now, Central ACs are considered to be able to live longer compared to Heat Pumps. This is mainly because they do less work than Heat Pumps. 

You might remember reading that Central Air Conditioners work with furnaces during winters to provide heat, so the AC itself isn’t involved in heating your home. This gives the AC unit time to recuperate.

In contrast, the heat pump exchanges heat all year round, so essentially it’s overworked to the coils. To no one’s surprise, their expiration date approaches faster as well. 

Regular and thorough maintenance, of course, ensures that you get the most out of your Heat Pump for as long as it is possible. Additionally, if you live in extremely cold climates, you can always create a Hybrid Heat Pump system and set it up with a furnace.

This way, you can take the pressure off your heat pump system and get the desired heating in the coldest of days.

Which system should you get?

There is no way to give an answer regarding which HVAC system is right that satisfies every homeowner. The answer depends largely on personal choices, climate, and home design.

The Central AC is great if you’re on a financial crutch and would not like to strain your bank account. However, you have to compromise on the freedom of having a one for all air conditioning benefit that the heat pump provides. 

At the same time, the heat pump has not proved to be the most suitable for all climate types without supplemental heating, while the Central AC can easily resolve this with its furnace.

Central ACs don’t have the variety of models that heat pumps have. Heat pumps have models that can absorb heat from the ground, from water, and directly from air as well.

Heat pumps also have options- they don’t have to be forced-air systems like Central ACs, as they come in ductless models as well.

With so many deciding characteristics on the line, the choice is complex. With the right knowledge and consciousness, however, you can choose what fits your needs best.

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