What is the difference between a heat pump and a cooling air conditioner?

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

A cooling air conditioner, sometimes also called a “straight cool” or “standard” air conditioner, has only one function: utilizing the circular flow of a refrigerant gas to take the heat from inside a home and move it outside—which results in cooling the home’s interior. The heat pump is similar to a cooling air conditioner, except that it has a valve the can reverse the flow of the refrigerant so that it can also move heat from the exterior into the home—heating the home interior.

   If you look closely at the manufacturer’s data plate on the side of the condensing (outdoor) unit of your HVAC system, you may be able to find the words “HEAT PUMP”, or “CENTRAL COOLING AIR CONDITIONER“ or “CONDENSING UNIT” for straight cool air conditioners.

   A heat pump is more energy efficient at heating than an electric furnace, which utilizes electric resistance heating coils. But the heat pump has a limitation that it does not function well in temperatures below freezing, so it is best suited for a moderate climate. Colder areas of the country require a furnace for heating.

   Also in very warm climates, such as in the Florida Keys, the extra initial cost of a heat pump may not be worth it for the few days of the year when a little heat is required. In that case, a cooling air conditioner with a heat coil in the air handler is the standard.

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  To learn more about heating and air conditioning systems, see these other blog posts:

How can I find out the SEER of my air conditioner? 

My air conditioner won't turn on. What's wrong? 

How can I find out the size of my air conditioner? 

How can I tell whether the condenser (outdoor unit) is an air conditioner or heat pump? 

Where is the air filter for my central air conditioner and furnace? I can’t find it? 

Does an old air conditioner use more electricity as it ages? 

How did homes stay cool in Florida before air conditioning? 

What is wrong with an air conditioner when the air flow out of the vents is low?

Why has the thermostat screen gone blank? 

Why does it take so long to cool a house when an air conditioner has been off for a while? 

Why is my air conditioner not cooling enough? 

What are the most common problems with wall/window air conditioners?  

Will closing doors reduce my heating and cooling costs? 

   Visit our HEATING AND AIR CONDITIONING page for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles. 

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