The rise of fuel prices over the last decade and the movement toward more sustainable energy sources has consumers on the lookout for the most cost effective appliances and devices. Temperature regulation in houses and apartments is no different—homeowners everywhere are hoping to lower their energy costs and keep their homes at a comfortable temperature. Two of the products on the market, the heat pump and the traditional air conditioning unit, are products that consumers might be interested in comparing. Choosing one depends on the specific needs of each individual and the climate they call home.
Heat pumps, despite what their name might suggest, are devices that can be used not just for heating, but also for cooling a house. There are a variety of different types of heat pumps systems available, including geothermal, ductless, absorption, and, perhaps the most common, air-source heat pumps. Just like a refrigerator, the heat pump runs on electricity, moving heat from cooler areas to warmer ones and thereby further cooling the cool space and warming the warmer space. In a heating season, for example, heat pumps will move heat from cooler outdoor units into the warm house, thus generating heat. The opposite process occurs during a cooling season, when heat from the house is pumped to the outdoors, leaving the house cooler.
Since heat pumps move heat rather than generating the heat itself, they are far more effective operationally than conventional heating or cooling appliances. In fact, frequently heat pumps are able to regulate the temperature of a space for as little as a quarter of the cost of other types of heating and cooling units.
Heat pumps, especially geothermal ones, can be rather expensive to install, but in moderate climates where the heating and cooling needs are relatively low, they eventually pay for themselves through the reduced heating and cooling costs. According to Tim Smigelski, one happy homeowner who installed a geothermal system, he gets four dollars back for every dollar he put into the system. One of the biggest advantages of such a system is that it can be used anywhere in the world, since the geothermal power source—the Earth—will never vary, unlike solar energy and energy generated by the wind.
Air Conditioning Units
Air conditioning units have been a standard of American homes for several years. In 2011, nearly 87% of homes were equipped with AC units, though efficiency and type of individual units depended greatly on household income. AC units function similarly to heat pumps, pulling hot air from the house, squeezing it through the refrigerant until it’s cold, and finally pushing the chilled air back into the house for the cooling effect. Well-maintained AC units can last for fifteen to twenty years, but since newer models are significantly more energy efficient, most owners would save money replacing units that are approaching the decade mark.
Heat Pump vs. Air Conditioner Breakdown
This infographic from Washington Energy offers a quick and easy breakdown of the differences between the overall cost and efficiency of heat pumps versus the air conditioner. Overall, air conditioning units tend to outlive heat pumps by an average of five years because the they only run part of the year, whereas a heat pump regulates the temperature year round. Installation for heat pumps is more expensive than air conditioning units, but for those living in climates where both heating and cooling are necessary, a heat pump can save the consumer a significant amount of money by replacing alternative heating systems, including gas, propane or oil furnaces, while also meeting the cooling needs an AC unit covers.