Category - Heat Pumps
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Paul Holdsworth, Engineer

22 Feb : Updated 22 Feb ● 8 min read

A heat pump vs. air conditioning: which is better for your home?

If you're in the market for a new cooling or heating system, it's good to know what's available to you. And it's even more helpful to know which could be most suitable for you and your home.

We compiled this guide to help make that decision easier and clarify a few things. Here, we explore how heat pumps work, what air conditioning units do, and which system is the most energy-efficient and cost-effective so you can make an informed choice when picking a new heat pump unit or cooling system.

Heat pumps vs air conditioners: How do they work?

Heat pumps

Heat pumps work by transferring heat from outside into your home during winter, and vice versa during summer. They use electricity to move heat from a cool space to a warm area, making your home toasty in winter and cool in summer. There are two main types of heat pumps, these are:

1. Air source heat pumps

An air source heat pump takes the heat from the outside air, even on cold days, and uses it to warm up your home. It absorbs the heat and then compresses it to increase its temperature. This warm air is circulated through your home to provide heating and hot water. 

The best part? It uses much less electricity than traditional heating systems, making it more eco-friendly and cost-effective in the long run.

2. Ground source heat pumps

A ground source heat pump harnesses the natural heat stored in the ground. To achieve this, pipes are buried in your garden or even under your house and contain water and antifreeze. This liquid absorbs heat from the ground and carries it into your home. The heat is used to warm up your radiators, underfloor heating, or hot water systems. 

Ground source heat pumps are incredibly efficient because the ground maintains a relatively stable temperature throughout the year, making them a reliable and eco-friendly heating solution.

Both heat pumps can help you save money on energy bills, reduce your carbon footprint, and make your home feel cosier.

Air conditioners

Air conditioners, on the other hand, use refrigerant to absorb heat from inside your home and release it outside, pumping cold air into your home and leaving your living space cool and comfortable.

Another benefit to having an air conditioning unit installed is that many systems can be reversed and could help you keep your home warm in the colder months.

Read our blog to explore how split system air conditioners work (air conditioning units with internal and external components).

Heat pumps vs air conditioners: what do they do?

Heat pumps

Besides regulating your home's temperature, heat pumps can also dehumidify indoor air, enhancing your overall comfort.

Air conditioners

Air conditioners primarily focus on cooling indoor air, making them an excellent choice for long, hot summer days. Additionally, these systems can help to dehumidify and purify the air in our homes, too.

Heat pumps vs. air conditioners: price

Heat pumps

While the initial cost of heat pump installation is higher than installing an air conditioner, heat pumps are more energy-efficient, potentially saving you money in the long run.

Air conditioners

Air conditioners often have a lower initial cost but might be less energy-efficient, leading to higher electricity bills over time.

Remember: To get an accurate idea of how much a heat pump or air conditioner will cost, consult a qualified HVAC engineer. They will assess your home, review your cooling and heating requirements, and provide you with a detailed quote.

Alternatively, for an air conditioning quote in just a couple of clicks, use our Find an Air Conditioner tool. Simply tell us a few things about your home, and we’ll recommend the best systems - it’s that simple.

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Heat pumps vs. air conditioners: installation

Heat pumps

Installing a heat pump can be complicated, particularly if you want to install a ground source heat pump; this is due to the outdoor unit and the need for proper insulation. Due to these complexities, a trained HVAC technician must undertake the work.

Air conditioners

An air conditioning system is easier to install than a heat pump, but you must still have a professional set it up to ensure optimal performance and safety.

Heat pumps vs. air conditioners: efficiency 

Heat pumps

Heat pumps are very efficient because they move heat rather than generate it, making them a great choice if you're trying to reduce your carbon footprint.

Air conditioners

While air conditioners are effective at cooling, they might be less energy-efficient than heat pumps in the long term.

Heat pumps vs. air conditioners: emissions

Heat pumps

Heat pumps produce lower carbon emissions because they utilise existing heat rather than burning fuel to create it.

Air conditioners

Air conditioning units, especially older models, can contribute to greenhouse gas emissions due to their increased energy consumption.

Another thing to consider here is the type of electricity tariff your home is on. If you use renewably sourced energy or generate electricity, e.g. from solar panels, your environmental impact will be reduced. 

Heat pumps vs. air conditioners: durability

Heat pumps

Heat pumps are designed for year-round use and, with proper maintenance, can last for around 20-25 years.

Air conditioners

Air conditioners require regular servicing to ensure their effectiveness and longevity. If you keep your air conditioning unit well-maintained, it will typically last around 15-20 years.

Heat pumps vs air conditioners: money saved on bills

Heat pumps

Depending on the type of home you live in, a heat pump may be an energy-efficient alternative to central heating, especially in moderate climates. However, heat pumps are only suitable for homes with a good amount of outdoor space due to the size of the appliance. 

Air conditioners

By contrast, if you live in a smaller home or apartment and have an air conditioning system installed that can reverse its function and heat your home, it will likely be more cost-effective than using central heating and a heat pump. 

With this being said, using an air conditioner in the summer will help you to stay cool, but it will also impact your home’s electricity usage and increase your energy bills, especially if you use it for long periods. 

Check out our blog to discover how much air conditioning costs to run

Heat pumps vs air conditioners: pros and cons

Pros of heat pumps

  1. Efficiency: Heat pumps are incredibly energy-efficient. They move heat from one place to another instead of generating it, making them a greener and cost-effective choice for heating and cooling your home. Heat pumps also produce lower carbon emissions than traditional heating systems, making them environmentally friendly and contributing to a greener planet. Efficiency can of course vary by the type of home you have. 
  2. Year-round comfort: Heat pumps can heat your home in winter, and some are even capable of cooling your home in the summer, providing consistent comfort throughout the changing seasons.
  3. Reduced energy bills: Because they are more energy efficient than central heating systems, heat pumps can significantly reduce your energy bills, saving you money in the long term.
  4. Longevity: With proper maintenance, heat pumps can last for many years, providing reliable heating and cooling for your home.

Cons of heat pumps

  1. Initial costs: The upfront cost of installing a heat pump can be higher than other heating systems. However, the long-term energy savings can outweigh the initial investment.
  2. Climate dependence: Air source heat pumps might be less efficient in extremely cold conditions. However, technological advancements are making them more effective even in chilly weather.
  3. Complex installation process: Proper installation by a qualified professional is crucial for efficiently, and safely, operating heat pumps.
    Space requirement: Heat pumps, especially air source ones, require outdoor space for installation. This might be a limitation for homes with limited outdoor areas.

Pros of air conditioning units

  1. Cool comfort: Air conditioning units provide instant relief during hot and humid weather, ensuring you can relax comfortably indoors, even on scorching summer days.
  2. Improved air quality: Modern air conditioners come with filters that can trap dust, pollen, and other allergens, improving the quality of the air you breathe indoors.
  3. Better sleep: Keeping your bedroom cool with an air conditioner can promote better sleep, as a cool and relaxed environment is conducive to restful nights.
  4. Versatility: Some air conditioning units also have heating functions, providing warmth during colder months, making them a year-round solution for temperature control.

Cons of air conditioning units

  1. Cost: Purchasing and installing air conditioning units can be expensive, especially for larger or multi-room systems. This initial cost might be a barrier for some individuals.
  2. Energy consumption: Air conditioners can increase your electricity bills, especially if used excessively. Choosing energy-efficient models and using them judiciously can help mitigate this issue. Air conditioning units use refrigerants that can contribute to greenhouse gas emissions if not handled properly.
  3. Maintenance: Air conditioning units require regular maintenance, including filter cleaning or replacement, to ensure they function optimally. Neglecting maintenance can lead to reduced efficiency and higher energy bills.
  4. Noise pollution: Some air conditioning units can be noisy, which might be a concern, especially for bedroom installations. However, many modern units are designed to be quieter.

More BOXT-source heat pump wisdom

If you're considering buying a heat pump system, ensure you make the correct decision, both for your wallet and your home, by reading our dedicated heat pump guides. Here, you'll find information on how heat pumps are installed, and how much it costs to run a heat pump in the UK.

Ready for a new HVAC system? BOXT can install both heat pumps and air conditioning systems…

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