Heat Pump vs Air Conditioner: What's the Difference?

Kate Webb

June 1, 2021

Heat pumps and air conditioners are remarkably similar when it comes to efficiency and cooling technology. The biggest difference between the two is that heat pumps can both cool and heat your home, and ac only provides cooling. The ideal option for your Massachusetts home will likely come down to personal preference and climate you live in. Let’s take a look at both systems:


Heat Pumps

What is a heat pump?

A heat pump is a standalone appliance that uses refrigeration technology and electricity to both cool and heat your home. A heat pump has two components – an outdoor condenser unit, which drives the heating/cooling process, and an indoor unit that passes cool or warm air into your home. The biggest heat pump vs air conditioner difference is that heat pumps are capable of both cooling and heating, and an air conditioner will only cool your home. 


How does a heat pump work?

Simply put, a heat pump uses electricity and refrigerant to move heat from one place  to another. To cool your home, a heat pump extracts heat from inside your home and transfers it outdoors. To create heat, the process is reversed. Using the outdoor unit, the heat pump extracts heat from outside your home, the refrigerant line carries this heat to the indoor unit, and using the fan, the indoor unit transfers the heat inside your home.


How much does a heat pump cost?

The cost to install a heat pump ranges from $4,000 to $7,000 depending on the size of your home, the efficiency rating, and the brand you choose. Heat pumps are only about 5% more expensive than the base cost of central AC, but the cost of installation is higher. Because heat pumps are high efficiency, there are lots of local rebates available to help offset the cost.


How efficient is a heat pump?

Heat pumps are highly efficient, with models ranging from 13 - 27.5 SEER. In cooling mode heat pump efficiency and AC efficiency are almost identical. In heating mode a heat pump can offer up to 300% efficiency, but only in moderate climates. In exceptionally cold climates they can be expensive to run and may require supplemental heating.


What is the lifespan of a heat pump?

The typical lifespan of a heat pump is anywhere from 12-20 years, depending on how well you maintain it. Because heat pumps produce both heating and cooling, they tend to wear out faster than air conditioners. They may also be more expensive to service and maintain.



Central Air Conditioners

What is a central air conditioner?

A central air conditioning system is a two-part cooling system. These systems will not heat your home. Central ac consists of an outdoor condenser unit, which drives the cooling process, and an indoor unit, which passes cool air into your home. These components are connected by a series of refrigeration lines and require ducting to deliver cool air to your entire home. 


How does an air conditioner work?

An air conditioner works by extracting heat from your home and transferring it outdoors. When your thermostat signals your AC to start cooling your home, warm air is drawn into your ductwork and cooled as it passes through refrigerant in an evaporator coil. This heated refrigerant is then pumped to the condenser outside your home, and cool air is returned to your home via the return air vents.


How much is a central air conditioner?

The cost to install central air conditioning ranges from $3,200 to $7,800 depending on the size of your home, the efficiency rating, and the brand you choose. Central AC costs about 5% less than a heat pump and is also less expensive to install. If you opt for a high-efficiency unit, Massachusetts offers incentives to install energy-efficient appliances in your home. 


How efficient is an air conditioner?

Air conditioners are a highly efficient way to cool your home, with models ranging from 13-26 SEER. AC efficiency is almost identical to heat pump efficiency. Heat pumps only offer 300% efficiency when they’re in heating mode, and only in moderate climates. 


What is the lifespan of an air conditioner?

The typical lifespan of a heat pump is anywhere from 15-20 years, depending on how well you maintain it.



Get a replacement cooling system installed in MA

Now that you know the difference, you can make an informed decision. Get an instant quote for your heat pump or ac installation in MA today.