When choosing the best option for your home HVAC system, you must weigh the advantages and disadvantages of heat pumps and air conditioners. A heat pump can both heat and cool while remaining efficient, as long as the climatic temperature fluctuations are moderate. On the other hand, an air conditioner works better when it is paired with a furnace to deliver heat during cold weather. Despite their differences, heat pumps and air conditioners follow similar working principles.
To begin, both of these units include a refrigerant fluid, a compressor, a condensing coil, and an evaporator to make air conditioning possible. In both the heat pump and air conditioner, the refrigerant experiences an increase in the pressure and temperature in the compressor. For this reason, this high temperature refrigerant is cooled and condensed in the condensing coil as a result of losing heat to the ambient air blowing through the coil. At this point, the cool refrigerant is taken to the evaporator coil where it expands and evaporates, absorbing the heat from the inside air flowing over the evaporator coil.
Apart from operating similarly, heat pumps and air conditioners do not carry out the same task. Nonetheless, based on their working principle, they can both provide cooling. The evaporator coil must be positioned within the conditioned zone, whereas the condensing coil is located on the outside, paving the way for the cooling process. However, there is a mechanism in heat pumps that reverses this thermodynamic cycle and also enables them to deliver heating. Please note that this is not the case for air conditioners.
In terms of range of applicability for HVAC systems, air conditioners lose to heat pumps. For example, heat pumps can work as heating units for a building, while air conditioners can only be utilized for cooling. Keep in mind that there is a device in heat pumps that alters the way a refrigerant is distributed throughout various system components called the reversing valve. This device makes it possible for heat pumps to also act as heaters. With its heating mode, the device tries to condition the outside air by absorbing its heat and releasing it to the interior of a space.
With the aforementioned points in mind, it can be deduced that heat pumps cannot operate efficiently when the outside temperature is low. That being said, there is an electric heating element situated outside to help with heating the refrigerant, but they are not always efficient. Moreover, severe climatic conditions might necessitate that the technician pair an air conditioner with a furnace for better air delivery. With regard to the cost of owning a heat pump or air conditioner, there are a few key factors to take into consideration.
It is worth noting that the initial cost of purchasing a conventional heat pump is not much higher than an air conditioner, which is important to remember when one is looking for an integrated system. Nevertheless, it is important to consider the fact that heat pumps endure more wear and tear than air conditioners, leading to higher operation and maintenance costs. You must also take note of the site and climate conditions to make an accurate cost estimate. In moderate climates, heat pumps are better options, while colder climates benefit from an air conditioner paired with a furnace.
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