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Mike Smith Heating & Air Conditioning, LLC Blog

What’s the Difference Between an Air Conditioner and a Heat Pump?


If you don’t have a lot of experience with heat pumps, but you know they’re often recommended as a replacement for air conditioners, you might have some questions. How exactly does a heat pump work? What makes it different from an air conditioner? Is a heat pump a better choice? We’ll explain everything.

Air Conditioners and Heat Pumps: The Similarities

Both of these systems operate on the same basic principle. Refrigerant, a chemical that absorbs heat when it evaporates into a gas and releases that heat when it condenses back into a liquid, can be used to move heat from one place to another. So both of these systems have coils through which refrigerant flows, and a compressor that pressurizes that refrigerant.

In a ducted system, the heat pump or air conditioner uses a blower fan, powered by a motor, to move that cooled air throughout a home and out the vents. In a ductless system, instead of creating all the cooled air in a central location and distributing it via ducts, it is created in separate air handlers throughout the home, right where the vent will blow it out into the living space.

Air Conditioners and Heat Pumps: The Differences

The magic of a heat pump resides largely in a component called a reversing valve, which an air conditioner does not have. Located in the outdoor unit of the heat pump, the reversing valve can change the direction which the refrigerant flows through the system of coils. Now, instead of only absorbing heat inside and releasing it outside, it can also do the opposite, carrying heat into the home.

One of the only repairs that a heat pump might encounter that an air conditioner won’t is a problem with the reversing valve. It can become stuck in position, unable to switch from heating to cooling. This requires professional heat pump service in Calhoun, LA but is a straightforward issue to fix. Generally, all that’s needed is a new solenoid, the electromagnet that pushes the valve into the cooling position.

When a Heat Pump Is the Better Choice

A heat pump may be a better solution for your home than replacing your old air conditioner with another air conditioner. In a climate like ours, a heat pump can provide all the heating that’s necessary for our fairly mild winters. That means that if your heating system might also need to be replaced in the not-too-distant future, a heat pump could be one-stop shopping for all your home comfort needs.

The heating that a heat pump provides is incredibly efficient because it doesn’t actually create any heat, it simply transfers it. Because of that efficiency, you can get major tax incentives for purchasing a heat pump rather than a system that uses more energy. In fact, thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, you can get a tax credit of 30% of the cost of your heat pump, up to $2000!

If you’d like to know more about how a heat pump could be integrated into your home’s HVAC system and how much energy—and money—you could save, we’d love to have a conversation with you.

Contact Mike Smith Heating & Air Conditioning, LLC. We provide “Professional grade service.”

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