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Jul 12, 2021 4:51:57 PM by Lauren Mangano

Standard Heat Pumps Versus Traditional Cooling and Heating

When deciding upon a new or upgraded HVAC system, especially in a home with no current air conditioning system, many factors come into play. The end goal is, of course, comfortable, efficient cooling; the question is how to achieve it.
While there are many types of home heating systems, there are two main ways to go about heating and cooling your home: standard ducted AC with a furnace or boiler, or a heat pump system.

Homeowners considering a state-of-the-art heat pump for their heating and cooling have to choose between a hyper-heat heat pump versus a  standard heat pump
In this article we will focus on the standard heat pump compared to a conventional system. (You can read about Hyper-Heat versus standard heating and cooling here).
Heat Pumps vs standard heating and cooling

Heat Pump

How it works

Contrary to its name, a heat pump system can provide both cooling and heating. The most common type of heat pump is air-source, which works by taking thermal energy outside and transferring it into your home to provide heat. For cooling, it takes heat from in your home and replaces it outside. Heat pumps work on the principle that it is easier to move heat rather than create it. 
How a Standard Ducted Heat Pump Works
How a Standard Ductless Heat Pump Works


Heat pump systems are also called split systems because they are made up of two main parts: an indoor air handler and an outdoor unit. Heat pumps can be either ducted or ductless. For a ducted system, components include air ducts and vents that allow the hot or cold air to flow throughout the home. In a ductless system (an air-source heat pump), refrigerant and electrical lines are used to connect the outdoor unit to the indoor air handlers that are placed directly on walls, floors, and ceilings in a room.
Heat pumps also use reversing valves that change the flow of refrigerant for switching between cooling and heating.

Sizing a heat pump system

Choosing the right size heat pump for your home is an important factor to consider. If your heat pump is too small then it will struggle to keep your home cool and warm. Conversely, if it's too big it will waste energy by producing too much hot or cool air, cycling on and off constantly, and stressing out the motor. Having a professional contractor size the system is critical to maintaining efficiency and comfort.
What Size Ductless Mini-Split is Best for Your Home


The biggest advantage of using a heat pump system is that you get heating and cooling all in one. The fact that they use electricity also means that you don't have to rely on propane or natural gas for heating. 
Moreover, heat pumps are known for their energy efficiency. Efficiency is measured by the SEER rating: the higher the better. Many heat pumps can rate as high as 20.5 SEER. Again, they move heat rather than create it, which allows them to deliver more energy than they consume. Energy savings also translates into money savings over time. Plus, depending on where you live, buying an energy-efficient heat pump can make you eligible for tax rebates.
Lastly, heat pumps are generally smaller and more compact than traditional AC condensers, making them easier to fit in a variety of outdoor spaces, even including being mounted on a wall.


The biggest disadvantage of a standard heat pump is that it cannot provide sufficient heating once temperatures drop. With a standard heating system that creates heat -- like a furnace or boiler -- you do not have this issue. Additionally, the advantage of being electricity powered can become a problem if the power goes out and you do not have a generator.
If you live in a milder climate and use the heat pump year round, it's also likely to not last as long as a conventional heating or cooling system that you use seasonally. Finally, heat pumps can cost more to install than a conventional system.

Central Air Conditioning (and Heating)

How it works

Central AC works in the same way as a heat pump in cooling mode by extracting warm air from inside your home and moving it outside. The main difference is that it only provides cooling. Unlike heat pumps, central AC can only be ducted, meaning ductwork is required to distribute the air throughout your home.
As for heating in this case, there are many options you can go with. A furnace is a common type of heating system, as it also uses the ductwork in your home and can be easily paired with your AC. There are also boilers, radiant heating, baseboard radiators, and hybrid heating systems. You can read about them here.


The main components of conventional air conditioning consists of an outdoor condenser and compressor, a filter, a thermostat, and a fan that distributes air through ducts to rooms of the home


Central AC works really well for larger homes or homes with existing ductwork, as it uses the ducts to quietly and efficiently heat your entire home from a central location. Traditional AC also does a good job at dehumidifying your home and providing cleaner air. Your central AC system circulates air by pulling it out of the rooms in your house through the return air ducts. During this process, the air is pulled through an air filter that can remove airborne particles such as dust, lint, pet dander, and allergens.
READ: Air Filters Versus Air Purifiers
Another benefit of a central AC system is its longevity -- they typically last longer than heat pumps. Finally, there's the fact that ductwork is always hidden behind walls and ceilings, making it invisible. This is compared to a ductless heat pump system where air handlers are visible on the walls.


The biggest disadvantage of traditional AC is that cannot create heat and must be paired with a separate system for heating. Needing two components for heating and cooling also means taking up more space, which is in issue in smaller homes like classic Philadelphia rowhomes. If you do not have existing ductwork, installing it can be an issue as well. Smaller or older/historic homes may not have the room for ductwork, and retrofitting it can be costly and invasive. 
Central cooling also has the issue of leaky ducts. In a typical house, about 20 to 30 percent of the air that moves through the duct system is lost due to leaks, holes, and poorly connected ducts. This results in higher utility bills and lower overall comfort

Which Should I Choose?

Heat pumps vs central ac
Choosing between a heat pump system and a conventional cooling and heating system can be difficult; weighing these pros and cons is definitely a helpful start. However the best way to find out which system is right for your home is to have an experienced contractor visit your home to assess your needs.
The best HVAC system varies based on your specific situation, and costs vary based on exactly what you need. At ECI Comfort, we will provide you with a free consultation or second opinion to help you make an informed decision.

If you live in the Delaware Valley/Greater Philadelphia area and would like to find comfort within your home, visit our website or give us a call at 215 - 245 - 3200 to learn more.

This entry was posted in Central Air Conditioning, Heat Pump, Ductwork, Ductless

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