What is the difference between Heat Pumps and Air conditioning?

In New Zealand we use the word heat pump for no reason other than we predominantly use them for heating rather than cooling, so a heat pump does do both heating and cooling e.g. reverse cycle (so the difference between heat pumps is nothing, they’re one and the same). But once upon a time there was cooling only air conditioning units but not anymore, all units are both heating and cooling in New Zealand now.

How do heat pumps work?

Heat pump technology is commonly known as a reverse cycle air conditioning service. It takes less energy to relocate heat than it does to create it. In simple terms, heat pumps utilise the same technology as your fridge, but instead of taking the heat out of space (the refrigerator) and expelling it to the outside air (through the back of the refrigerator), a heat pump reverses that process and takes heat from the ambient air and then puts that in the space (your home).

Pros & Cons of heat pumps

One of the biggest advantages of a heat pump over a standard heating ventilating and air conditioning unit is that there’s no need to install separate systems to heat and cool your home. Heat pumps also work extremely efficiently, because they simply transfer heat (through a chemical reaction and compression), rather than burn fuel to create it. This makes them a little greener than a gas-burning furnace or standard electrical heating elements. And they don’t just heat and cool buildings. If you’ve ever enjoyed a modern heated swimming pool, then you probably have a heat pump to thank. They work best in moderate climates, so if you don’t experience extreme heat and cold in your neck of the woods, then using a heat pump instead of a furnace, the air conditioner could help you save a little money each month.

Heat pumps can help consumers save on utilities, but they have limitations. First, they tend to be somewhat ineffective in any climate where the outdoor air temperature falls near or below

-10 degrees on a regular basis, although innovators are working to improve upon this. This is because moving heat from a very cold area to a hotter one takes more energy than moving heat between two areas with a more moderate temperature difference. There’s also more heat available outside in a moderate climate than in a cold climate. It’s important to note that even in a cold climate, there’s still heat in the outside air to be pumped indoors, but the unit needs to work harder to extract the heat that’s available. Supplemental energy may be required to make the heat pump produce enough warmth to comfortably heat your home when the temperature falls below freezing, and that’s no good.

The heat produced by heat pumps isn’t as intense as the heat produced by a gas or oil-burning furnace. People who are used to traditional furnaces can be uncomfortable with the milder heat produced by these systems. Other people prefer the warmth produced by heat pumps, because heat pumps distribute heat evenly throughout the house, meaning there are no cold spots. A heat pump will also turn on and off less often than a gas furnace, and most systems have eliminated the blowing of cold air through the vents that used to occur when the system temporarily switched into reverse to defrost the coils.