When it comes to HVAC equipment, you have more options these days than just traditional, forced-air systems like a furnace or air conditioner. An increasingly popular alternative is the heat pump. This innovative piece of comfort technology can make a great addition to your HVAC system depending on your needs.

It’s especially energy efficient, but is it the right choice for your home? That’s not always such a clear-cut question. The most efficient HVAC system can have a big impact on your monthly energy bill, so taking the time to make the right choice is a good idea. Let’s figure out if a heat pump or an AC unit is more efficient.

How Efficient Are Heat Pumps Compared to AC Units?

Air conditioners and heat pumps can both provide cooling for your home using refrigerant, but that’s where the similarities end. The key difference is that a heat pump doesn’t actually generate climate control the way a furnace or AC unit does. Instead, a heat pump transfers heat in or out of your home depending on the setting. So while an air conditioner only offers cooling, many heat pump models can handle both.

Heat pumps manage this through a series of copper pipes that move air between the indoor unit and the outdoor unit. When you turn on the heating mode, the flow of refrigerant is reversed and ambient heat from the outdoors is brought inside. Since there’s still heat in the air even in winter, you can use your heat pump in every season.

But just because a heat pump can run all year round doesn’t make it the most efficient system. In fact, there are situations where you’re better off with an AC unit over a heat pump. It can change from house to house, so make sure you consider your unique comfort needs before deciding.

Deciding Between a Heat Pump or an AC Unit

A quality heat pump might already seem like a great investment with high energy efficiency and dual-function heating and cooling. When trying to decide between these two HVAC systems, ask yourself the following questions:

Do you have hot summers and cold winters? Heat pumps are best suited for milder climates without temperature extremes, namely cold. In fact, they can start to perform less effectively in especially cold weather. Kentucky’s winters are milder than further north, potentially making a heat pump the right option.

What’s the size of your home? Larger homes need more energy to keep comfortable, and heat pumps need more power to provide the same amount of cooling as an AC unit. If your home is particularly large, an air conditioner may be better.

Is high energy efficiency a priority? When it’s properly sized for your home, you can’t get much more energy efficient than a heat pump. Heat pumps average higher SEER ratings, which stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. Over the course of a cooling season, heat pumps typically use less energy for the same amount of cooling. Across a Kentucky summer, that makes a real difference.

Do you have existing HVAC equipment? Even if you already have a furnace and AC unit, adding a heat pump could still be a worthwhile option. Since heat pumps work best in milder temperatures, you can use them for most of the year when temperatures aren’t extremely hot or cold. This allows you to save the furnace and AC unit for when you really need them, possibly extending its lifespan.

Does your home have ductwork? Many heat pumps are known as ductless mini splits because they don’t require a network of air ducts to deliver heating and cooling. Since many older homes don’t have ductwork, installing a heat pump system instead could be the more cost-effective choice.