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If you need to replace your central air conditioner, you may be wondering which is better: a heat pump, or another central air conditioner? The heat pump vs air conditioner debate has lasted decades, with heat pump and air conditioning sellers reviewing each others products with bias. In this blog, we set the record straight, evaluating heat pumps and air conditioners using five objective criteria: equipment cost, operating cost, energy efficiency, environmental impact, versatility, and projected lifespan.

1. Equipment Cost

The cost of either product depends in part on your home’s cooling needs and energy characteristics. But geothermal heat pumps usually cost more than central AC units, with a price range of $7,000-$12,000 being common. In comparison, the price range for most central AC units is $3,000-$6,000. Despite their difference in equipment cost, geothermal pumps often cost less in the long run due to their efficiency and versatility.

2. Operating Cost

Geothermal heat pumps and efficient air conditioners have almost the same operating cost in warm weather. But the former can save you big money in the winter, when you can use it instead of your furnace. Heat pumps draw the warmth from outside air and move it indoors; a process that costs 30%-40% less than heating with gas, oil, or straight electric.     

3. Energy Efficiency

Geothermal heat pumps and efficient air conditioners have almost the same efficiency in warm weather. But during cold weather, the former is more efficient than gas, oil, or straight electric furnaces. According to the Energy Savings Trust, geothermal pumps can save homeowners $1,300-$1,500 per year compared to air conditioners, an amount that compensates for heat pumps’ higher price tag.  

4. Environmental Impact

In terms of carbon pollution, the energy savings produced by geothermal pumps translates into avoiding 4-5 tonnes of CO2 per year, an amount that has a significant impact over the course of a pump’s lifespan.

5. Versatility

Because geothermal pumps can serve as both furnaces and air conditioners, they have more versatility than central AC units. However, when used as a furnace, their ability to heat decreases as the outside temperature lowers, with most models producing little heat when the temperature dips below 30 degrees. In warm weather, geothermal pumps produce the same air conditioning comfort as central AC units.   

6. Projected Lifespan

The projected lifespan of either product depends on four factors: construction quality, correct match of product with home energy profile, level of maintenance over the course of lifespan, and frequency of use. When used as air conditioners, geothermal pumps have the same lifespan as central AC units. But when used for both heating and cooling, they usually last half as long as central AC units.