Should I Get A Heat Pump Or Air Conditioner In Seattle?

A very common question that we get asked about in the Seattle area is people wondering if they should buy a heat pump for an air conditioner. The best thing first that we should do is clarify what is the differences is between a heat pump and an air conditioner.

The first thing to know about that is that the heat pump and an air conditioner in the summer time is the exact same thing. Both will equally cool your home. One is not more powerful than the other one and, physically, if you’re looking at them, they are identical. The difference comes when the temperature drops outside and you’re turning your home into heating mode. The heat pump has the ability to extract heat out of the air and bring that heat into your house whereas your air conditioner just sits there off during the other half of the year.

One thing to also clear up is that the heat pump is considerably more expensive than an air conditioner. So, even if a heat pump can save you some money in the winter time in utility bills, it still needs to be able to make up the cost difference to make the purchase cost difference between an air conditioner and a heat pump makes sense.

For instance, going back about 5 or 7 years when electricity prices were lower, you could save almost $400 or $500 per year sometimes with a heat pump. So, if the cost difference is $2000 you could recoup your money from the cost difference within about 4 years. Nowadays, sometimes, with electricity prices it will cost almost $2000 more for heat pump but you may only save about $100 per year meaning that it could take 20 years to make up the cost differential. Heat pumps oftentimes are not even installed in the house for 20 years.

There also is a drawback to the heat brought in by heat pumps oftentimes. It takes much longer to heat your home with a heat pump as compared to a conventional furnace. So, with all factors considered in the rising cost of electricity, unless you have an alternative reason to want a heat pump, I would suggest to not put heat pump in, and instead just put an air conditioner that only works part of the year.

The other circumstances that may be of benefit to you to put in a heat pump is if the backup heat source in your house is expensive, like you have an electric furnace, an oil furnace, or propane. Then it would be much cheaper to run a heat pump in comparison to your existing backup heat source.

Are Multi-Stage Air Conditioners Better than Single Stage Air Conditioners?

A question we get asked about quite often is: Are multi-stage air conditioners better than single-stage air conditioners? I think the best answer to that is it depends on what part of the country you live in.

  • Use multi-stage air conditioners in some areas to intentionally run the air conditioner for longer in an effort to remove more humidity as the air conditioner is running.
  • In areas that have no humidity issues whatsoever, the only thing you want to do is cool your house as quickly as possible.

Benefits and Downsides

  • There is no harm in installing a multi-stage air conditioner in an area that, in our opinion, doesn’t need one. There are other benefits besides additional humidity removal such as:
    1. A lower noise level outside as it’s running
    2. More cold air distribution because the fan will run for a much longer period of time to cool your
      home. So, you will generally get a better temperature distribution throughout the house.
  • The downside to having a multi-stage air conditioner where one is not needed is
    1. Additional potential repair costs with having more parts inside the machine (oftentimes, multiple
      compressors inside of the air conditioner itself).
    2. The high stage on a two-stage air conditioner is noisier than a single stage air conditioner would be.
    3. And of course the additional upfront cost of owning the unit.

Confusion and Solution


Conversely to the Pacific Northwest, if you’re in areas like much of the east coast where humidity is a primary concern, a multi-stage air conditioner is a fantastic solution. The confusion for the consumers comes with the assumption that spending more money on equipment is always the better choice. Oftentimes, it is a better choice, but not every time. This is a good example of more expensive equipment not being the best choice depending on what region of the country you’re in.

Why is my Seattle bedroom so hot?

Our summers here in Seattle are shorter than in other parts of the country, but they can be just as intense. Especially over the last few years, summers have been getting hotter and hotter. The difficult thing is the heat that comes into your home does not distribute itself evenly throughout the house. People with multi-level homes find that their basements are too cold and the upstairs rooms way too hot.

As a homeowner, what can you do about this? There are a few different options available to you, and you may as well try the free ones first!

What can you do about your hot bedroom in Seattle

  1. If you have a forced air furnace in the house, the first thing that you’re going to want to try is setting the fan to run 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. What this can sometimes accomplish is taking the colder air from the lower parts of the house, sucking it into the duct system and pushing it to the upstairs of your house. In this sense it’s not a cooling system, but a redistribution of cold air.There are downsides to this. If the only refuge from hot parts of your home was the nice cold basement, you’ll find your basement will get increasingly warmer. Over time, as you run out of cold air to redistribute upstairs, the entire house will be more equal in heat, with nothing left to redistribute. You can set up fans, but again, that’s not really cooling it down, you’re just creating airflow which may cool your body down a bit.
  2. You can install something referred to as a “window shaker”, which is a window-unit that can be bought at Costco. Because your window is always open, this creates a security issue. They run almost 24 hours a day when it’s hot, so they can be noisy, leak, and don’t offer a lot of power.
  3. Another option is to install something called a portable air conditioner. They sit inside your room while the ducting system goes to the window, and have a similar effect as the window shaker. They run a lot, they are not very powerful, and they make a lot of noise and sometimes leak water.Ultimately, if none of the less expensive options are possible, or you’re interested in cooling more rooms than a single sweltering bedroom, you are only left with whole home air conditioning.

Whole house air conditioners are rapidly getting more popular in the Seattle area. 30 years ago, only a small percentage of the population had them. Nowadays, in some areas almost 50% of homes or more have them. Whole house air conditioners are also more cost-effective than you may imagine.

Should I get a heat pump in Seattle?

In the Seattle area, residents are much more likely to buy heat pumps than some other parts of the country. The reasoning behind this is it’s not as cold in the winter as other parts of the northern United States, like in the East or Mid-West. With a heat pump what happens is, the colder the temperature gets, the less the heat pump is able to deliver into a house. But if it continually drops below freezing all winter long, heat pumps effectiveness is greatly diminished or become much too expensive to run.

To give you a brief description of what the heat pump does, it collects heat from outside the home right down to relatively cold temperatures and brings that heat into the home, thereby, in a sense, producing free heat. The issue is, and why it’s not free, it takes electricity to absorb and extract the heat out of the air outside. So, the colder it is or the more expensive utility rates are, the less likely it is that heat pump can save you money.

Seattle is better than other areas of the country in the winter because it’s a little bit warmer in the winter and it’s more heat to extract. On average, sometimes Seattle only get 25 days of freezing per year, meaning the rest of the time that it’s in heating mode, it will be able to function.

The alternative to getting a heat pump is to just get an air conditioner. Usually, people buy heat pumps because they really want an air conditioning system for the house which a heat pump also does. In the summer time, if you don’t want an air conditioning system, don’t bother getting heat pump just for the utility savings because the heat pumps cost more money up front then an air conditioner and if you can’t save enough money, with a heat pump, over the winter, then it becomes pointless to buy one in the first place.

About 5 years ago people in the Seattle area bought many more heat pumps than they do today, but with rising electricity costs, the number of heat pumps being purchased in the Seattle area has greatly diminished.

The Verdict

My suggestion, at this point, is to likely just get an air conditioner and not a heat pump, unless your backup heat source is not natural gas. Natural gas is by far the least expensive backup heat source. So, if your backup heat source is propane or oil or other fuels, then heat pump will easily be able to save you considerable amount of money.