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.