What’s the Difference Between Air Conditioners and Heat Pumps?

A cold woman looking at her home thermostat

Choosing the right system to heat and cool your home can be overwhelming. It’s normal to feel confused, especially when you come across unfamiliar AC terms. One common question we hear at AC Designs is: what’s the difference between heat pumps and normal air conditioners?

Many homeowners don’t realize that heat pumps actually are a common type of air conditioning system. They can both heat and cool your home, and they do it efficiently. Here in Northeast Florida, we recommend this type of system for most homeowners. 

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. That’s why it’s important to understand the pros and cons before you make a big purchase. The AC Designs team is here to help you avoid unnecessary costs and purchase the right unit for you. Here’s everything you need to know about heat pumps and air conditioners to make your decision. 

Heat Pump vs. AC System

Heat pumps and straight cool air conditioning units both have the ability to cool and heat your home. The major difference is how they operate. Heat pump systems heat the home using the outdoor unit, also known as the condenser. They have a higher and quicker capacity for heat than straight cool systems. 

The heating ability of heat pumps is also made through a highly efficient refrigeration process. Straight cool systems are only equipped with electric heating abilities. This can increase electric bills and decrease both efficiency and heating capacity. 

Almost all North Florida homeowners use heat pump systems, as they are widely recommended for warmer climates. However, both heat pumps and HVAC units require regular preventative maintenance to maintain efficiency and increase their lifetimes.

Heat PumpStraight Cool AC Unit
Higher energy efficiency Higher monthly utility bills 
Lower energy billsLess expensive upkeep
12-15 year average lifespan15-20 year average lifespan
Less efficient in cold climatesWeaker heating capacity

Heat Pump vs. Furnace

Another common type of heating system is the furnace. Furnaces have a higher capacity for heat than any type of system. That’s why they were designed for very cold regions. 

Furnaces can quickly heat the home but are not very energy efficient. Because of that, they can cost more to run. Most of the time, this level of heating capacity is simply not needed in our warmer Florida climate. Plus, the cooling aspect of these systems does not work as well as heat pumps. 

Heat Pump vs. Air Conditioner Cost 

Your budget is an important factor when deciding the right heating and cooling system for your home. Straight cool AC units can be cheaper to install and maintain on their own. However, straight cool AC units usually need to be accompanied by a furnace or alternative heating system, which increases costs. 

Heat pumps often have higher initial costs than conventional AC units. On the upside, there are no additional furnace costs required due to their high efficiency. 

Heat Pump vs. AC Efficiency 

When properly maintained, heat pumps offer great advantages in energy efficiency. These systems transfer preexisting heat into or out of your home to heat or cool it. This heat transfer process only requires a small amount of energy and greatly reduces consumption and costs. 

Your system’s SEER or SEER2 rating is a key indicator of its energy efficiency. The best heating and cooling systems have an efficiency rating of 18 to 21 SEER. The higher your system’s efficiency, the lower your energy consumption and electricity bills. Higher efficiency also increases the unit’s ability to dehumidify your home.

Tips to Choose the Right HVAC System

While heat pumps are the most widely recommended heating and cooling system in the Northeast Florida region, the perfect unit differs for every home. Mini split condensers and straight cool units can be beneficial for vacation homes that are vacant for parts of the year to avoid unnecessary costs.

Here are the other factors we recommend considering before you purchase your next unit.

Budget & Financing 

Your AC unit is ultimately an investment in your home. That said, be up front about the budget you are able to spend on your unit. Keep in mind that a system with a higher SEER rating will have lower energy bills in the long run. Also, consider financing options to determine the right payment plan for you. 


At AC Designs, we recommend purchasing a unit that includes a 10-12 year parts and labor warranty. That way you can rest easy knowing you’ll be covered and avoid costly repairs down the line. 


Thermostats are another important part of your home’s HVAC system or heat pump. Some thermostats can be controlled remotely and have dehumidification control, but are only compatible with certain units. Consider how important these capabilities are to you before purchasing your new system. 

AC Maintenance

Whichever unit you choose for your home, join an AC maintenance plan to get the most out of your HVAC system. Members of AC Design’s maintenance program receive discounted service, priority scheduling and more perks. The goal is to extend your unit’s lifetime and reduce heat pump repair costs and utility bills. 

Schedule a Free In-Home Estimate With AC Designs

Deciding on a new heating and cooling system for your home should be based on many factors. Let our family-owned, local AC company help you determine the right pick to keep your home comfortable. Schedule an appointment with AC Designs today for all your new unit replacement, AC repair and maintenance needs.