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The Reliable

The Difference Between Heat Pump and A/C Systems

The main difference between a heat pump and AC is that while ACs only cool your home, heat pumps can cool and heat your home. But there are benefits to having an AC with a furnace.

To help you understand whether to go with an AC or heat pump, we'll go over:

  • The difference between heat pumps and ACs

  • Pros and cons of heat pumps

  • Pros and cons of ACs

Need a new heat pump or AC? Call Reliable Heating & Air at (770) 594-9969 or schedule an appointment.

Our HVAC experts will go over the difference between heat pumps and air conditioners, and which option will be best for your home. We'll explain the pros and cons of each system to help you make the smartest decision for your household.

Heat pump vs air conditioner

We'll go over heat pumps vs ACs in terms of:

  • Operation

  • Efficiency

  • Cost


Heat pumps and AC systems work similarly in cooling mode: they transfer the heat from inside your home to the outside. However, a heat pump is fitted with a reversing valve that allows it to transfer the heat from outside into your home when in heating mode.

Heat pumps also have auxiliary electric heat strips installed inside the air handler (the indoor unit with the blower), which act as a backup heating element that generates heat (instead of just transferring it) when temperatures dip below a certain threshold. These electric heat strips increase electricity usage significantly, but today's heat pumps (some of which work at 0°F) rarely need them in Atlanta winters.


When cooling your home, heat pumps and ACs have the same efficiency in ideal conditions.

Heat pump and air conditioner cooling is measured in efficiency by a SEER2 (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) rating, which ranges from 13.4 to 21.5. The higher the SEER rating, the more efficient the system.

In heating mode, heat pump efficiency is measured by a HSPF2 (Heating Seasonal Performance Factor). We can't compare heat pump vs AC in terms of heating, since ACs don't provide heat and need to be paired with a furnace. That said, heat pumps are much more efficient at heating a house than a furnace.

You can learn how to improve HVAC efficiency and longevity in our blog.


Comparing individual units, heat pumps cost more upfront than an AC. But keep in mind that with an AC, you'll also need a heating system.

A dual-fuel system (an AC and a gas, oil or propane furnace) will cost much more than a heat pump to install because you're paying for 2 systems—although many companies offer bundle deals.

Plus, the furnace will cost more to operate because it's creating heat instead of just transferring it, which requires more fuel.

Heat pump pros and cons

We'll go over the pros and cons of having a heat pump vs AC.


  • Considered the most efficient heating and cooling system on the market (according to the Department of Energy)

  • Maintain consistent temperatures throughout the home, eliminating the cold spots common with traditional gas furnaces or heat strips

  • Equipped with auxiliary heat strips to generate heat when the temperature dips below its rating

  • Up to $8,000 in tax credits for installing a new heat pump (for households below 80% of Atlanta's median income)


  • More expensive than air conditioners to install

  • Not efficient when the temperature is below its rating (0° F or 32°F depending on the model) without a secondary heat source

  • Can't provide heat as intense or quickly as gas furnaces or electric heat strips

Air conditioner pros and cons

We'll go over the pros and cons of a furnace and AC vs heat pump.


  • Less expensive than a heat pump to install

  • Less wear and tear on the AC since it's not being used year-round

  • Furnace provides stronger, faster heat than a heat pump

  • Up to $8,000 in tax credits for installing a new AC (for households below 80% of Atlanta's median income)


  • Must also install and maintain a furnace to heat your home

  • Heating with a furnace (whether it's gas or electric) is more expensive

  • Gas furnaces aren't as environmentally friendly as heat pumps

Need a new heat pump or AC? Call Reliable Heating & Air.

Call us today at (770) 594-9969 or schedule an appointment for a free in-home estimate.

We've been offering the most reliable AC and heat pump installations in the greater Atlanta area for more than 40 years. Our HVAC techs will take a look at your home and explain the benefits of a heat pump vs AC. We'll give you the most energy-efficient options that will help you save on utilities and stay comfortable for years to come.