Heat pumps operate as both heating and cooling systems, replacing the need for a separate furnace and central air conditioning system.
Essentially, a heat pump just moves heat from one location to another. To cool the home, it takes heat from the inside and pumps it outdoors. In heating mode, it pulls heat out of the air, water or ground and moves it indoors.
Heat pumps usually cost anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000, including installation. The average price is usually closer to $6,000 or $7,000.
Geothermal heat pumps are the one exception. Because they are far more efficient, saving a significant amount of money on energy bills, they sell for as much as $10,000 to $25,000.
- Less expensive to operate - Heat pumps are economical. If you live in a relatively mild climate, they cost far less to operate than a traditional furnace or central air conditioning unit. In some cases, you can get three times the amount of heat or cooling for the same cost.
- Single unit - With a heat pump, there’s only one unit to buy and maintain. Your upfront costs and maintenance costs will be lower.
- Not ideal for harsh climates - Heat pumps are not as efficient in extreme temperatures. If you live in an area with very hot summers or very cold winters, the heating and cooling provided by a heat pump will not be sufficient.
- Noisy - Heat pumps tend to be louder than furnaces and air conditioning systems, and some people consider the added noise a nuisance.
Central air is an whole-home air conditioning system that is controlled by a single thermostat or several thermostats set up in different “zones.” An external air conditioning unit is connected to the duct work in your home. Cold air is blown through the ducts and released into each room through the existing vents.
Most central air systems are split systems, meaning they have an outdoor cabinet that holds the compressor and a condenser coil, and an indoor coil that is usually installed on the top of the furnace. The indoor coil transfers warm air outside and the outdoor components cool the air with refrigerant, remove moisture and pump the air back in through the ducts.
The vast majority of American homes are heated and cooled using a furnace or boiler and a separate central air conditioning unit. Heat pumps are less common.
Adding central air usually costs about $4,000 for 2,000 square foot home, if the home already has duct work in place. That price includes installation. If the home does not have ducts, the total cost could rise to as much as $8,000 to $10,000.
Even though the price of central air is similar to a heat pump, don’t forget that you’ll also have to buy and maintain a furnace for heat.
- Ideal for hot climates - If you live in an area with very hot summers, a central air conditioning unit is highly recommended. Heat pumps do not work well in extreme temperatures.
- Quieter - Central air tends to run much quieter than a heat pump.
- Multiple units - If you opt for central air, you’ll need to purchase and maintain a separate furnace or boiler unit for heating. You won’t have the convenience of heating and cooling in a single unit.
- More expensive to operate - If you live in a mild climate, central air is not as efficient as a heat pump. It will cost more to operate.
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