With summer temperatures hitting highs of 96° F, a heat pump may sound like the last thing you’d want to install in your Santa Rosa home! However, the name is somewhat misleading. A heat pump is similar to an air conditioner, able to cool your home even when the mercury hits those heady heights.

Of course, air conditioners have long been our go-to for home cooling, but heat pumps have a crucial advantage. As well as cooling, they can also heat your home when things get chilly.

Let’s dig into the differences between a heat pump and an air conditioner so you can make the right choice for your Santa Rosa residence.

Heat Pump vs Air Conditioner

Air conditioners work using phase conversion. Fans move warm air over cold coils filled with refrigerant, cooling the air. The excess heat produced in this process is expelled via condenser coils.

This is a tried-and-true method of keeping homes cool. It works well in both central air and split unit configurations and requires an indoor and outdoor unit. But what it can’t do is heat your home in the winter.

How Heat Pumps Work

A heat pump works on a different principle. It transfers heat from one place to another. However, the big difference is that it can do this in both directions.

It can transfer heat from your home to the air or ground. It can also pull heat from outside into your home during the cooler months. So, during the winter, it will fill your home with warm air while bringing in refreshingly cold air during the summer.

There are several types of heat pumps, but the most common are air-source and ground-source. Ducted air-source heat pumps are most frequently seen across the US. Like central AC, they move warmed or cooled air around the house.


On face value, it seems like there’s a clear winner – heat pumps.

After all, they can both heat and cool your home. If you just have an air conditioner, you will need some supplemental heating in the winter months. For most people, that means having a furnace, a separate system that also requires regular maintenance.

However, even heat pumps may require supplementation when the temperatures drop low. In the past, heat pumps were not considered suitable for frigid climates, but recent improvements are changing this perception. As the temperature in Santa Rosa rarely drops below freezing, this is not too much of a concern. 

Another benefit of heat pumps is that they dehumidify the air more effectively than air conditioners. Controlling the humidity of your home can make it more comfortable, and it can also have health benefits for the skin and respiratory systems.

Energy Efficiency

An air conditioner is super refreshing on a hot summer’s day, but HVAC systems do not have a great reputation for energy efficiency. In 2020, air conditioners accounted for 19% of energy used in US homes. Additionally, furnaces typically directly burn fossil fuels, such as gas and oil, that are far from kind to the environment.

Here, heat pumps operate in a league of their own. Rather than wasting energy, they often exceed 100% efficiency. They can do this because they do not generate heat – they simply gather it and move it from one place to another.

This means that they can deliver 300% to 400% more energy in heat or cooling than they are using in electricity. They indeed use electricity from the grid, which is often generated using fossil fuels. However, greener sources of energy are increasingly being used, and it uses much less electricity than a traditional HVAC system.

According to the US Department of Energy, switching to a heat pump can immediately reduce energy bills for most families across the country.

Government Incentives

In 2023, the federal government announced a $9 billion program called the Inflation Reduction Act. This included rebates for energy-efficient heat pumps and other HVAC systems. 

Factors affecting the rebates include:

  • Household income
  • Location in the country
  • Type of HVAC system

The great news is that these rebates can be used in addition to tax credits and other offers available for new heat pumps and air conditioners. 

Heat Pump vs Air Conditioner: Is There a Winner?

Heat pumps can sound attractive, as they provide year-round comfort from a single system. However, they have a drawback. They are generally more expensive to install than an air conditioner.

The flip side of that is you could make some of that investment back in reduced energy costs, possibly being able to reduce the difference in the long run. Plus, as you do so, you’ll also be having less of an impact on the environment. 

Insulate for the Win

To maximize the benefits of a heat pump, you need a well-insulated home. If your home is leaky, the heat pump may struggle to maintain a consistent temperature, unlike an air conditioner which is more adaptable.

Insulating your home could involve:

  • Checking windows, doors, and pipes and sealing any gaps
  • Replacing poorly insulated windows
  • Adding additional insulation to walls and ceilings

This would add more expense to your project, but it would help you have a better-insulated home. Currently, California has a Weatherization Assistance Program, which can help some homeowners make these upgrades.

Think About the Future

A heat pump may sound like a gamble, but it is an established technology that has been used successfully for many years. Electricity prices are unpredictable, and reducing your reliance on the grid could help you keep your home comfortable and reduce your outgoings in the long run.

Heat Pump or Air Conditioner? Talk to Milano Mechanical

It can be tough to know whether to get a new air conditioner or if it’s time to move to a heat pump for your Santa Rosa home. If you’re not sure which is right for your situation, it’s time to talk to Milano Mechanical.

As heating and cooling specialists who understand the Sonoma County climate, we’d be happy to visit your home and talk you through the pros and cons of each HVAC system. We pride ourselves on delivering outstanding customer service.

Learn more about our heating and cooling services and schedule a visit today!

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