It’s getting colder outside, which means it’s getting colder inside, too. Even if you happen to enjoy the colder weather, chances are at some point you’ll finally decide that the sweatshirt is a little too bulky and the socks are getting too damp, and it’s time to get the furnace going.

Guess What? Air Conditioners Don’t Heat Your House. Technically, They Don’t Cool It, Either. Technically.

If you’ve thought about air conditioning units as “essentially refrigerators, but they’ve got tubes in the walls that push the coldness into different rooms of the house,” then you’ve been hoodwinked and bamboozled. It turns out that air conditioners don’t create cold. Instead, they take away heat.

What does that mean, exactly? Heat rises, and in an enclosed space, that means heat gathers around the ceiling, then extends down the more heat there is. But in an air-conditioned room, there’ll be a grate attached to the ceiling, and heat flows up into that. Inside that vent is a cold coil that sucks the heat out of the air, pushes that heat into the A/C unit outside the house, and then that unit vents that heat into the open air.

Kind of cool, right? Here’s the thing, though: With air conditioners, this only works one way. The heat from inside the house goes outside, but not the other way around. So the air conditioner can only make a place colder. This is why, for homes with an A/C unit, usually you’ll also find a furnace, some other external source of heating like a radiator, or even consumer-grade heat fans.

This might confuse you if you aren’t the one who installed such a thing into your house or otherwise aren’t familiar with any of this. You’re confused because you’re pretty sure your A/C unit can also heat your house. You’ve seen it happen before.

You’ve been hoodwinked once again: You don’t have an A/C unit. Instead, you have a heat pump.

The All-In-One Package

What if an A/C unit could just switch where the heat went? What if it could take the heat from outside and pump it into the house? That’s what a heat pump is!

This sounds like a pretty good deal, right? That’s because it is. Granted, the upfront cost of installing a heat pump versus an A/C unit might be a bit of a barrier for the more frugal-minded, but the cost balances out in the long run.

Both heat pumps and A/C units have relatively the same rating on the SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) scale, which means they expend about as much energy as each other. Obviously, this point goes to heat pumps, as the multi-purpose nature of its design has little to no impact on your energy bill. So here, you get more for less.

Now, one could make the argument that, technically, the A/C would use less energy because, during the winter months, it won’t be in use. But consider this: How much energy do the other heating appliances use? And if it’s not a furnace, how many of those appliances are you running at any one time? More often than not, heat pumps are the safer bet if we’re talking about energy consumption.

Another obvious benefit is coverage. Since it’s the same system keeping everything cool during summer days, it does essentially the same thing for heat, in the same places, and with the same efficiency. If you know what A/C feels like, then you know what you’re getting with heat from a heat pump, making the decision that much easier.

In conclusion, you should probably get a heat pump. If you already have one (or just discovered that’s what you have,) congratulations! Take some time to cherish it, it’s doing a lot of work for you.

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