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What Actually Separates a Heat Pump from an Air Conditioner?

If you have some level of familiarity with home comfort systems, you’ll likely know that a heat pump works in a similar fashion to an air conditioner. Both use a process of heat exchange involving the circulation of refrigerant that absorbs heat in one location and releases it in another. Both have similar indoor and outdoor units and contain compressors, an exhaust fan, a blower fan, and two sets of coils. The main difference between the two is that the heat pump can work in reverse so that it can bring heat into a home as well as remove it.

But what are the actual internal component differences between a heat pump and an air conditioner that make the heat pump able to work the way it does? Here are three of the key ones:

ONE: The reversing valve

This is the essential difference between an AC and a heat pump, the piece that allows the heat pump to move refrigerant in two different directions. This valve is located on the refrigerant line after it exits the compressor. Depending on where it is set, it will either first send the refrigerant to the outdoor coil (working in cooling mode) or to the indoor coil (working in heating mode). A broken reversing valve will lock the heat pump into one mode or the other and needs a professional to replace it.

TWO: The suction line accumulator

While in heating mode, a heat pump uses less refrigerant than in cooling mode. The extra refrigerant needs to be stored somewhere, and the suction line accumulator takes care of this job. It is located between the compressor and the reversing valve.

THREE: Two sets of condensate drains

An air conditioner only collects condensation moisture in one location: the indoor unit where heat and moisture are drawn from the air. The water vapor along the coil drips down into a condensate pan, and a drain removes it. But since a heat pump can also absorb heat and moisture along the outdoor coil (when it is in heating mode) it must also have a condensate pan and drain in the outdoor cabinet.

Whether you are interested in a heat pump or air conditioning installation this spring to prepare for summer, or if you need repairs for either unit, you can call on the expert services of Malek Heating & Cooling in Chicago, IL.

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