Difference between Heat Pump and Air Conditioner

Updated on February 23, 2018

Almost all internal parts of a heat pump and an air conditioner are the same. Nevertheless, the way they are operated is remarkably different. Heat pumps use the reverse refrigeration cycle to operate. On the contrary, a standard vapour compression cycle helps operate an air conditioner. Apart from the mode of operation, numerous other factors differentiate a heat pump and an air conditioner. Read on to know about these.


Heat Pump
Outdoor components of a heat pump

The device named a heat pump is used for providing heat energy to a destination dubbed a heat sink from a heat source. Heat pumps help thermal energy move to a direction opposite to spontaneous heat flow. For this, heat is absorbed from a cold space to be released to a warmer place. A bit of external power is used by this device to carry out the job of transferring heat energy from the source to the heat sink.

Air Conditioner
Air Conditioner units outside the building

An air conditioner or AC uses the process of changing air properties like humidity and temperature to more comfortable conditions. An air conditioner aims to distribute this conditioned air to a particular space, be it a vehicle or a room so that the space can have improved quality air and thermal comfort. Air conditioners are used to lower the temperature of air. It is a refrigeration cycle that helps an AC cool the air, though free cooling or evaporation is also used at times. It is possible to manufacture ACs based on desiccants too.

In general, air conditioning systems can be defined as those mechanisms that improve the air condition either by cleaning, humidifying/dehumidifying, heating, ventilating, or cooling it.

Heat Pump vs Air Conditioner

The key difference between a heat pump and an air conditioner is the purpose for which they are used. On one hand, a heat pump is used for heating as well as cooling, and on the other hand, an air conditioner only aims to cool a particular closed area.

As compared to a heat pump, an air conditioner comes out to be more energy efficient.

A heat pump uses a condenser to produce heat and warm the room. It is kept inside the room. An air conditioner also uses a condenser to eject heat and cool the room. In the latter case, it is kept outside the room.

Comparison Chart

Heat PumpAir Conditioner
Reverse refrigeration cycle is used.Standard vapor compression cycle is used.
It is used for heating as well as cooling purposes.It is used for cooling mainly.
Can be used through the year in areas with moderate temperature.For very hot places, air conditioners prove extremely beneficial throughout the year.
They produce heat with the help of the condenser.These emit heat using the condenser.
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