The Difference Between a Heat Pump and an Air Conditioner

One of the most common heating questions clients will ask during an inspection is, “Is that a Heat Pump or an Air Conditioner?”. It can be extremely hard to tell just by looking at the unit. Here are a few ways to identify a heat pump:

1. Check the Thermostat.

Does your Thermostat have a setting marked “Emergency Heat”? You probably have a heat pump. An emergency heat mode activates a natural gas burner or electric strips that will provide heat if there’s a problem with the heat pump, or if it can’t keep up with demand.

2. Both refrigerant lines are insulated.

Take a look at the liquid and suction lines at the outdoor unit. If they’re both insulated, there’s a good chance it’s a heat pump. Note: Many heating contractors feel that this is unnecessary and won’t insulate the lines. Manufacturer’s installation instructions should always be followed.

3. Check the manufacturer’s data plate.

Sometimes this is a dead giveaway. The model number may have “HP” in it, or, even more obviously, it may say “Heat Pump”. You can also record the model number and check the manufacturer’s website, or call them directly.

4. Check for a reversing valve.

You may be able to see a reversing valve, however there’s a chance you may need to open the cabinet to see it. The reversing valve changes the direction of the refrigerant flow, and therefore is only found in heat pumps.

A Reversing Valve From a Heat Pump

5. Is it Cold Outside?

If it’s cold and the unit is running, it’s most likely a heat pump. An air conditioner running when the outdoor temperature is extremely low would indicate a serious issue.

We Inspect Heat Pumps! Call us today for your next Home inspection – 604 395-2795

About the Author DavidFairbairn

Author David Fairbairn is a certified, licensed home inspector serving Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. He has been featured in the media and has contributed to "24" Newspaper, and Global TV. He has spent years working with residential and commercial building projects, and holds a Power Engineering License in BC. Why not give him a call for your next Home Inspection? Call 604 395-2795 or email david@fairbairninspections.com today!

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