Heat Pump vs Air Conditioner: Which is Right for Your Ottawa Home?

There are two primary options when it comes to home cooling systems: heat pumps and air conditioners. Recent technological advancements have made heat pumps even more efficient and more appealing to homeowners looking to save on energy bills and help the environment. With heat pumps here to stay it’s important to understand how these systems work, how they are different from air conditioners and which one is the best option for your home.

Heat Pump in Spring

What is a Heat Pump?

A heat pump is an energy-efficient system that can both cool and heat your home. It does this by transferring heat from one location to another rather than generating it. In hot weather, the heat pump moves warm air from your home outside. Then, as the weather cools the reversing valve allows this system to reverse and the heat pump moves heat into your home. 

There are two main sources heat pumps use:  

Air Source Heat Pump

– Heat is transferred between the air inside your home and the air outside your home. This is the most common type of heat pump in Canada. Centrally ducted air source heat pumps look very similar to an outdoor air conditioning unit however, air conditioners are typically placed on the ground whereas air source heat pumps are typically mounted on a wall or placed on legs.

Ground Source Heat Pump

– Heat is transferred between the air inside your home and the ground outside your home. These systems work by circulating liquid through an outdoor loop made up of pipes. This can either be a closed-loop system or an open-loop system that ties into the water table. Loop construction, while long-lasting, requires excavation, and a good amount of ground space making it unsuitable for many urban locations where space is limited. If there is space for their installation, however, these systems work incredibly efficiently and are an amazing option. – Learn more here

What’s the difference between a Heat Pump and an Air Conditioner?

An air conditioner works just like an air source heat pump in cooling mode. The biggest difference is that a heat pump can be switched into heating mode and an air conditioner cannot. 

Should I get a Heat Pump or Air Conditioner?

If you are in the market to replace your air conditioner Natural Resources Canada suggests that you consider heat pump options to see if it would be the right fit for your home. An HVAC professional will be able to assess your exact needs and advise you on the best fit for your home, but below we review the key factors to consider when making this decision.

Air Conditioner vs Heat Pump Chart

Installation Cost

Standard air conditioners and air source heat pumps are similar in price, though there are also higher-end air source heat pumps that are more expensive. Geothermal heat pumps are by far the most expensive HVAC system to install because the installation process is much more intensive and requires excavation to make room for the required piping. These prices, however, do not take into account the lucrative government rebates currently available for Canadian homeowners as explained below. 

Price Range Estimates: 

  • Air conditioner: $4,000 – $6,000 
  • Air Source Heat Pump: $4,000 – $9,000
  • Geothermal Heat Pump: $20,000 – $50,000

Canada Greener Homes Grant:

The Canadian government is currently promoting the transition of more homes to electric HVAC systems as part of their efforts to combat climate change. In support of this goal, they have introduced the Canada Greener Homes Grant, designed to assist homeowners in financing energy-efficient renovations. By upgrading your air conditioner to a heat pump, you could be eligible for rebates of up to $7,100! You can read more about the program on the Government of Canada website or simply call the Francis Plumbing Heating & Cooling team! Our team members will be able to walk you through the entire process and help you maximize your rebate. 

Operating Costs and Energy Efficiency

Simply put, the more efficient your system is the less energy goes to waste and the lower your monthly bill payments. For cooling systems, such as air conditioners and heat pumps, energy efficiency is measured by the seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) where a higher rating means a more efficient system. You’ll typically see SEER ratings for air conditioners and heat pumps range from 13 to 17 but we recommend going for a system with a SEER 15 or above. Ground source heat pumps are the most efficient systems and not easily compared to the other systems (learn more).

What is SEER 2? 

As of January 1 2023, every new cooling system will receive a SEER2 rating to measure the efficiency of the system. SEER2 is an updated version of SEER that more accurately represents real-world conditions. During this transitionary period you will likely see both systems being used. 

What is HSPF?

When heat pumps are in heating mode their efficiency is measured in Heating Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF), not SEER.  

Air conditioners and heat pumps are comparably efficient depending on the exact equipment selected, however when compared to furnaces heat pumps are more efficient. Come winter, a heat pump can save you monthly on utility bills and save you from having to pay increasing carbon taxes on a gas furnace. – Learn more 


  • Air-source heat pumps and air conditioners have comparable installation and operating costs, however, there are currently government rebates available that make heat pumps significantly more affordable. Additionally, when you take into account the major advantages of heating with a heat pump the choice is clear!


  • A ground-source heat pump is a big investment but for rural property owners, it is a great option for significantly reducing monthly utility bills. 


  • An HVAC professional will be able to conduct a thorough assessment of your home to determine if a heat pump or an air conditioner will be better suited for your home, what size system you require and if it will be compatible with your current HVAC system.