Heating & Cooling Your Home: Traditional AC/Heat Pump vs. Ground Source vs. Hyperefficient

Heating & Cooling Your Home: Traditional AC/Heat Pump vs. Ground Source vs. Hyperefficient

During our home inspections, we often see heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems in poor repair that need quick replacement. When this happens, the homeowners or potential buyers ask us what type of system is best.

Gone are the days of needing simply to choose between HVAC manufacturing brands; homeowners now can choose what type of system they want. To help you with this decision, we’re giving you the lowdown on some of the more common home heating and cooling systems on the market today: traditional AC/Heat Pump, ground source, and hyper-efficient.

What Is a Traditional AC/Heat Pump?

A traditional air conditioning system uses refrigerants to transfer heat from inside to the outside in the summer. A heat pump can also transfer heat from outside to inside during the winter. With either of these systems, you will have an outdoor component (the condenser) and an indoor component (the air handler and evaporator).

Pros:

Some of the positives of replacing your old system with a traditional AC or Heat Pump system include:

  • Lower start-up cost
  • More familiar operation
  • Easier to find installers and repair contractors
  • Works with existing ductwork

Cons:

This familiar system isn’t without its drawbacks, however, including:

  • Less energy-efficient
  • More expensive in monthly energy costs
  • More likely to need frequent repairs
  • External coils and other parts require routine cleaning
  • Less capable of handling extreme temperatures

What Is a Ground Source System?

Ground Source systems take advantage of the relatively steady temperature of the earth (around 55 degrees Fahrenheit) to heat and cool your home. Refrigerant circulates the same for a conventional air conditioning system, but rather than having an outdoor coil, the refrigerant travels through underground pipes.

Pros:

Some of the benefits to a ground source system include:

  • Lower monthly operating cost
  • Increased energy efficiency
  • Easier to maintain a steady temperature
  • Lower risk of frequent repairs
  • Great for new builds

Cons:

That new geothermal system does have some negatives, including:

  • Higher initial investment (usually around $20,000 for the equipment, plus cost of drilling the wells)
  • Harder to find installers and repair contractors

What Is a Hyper-Efficient System?

Hyper-efficient heating and cooling systems, also known as zoned heating or mini-splits, are the newest kids on the block. Similar in construction and operation to traditional AC systems, they use enhanced compressor systems to heat and cool the air. Each room has its own unit, so there’s no need for ductwork and you only heat or cool the rooms you want, rather than the whole house. The outdoor compressor can usually serve multiple indoor units.

Pros:

There are several benefits to hyper-efficient heating and cooling systems, including:

  • Efficient in temperatures much lower than conventional systems
  • No need for ductwork
  • Heat or cool only the rooms you want
  • Better energy efficiency
  • Lower monthly energy bills
  • Lower cleaning and maintenance costs
  • Easy to retro-fit existing construction

Cons:

Hyper-efficient heating and cooling systems have some drawbacks, including:

  • Higher initial investment
  • Fewer installers and maintenance technicians available
  • Not as cost-effective in moderate climates
  • Visible equipment in every room

So, Which System Is Better?

Determining which heating and cooling system is best for your home comes down to a variety of factors, and will vary from person to person.

What’s important is that you weigh all the costs (initial and long-term), balance the positives with the negatives, and make the best choice for you and your family. There is no one-size-fits-all answer, but consulting with a contractor can help you make a more informed decision.

Don’t just replace an older existing system with one of the same size. Newer systems can give just as much heating and cooling from a smaller unit. Most systems installed are typically larger than they need to be, which can lead to difficulties with controlling humidity levels during both summer and winter.

If your AC or Heat Pump is more than 10-12 years old, there is also the chance it could be using R-22 refrigerant, which can no longer be manufactured. This drives up the cost of repairing these older systems, so check the data plate (which is typically on the outdoor unit) to see whether your present unit uses it. Newer units use R-410A refrigerant.

Independent Home Inspections in Central Maryland

No matter what system you choose, make sure you’re hiring a reputable company who will complete the project properly and safely. When in doubt, give Inspections by Bob a call and we’ll check out that HVAC or geothermal system in one of our home inspections! Schedule yours today!

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