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Heat Pump vs Air Conditioner: What’s the Difference & How to Choose

A heat pump is basically an air conditioner that can also work in reverse to provide heat.

If you need to replace your air conditioning system or your entire HVAC, should you consider getting a heat pump for AC? A heat pump can replace your air conditioner, and possibly your heating system as well. But it is important to make sure it’s the right choice for your needs.

In this article, we’ll compare a heat pump vs AC, and explain the advantages and limitations of heat pumps. Then we’ll address the all-important question of cost.

Heat pump vs air conditioner: how are they different?

In warm weather when your space needs cooling, a heat pump and an air conditioner do exactly the same thing. They cool indoor space by removing heat and releasing it outside.

In cold weather, when your space needs heat, obviously a traditional air conditioner can’t help you. That’s why most residential and commercial spaces have furnaces or sometimes electric heat.

A heat pump, on the other hand, can provide heat as well as cooling.

How does it do that? Let’s revisit our definition of a heat pump: "an air conditioner that can also work in reverse to provide heat." Without getting too technical, a heat pump can remove heat from the OUTSIDE air and release it INSIDE.

If you’re not an HVAC expert, this part might not make sense to you… how can it remove heat from outside air in the winter? It can do so because even though people feel cold as outdoor temperatures drop, there is still some heat energy in the air. Heat pumps can absorb it and transfer it indoors to provide heat.

Heat pump advantages over AC + furnace

Heat pumps cost less to operate

This is the main reason for choosing a heat pump vs an air conditioner and a furnace. Heat pumps are very energy efficient, so you can save quite a bit on your utility bills. (Check out what energy.gov has to say about air source heat pump efficiency.)

Heat pumps don’t burn fossil fuels

Unlike gas or oil-burning furnace, heat pumps do not need to consume fossil fuels to produce heat. That makes them a more planet-friendly heating solution.

One system to maintain and repair

If you’re using a heat pump as your sole source of heating and cooling, there’s only one system to maintain, and one system to diagnose and repair if anything goes wrong. That also lowers your total cost to operate.

Heat pumps can save space

When you don’t need a separate appliance for heat, using a heat pump can be a space saver… which is a boon in places like NYC where space is so expensive.

Heat pump limitations

Heat pumps are less efficient in cold climates

The biggest downside of a heat pump vs AC is that heat pumps lose efficiency in colder weather.

This makes sense when you understand how a heat pump works. When the outside air is colder, there is less heat energy to absorb and transfer inside, so the heat pump has to run longer and work harder to generate hear. If it’s cold for an extended period of time, the operating costs go up.

Possible need for supplemental heat

Heat pump technology has improved quite a bit recently, and they can work in colder climates much more effectively than they could in the past. However, if temperatures drop well below freezing, you may reach a point where a heat pump may not be able to provide enough heat.

That’s why, for homeowners and business owners here in the Northeast, you may need to have a backup heat source if you choose to go with a heat pump. Of course, that will add to your overall cost.

Heat pump vs AC cost

The cost of equipment plus installation for a heat pump is generally higher than the cost of going with a traditional central air conditioner. The difference can be as much as several thousand dollars.

However, if you are replacing your heating equipment as well as your AC (and you don’t need supplemental heat) then you could end up saving money. That’s because you need only one new system instead of two.

Commercial HVAC Tip: Heat pump tax credit

Business owners, listen up!

Right now, there’s a new tax rule that lets you deduct the entire cost of commercial HVAC equipment, plus installation, on your tax return. (This replaces the old rule that allows you to depreciate the cost over the life of the equipment.)

That means you get a big tax break all at once, instead of a tiny tax break over many years.

Heat pump vs AC: more help making the right choice

You’ll live with your choice for many years to come, so it’s smart to get help when you’re making a decision this important. When you request a replacement estimate, we’ll talk through all your needs and recommend the right HVAC system for your needs and your budget.

Shout Out

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10 Home Safety Tips to Protect You and Your loved Ones

Protecting yourself and your family is about more than building walls and repelling intruders. If you want to protect yourself and your loved ones from harm, you must be proactive and take a holistic approach. This means identifying potential hazards in your home and eliminating them or minimizing the associated risks.

Home protection starts with being prepared, having a plan, and proper communication between you and your family members. This includes everything from installing a home security system to learning how to properly install a spy camera to understanding what to do in the event of a fire or a medical emergency.

1. Have a Plan

Every member of the household should understand what to do in the event of a home invasion, fire, flood, or natural disaster. Assemble family members and discuss each person’s role, responsibilities, and actions during an emergency.

If you have children of varying ages, the eldest should guide the youngest to a designated safe room in the event of a burglary. The designated safe room, such as the master bedroom, should have one main entry point, and you should be able to barricade it.

In the event of a fire, assuming you can’t extinguish it, your main goal is to safely and quickly escape the home, ensuring every person and pet is properly accounted for. Everyone should know where to meet outside.

Help young children commit emergency contact information to memory in case they become separated from you after evacuating the home. At a minimum, they should be able to provide their last name and street. If the child is old enough, have them memorize your cell phone number and ensure they’re familiar with the process for contacting emergency services via 9-1-1.

2. Secure Your Home Against Intruders

According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, there were 1.23 million burglaries in 2018. More than half (56.7 percent) involved forcible entry, and almost two-thirds (65.5 percent) involved residential properties.

So, it’s critical to make your home appear less attractive as a target to potential burglars. Alarm systems are one option, but they’re not always sufficient. Ensure all locks in the home are durable and functional and every external door has a deadbolt. You may also consider planting dense foliage beneath ground level windows to deter attempts to enter.

Exterior Lighting

One of the burglar’s most useful tools at night is darkness, granting cover for picking locks and breaking windows. If there are parts of your home hidden from street view, ensure they become visible when there’s movement. Motion-activated lights can illuminate and expose potential burglars. This can alert your neighbors if someone’s trying to break into your home.

If not activated by motion, outside lighting activated by a timer or according to ambient lighting conditions can also serve this purpose.

  • Surveillance Cameras

Surveillance cameras can covertly record incriminating information or overtly deter criminal trespass. Ideally, a surveillance system serves both purposes. If you want to deter criminals, you can install dummy or decoy cameras. If the burglar attempts to tamper with the camera, he won’t rob you of your recording capabilities. You can also use decoys to guide burglars into the field of view of an active surveillance camera.

If you’re wondering how to hide a spy camera, it’s important to remember this depends on the layout of your home. While you may decide to conceal a surveillance camera outside for covert recording, many homeowners hide spy cameras inside their homes out of suspicion or caution. You can disguise a spy camera in a stuffed animal, a fake home appliance, such as a cooking timer, or even a USB charger.

  • Adopt a Dog

A dog that barks can alert you to intruders or trespassers in the dead of night and, depending on the breed, can also be a deterrent and a threat. Few burglars are interested in trying to defend against a German shepherd, Rottweiler, or Doberman. But keep in mind, a dog is a significant responsibility and potentially over a decade of commitment. If protection is your only reason for wanting to adopt a dog, you’re better off looking at home security systems.

3. Reduce The Risk of Slipping and Falling

There are various ways you or a member of your family could slip or trip on floors. Make sure all rugs are secure with a non-slip backing or weighed down by heavy furniture. Repair any damaged or poorly installed flooring and clear clutter from your floors that present a tripping hazard.

  • Clean and Dry Floors Properly

Mop up any liquid spills as soon as possible to prevent a slipping hazard — clean floors to avoid the accumulation of slippery residues. Don’t apply excessive wax or other polishing agents to hardwood, laminate, or vinyl flooring.

  • Install Supports

In showers and bathrooms, where wet floors are common, it may be worth installing support railings attached to the walls. If you lose your balance, you can simply grab the railing to center yourself. Support railings are also helpful to the elderly, who may need help standing.

4. Prepare for fire

In 2019, according to FEMA, there were an estimated 354,400 residential fires in the U.S. As a result, many states legally require you to install smoke and carbon dioxide detectors in your home. You should periodically test the batteries to ensure the device functions properly.

Since 50.2 percent of residential fires are related to cooking, don’t leave active stovetops or ovens unattended. You can also minimize burn risks to children by using the backburners whenever possible and installing caps on knobs, ensuring they can’t be accidentally activated.

It’s good practice to keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen for emergencies if a fire on the stove cannot be contained. Ensure all members of the household are aware of how to use the fire extinguisher and its location.

Remember PASS: Pull, Aim, Squeeze, and Sweep. Pull the pin — this breaks the tamper seal. Aim the nozzle toward the base of the fire and squeeze the handle to discharge the extinguishing agent. Sweep the fire from side to side until the fire dissipates. If the fire extinguisher doesn’t have printed instructions on it, print them on a piece of paper and have it laminated and mounted next to the extinguisher.

5. Keep a fully stocked first-aid-kit

Cuts, burns, scrapes, stings, and bites are part of life. You can treat most of these injuries at home. Consider taking a basic course in CPR and first aid. The American Red Cross offers comprehensive courses for an affordable fee.

You should also have a first-aid kit containing the basics for treating minor wounds, burns, and other manageable health conditions. Your first-aid kit should include the following items, at a minimum:

  • Adhesive bandages
  • Non-adhesive gauze pads
  • Cloth medical tape
  • Compression bandages
  • Roller bandage
  • Safety pins
  • Antibiotic ointment (e.g., Neosporin)
  • Aloe vera ointment
  • Anti-inflammatory and analgesic medications
  • Isopropyl alcohol or antiseptic wipes
  • Hydrocortisone and antihistamine creams
  • A thermometer

If you or any member of your household takes prescription medication, ensure it’s always in the same place, easily accessible to those who need it, and not expired. If one or more family members has an allergy that increases susceptibility to anaphylactic shock, an epinephrine auto-injector should be included in the first-aid kit.

6. Purchase and learn how to use self-defense tools

While lights and alarms can serve as deterrents and often effective ones, they’re not barriers to entry. You should also be prepared to defend yourself and your family against an intruder.

Self-defense weapons are available in two basic categories: lethal and non-lethal. Examples of lethal weapons are firearms, such as handguns, rifles, and shotguns, and knives, or other edged weapons. Examples of non-lethal weapons are stun guns, such as the TASER®, pepper spray/Mace, and other devices that cause pain and discomfort to repel an intruder.

A handgun or shotgun is a highly effective personal defense weapon, provided you understand how to operate it and follow basic safety rules. If you’re not prepared to buy or own a firearm, you’ll need to investigate alternatives.

Aerosolized chemical irritants can cause severe pain, render breathing difficult, and temporarily blind your attacker. You can also find a TASER® for sale. Using compressed nitrogen, the TASER® propels two dart-like probes connected to the weapon by copper wires. When the probes embed themselves in the target’s skin, the TASER® passes a 50,000-volt electric current along the wires, causing neuromuscular incapacitation.

7. Practice electrical safety

Don’t overload electrical adapters/surge protectors by plugging multiple electronics or electrical appliances into one outlet. Generally, an outlet can power 1,500-1,800 watts, but if you’re unsure how much power your devices are pulling, play it safe and don’t exceed two appliances per electrical outlet.

You should also avoid using damaged or frayed power cables. Always keep liquids away from power outlets and electrical devices, and don’t store clothing or other combustible materials near the breaker box/fuse box.

8. Prevent drowning

Drowning is the leading cause of death in children aged one to four years old, and home swimming pools are one of the most frequent causes. The risk of drowning isn’t limited to swimming pools. Bathtubs are another common cause of drowning for young children.

Install secure fencing with a childproof lock around your swimming pool, whether above or below ground. When bathing young children, never leave them unattended.

9. Storage of poisonous chemicals

In 2019, more than 2.1 million Americans sought guidance from poison control centers regarding poison exposure. Store household cleaning and maintenance chemicals and medicines properly, keeping them inaccessible to children. This includes laundry and dishwashing detergents. If you use detergent pods, exercise extra care. Many of these products are brightly colored and can resemble candy from a distance, making them appealing to young children.

10. Evaluate your home for weak points

You should check to see whether your house is on a floodplain. If it is, check external drainage systems. Downspouts should discharge water away from your home. If water pools around the foundation during rainstorms, check the waterproofing of your basement walls. If you have a sump pump, have a backup power system to keep it running in the event of a power outage.

Are fences, gates, doors, and windows in good condition? Are there any objects a prospective intruder could use to scale walls or access windows, such as overgrown trees or trash cans?

Secure your home to protect your family

Protecting your home, yourself, and your family means preparing for the dangers of everyday life as well as once-in-a-lifetime events. Take a walk through your home and look for areas that could cause injury, especially to young children and pets. Find ways to carefully manage these parts of your home. You can’t always eliminate danger, but you can minimize the risks.

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