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Heat pump vs air conditioner cost: Everything you need to know

When it comes to keeping our homes comfortable during hot summers or chilly winters, air conditioning and heating systems play a crucial role. However, if you're wondering which to install first or which one is more likely to save you money in the long-term, keep scrolling for our expert advice.

Heat pump vs air conditioner cost comparisons

Wondering about the cost differences between a heat pump vs an air conditioner? Look no further!

Traditionally, air conditioners and central heating have been the go-to options for cooling and heating our homes respectively. However, with the rise in energy-efficient technology, heat pumps have emerged as a viable alternative.

Both heat pumps and air conditioners have made significant advancements in energy efficiency and technology, offering improved comfort and reduced environmental impact. Investing in either system will enhance the overall comfort of your home while considering your budget and energy efficiency goals.

However, let’s explore their pros and cons, installation costs, and overall running expenses to see which unit is right for you.

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Is a heat pump more expensive than an air conditioner?

The answer to ‘Is a heat pump more expensive than an air conditioner?’ depends on various factors and the specific requirements of your home.

While heat pumps may have higher upfront costs and be slightly more expensive to install, they offer significant long-term savings through energy efficiency and dual functionality.

On the other hand, air conditioners have lower upfront costs but can result in higher running expenses and the need for a separate heating system.

Air source heat pump unit outside a red bricked home for Heat pump vs air conditioner cost

Heat pump vs air conditioner – running cost differences

The running costs of a heat pump vs an air conditioner depend on several factors, including the system’s efficiency and your current energy prices, usage patterns, and climate conditions.

In terms of energy efficiency, heat pumps have an advantage as they transfer heat rather than generate it, which results in lower running costs – especially when it comes to heating.

On the other hand, air conditioners may have lower running costs during the cooler seasons due to their focus on a single cooling function.

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Heat pump cost estimates

The cost of installing a heat pump varies depending on factors such as the type of heat pump, the size and capacity of the system, the complexity of the installation, and any additional requirements specific to your property.

Heat pump unit costs

The cost of most heat pump units themselves ranges from £2,000 - £4,000 for the supply and installation of an air-to-air air source heat pump with a heating capacity of 5kW. For a ground source heat pump (typically 4-12kW), you’re looking at around £12,000 – £30,000 for supply and installation. However, this depends on factors such as the type, capacity, brand, how easy/difficult the installation is and extra features.

For example, ground source heat pumps are usually more expensive due to their additional installation requirements, such as a ground loop system. You also need a large enough outdoor space to install one. Because of this, they’re not a viable option for everyone.

Related content: Heat pump efficiency: An expert overview.

Installation costs

The installation costs of a heat pump depend on several factors, including:

  • The complexity of the installation
  • Size of your property
  • Need for any additional components or modifications
  • Labour rates in your area

On average, the installation cost of a heat pump in the UK can range from £2,000 - £4,000+ for an air source heat pump or £12,000 – £30,000+ for a ground source heat pump.

NB: Ground source heat pump installations are generally more expensive due to the garden excavation required to install a ground loop.

Additional components

Depending on your specific requirements, additional components such as hot water cylinders, radiators, underfloor heating systems, or ventilation systems may be necessary. As a result, these components add to the overall installation cost of a heat pump.

Controls and thermostats

Upgrading or installing controls and thermostats to optimise the heat pump’s efficiency and performance may incur additional costs.

Insulation and building modifications

Ensuring proper insulation and any necessary building modifications to improve energy efficiency and maximise the heat pump’s effectiveness may require some extra budget.

A professional will be able to advise you on the best heat pump type, size and any additional components or modifications needed.

Always make sure the installation is carried out by a qualified professional.

NB: While the upfront cost of installing a heat pump may be higher compared to traditional heating systems, the long-term energy savings and potential government incentives or grants, such as the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), can help offset these costs over time.

Air conditioner cost estimates

Air conditioners are specifically designed to cool indoor spaces. They extract heat from the air inside your home and expel it outside, leaving you with a comfortably cool environment.

The cost of running and installing an air conditioner unit varies based on several factors. This includes the type and size of the unit, its energy efficiency, your usage patterns, local energy prices, and the specific requirements of your home.

Installation costs

The installation cost of an air conditioner unit in the UK ranges from £1,750 – £3,000 (or more), depending on factors such as the complexity of the installation, the type of unit (split system, window unit, or portable unit), and any additional requirements specific to your home.

We recommend seeking a minimum of three quotes from HVAC professionals to get accurate estimates based on your specific needs.

Air conditioning servicing

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Running costs

The running costs of an air conditioner unit depend on its energy efficiency, how often and for how long you use it, and your local energy prices.

In the UK, electricity is typically priced in kilowatt-hours (kWh). Air conditioner energy consumption is measured in kilowatts (kW), and the running cost is calculated by multiplying the energy consumption (kW) by the cost per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity.

To estimate the running costs, you need to consider the energy efficiency ratio (EER) or seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) of the unit. The higher the EER or SEER rating, the more energy-efficient the unit is (and the lower the running costs are compared to less efficient ones).

As an approximate guide, the running cost of an air conditioner unit can range from 10 pence to 25 pence per hour of operation. However, as mentioned, this depends on factors such as the unit’s size, efficiency, and the electricity tariff in your area.

Related content: Air conditioning: everything you need to know.

How to optimise your air conditioner’s performance

Regular maintenance, such as cleaning filters, ensuring proper insulation, and undertaking periodic servicing, will help optimise the efficiency of your unit and potentially reduce its running costs.

To get a more accurate estimate of the running costs for your specific air conditioner unit, check its energy efficiency rating, consult the manufacturer’s specifications, and use online calculators or energy cost estimators provided by energy suppliers.

Always remember to consult with HVAC professionals or energy experts. They’ll assess your specific requirements, provide detailed cost estimates, and offer guidance on energy-efficient options that suit your needs and budget.

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Pros and cons of heat pumps vs air conditioning units

Pros of heat pumps

  • Energy efficiency: Heat pumps are renowned for their exceptional energy efficiency. By transferring heat rather than generating it, they offer significant savings on heating and cooling costs compared to traditional systems
  • Dual functionality: With a heat pump, you don’t need separate cooling and heating systems. This consolidation saves space and reduces installation and maintenance expenses
  • Environmentally friendly: Heat pumps utilise renewable energy from the air or ground, making them environmentally friendly and helping you reduce your carbon footprint
  • Long-term savings: Although heat pumps often have higher upfront costs, their energy efficiency and potential long-term utility savings often make them more cost-effective in the long run

Cons of heat pumps

  • Climate limitations: Heat pumps work efficiently in moderate climates. In extremely cold regions, their heating capacity diminishes, leaving you needing an alternative heating source
  • Higher upfront costs: Heat pumps tend to have higher installation costs compared to air conditioners, primarily due to their advanced technology and additional components

Pros of air conditioners

  • Cooling efficiency: Air conditioners excel at cooling, particularly in hot climates. They’re designed to deliver instant and powerful cooling for a comfortable home
  • Lower upfront costs: Air conditioners generally have lower initial installation costs compared to heat pumps, making them a more budget-friendly option for those prioritising upfront expenses

Cons of air conditioners

  • Single function: Air conditioners aren’t an efficient way of heating your home
  • Higher running expenses: Air conditioners typically consume more energy compared to heat pumps, resulting in higher monthly bills

Homeowner operating aircon via remote control - Heat pump vs air conditioner cost

Final thoughts

Heat pump vs air conditioner cost

If you live in a moderate climate and prioritise energy efficiency and versatility, a heat pump is the better choice for you. Heat pumps provide both heating and cooling capabilities, offering year-round comfort and potential savings on your bills over time. They’re also environmentally friendly as they use renewable energy sources.

However, if you live somewhere with primarily hot summers and mild winters, an air conditioner is likely the more cost-effective option. Air conditioners are highly efficient at cooling and have lower upfront costs. They’re also suitable for those who already have a separate heating system in place.

Ultimately, it’s worth basing your decision between a heat pump and an air conditioner on your specific needs, local climate conditions, and long-term financial considerations.

Remember to compare different models, consider energy efficiency ratings, and talk to professionals to make an informed decision that aligns with your specific needs and preferences.

Did you enjoy this Heat pump vs air conditioner cost guide? If so, check out our blog for more expert advice, how-tos, and cost estimates.

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Working with professional estimators, we collate cost estimates for the common home improvement and repair jobs in the UK.

All the costs are estimates only. For accurate costs for your particular requirements, you are encouraged to reach out to professional tradespeople to receive a quote for your job.

Our estimators are Chartered Members (MRICS) of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and Members of the Chartered Institute of Building (MCIOB). See full disclaimer.

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