Is HVAC More Expensive Than AC?

Is Heating More Expensive Than Air Conditioning?

Keeping your home comfortable during both summer and winter can be extremely costly. Heating and air conditioning typically account for nearly half of the average home’s energy consumption. How this breaks down in terms of the total energy used for heating compared to air conditioning can depend on where you live. This article will explain which one is more expensive and your options for keeping these costs lower.

Comparing the Costs of Heating and Air Conditioning

Approximately 80% of American homes spend more on heating than air conditioning. Part of the reason for this is that almost every home in the US has some type of heating, whereas a decent percentage of homes don’t have air conditioning or only use a few window AC units. However, the main reason is our climate since much of the country has relatively cold winters and doesn’t experience sweltering summer weather.

In the Pacific Northwest, you’ll always pay much more to heat your home than to cool it. The only parts of the country where homeowners spend more on AC than on heating are in much warmer states like Arizona, Florida, Texas, Louisiana, etc.

Why Heating Is More Expensive

There are a few reasons why heating almost always costs much more than air conditioning. One reason is that most homes have forced-air heating instead of radiant heating. Forced-air heating systems directly heat the air. Radiant heating heats surfaces like floors, walls, and furniture, and then the heat continually radiates to warm the entire area. One major issue with forced-air heating is that air doesn’t hold onto heat very well. It means that a forced-air heating system needs to run quite frequently since the air in the home quickly starts cooling off as soon as the system shuts off.

Adding heat to the air is also more energy-intensive than removing heat as an air conditioning system does. This is why central air conditioning systems are typically 3.5 to 4 times more energy efficient than most central forced-air heating systems. While this can vary depending on the energy-efficiency rating of an AC system and a furnace or other heating unit, the fact is that it always takes less energy to remove heat from the air than it does to heat air.

When comparing the cost of heating and air conditioning, you also need to account for the price of the energy each system uses. Air conditioning always runs on electricity, whereas heating can use natural gas, propane, electricity, or fuel oil. Although electricity rates in most parts of the country are higher than natural gas and other fossil fuels, air conditioning is cheaper since it is less energy intensive and doesn’t need to work as hard.

One of the main reasons air conditioning doesn’t need to work as hard as a heating system is the difference between the outdoor temperature and the desired indoor temperature, i.e., whatever temperature you have your thermostat set to. The more significant the difference between these two temperatures, the more the HVAC system will have to run, the more energy it will use, and the more it will cost to operate.

In summer in our area, there is rarely more than a 10-15 degree difference between the outdoor and desired indoor temperatures. Homes don’t heat up quickly, so their AC system doesn’t need to run much or work hard. In winter in the Northern US, there is often at least a 20-30 degree difference between the outdoor temperature and the thermostat setting. When there is a significant difference between the outdoor temperature and the thermostat set temperature inside, your heating system must run frequently throughout the day and night.

Ways You Can Keep Your Heating Costs Lower

While heating your home will almost always cost much more than cooling it, there are various ways to help keep your heating costs slightly lower. One of the most significant factors in how much it costs to heat your home is the type of heating you have and how energy efficient it is. A high-efficiency condensing gas furnace is one option that will save you quite a bit of money compared to heating your home with a medium-efficient conventional furnace. Opting for a high-efficiency two-stage or variable-speed furnace will save you even more since these units primarily run on reduced power instead of always running on full power like a single-stage furnace.

An even better option is heating your home with an electric heat pump. Other types of electric heating, like furnaces and baseboard heaters, use vast amounts of electricity. While electric heating is slightly more efficient than even the highest-rated condensing gas furnace, it still costs a lot more to run since it produces less heat and uses much more energy. Heat pumps are entirely different from other types of electric heating since the electricity they consume is used to transfer heat. Other types of electric heating instead simply convert electricity directly into heat energy.

Compared to any other type of heating, a heat pump is usually at least three times more efficient. Gas furnaces range between 80% and 98%, whereas most electric heat is 100% efficient. The energy efficiency of a heat pump fluctuates based on outdoor temperature since the unit is outside instead of inside the building, like all other heating units. Even in freezing temperatures, a heat pump will almost always work more energy efficiently than any other option. In temperatures around 40 degrees or higher, most heat pumps will be 300-400% efficient. It means that they produce three or four times as much heat energy compared to the amount of electrical power they consume.

In places where the outdoor temperature gets near or below freezing, you always need a backup heat source with a heat pump to heat your home. Most systems use electric-resistance heat strips similar to those found in an electric furnace, but some people also choose just to use their existing gas furnace. When you rely on the backup or auxiliary heat source, your heating costs will rise, but they will still be much less overall. In our area, the additional heat source won’t need to run often and will mostly only come on during the short periods when the heat pump needs to run its defrost cycle.

Another thing to consider when considering a heat pump is that it can run in reverse and remove heat from your home to cool it, just like a traditional central air conditioner. It is a huge advantage since you will only need to install, maintain, and repair one unit instead of having separate heating and cooling units to take care of.

With over 20 years of experience serving customers in Vancouver, Portland, and the surrounding areas, Revival Heating & Cooling is the contractor to trust for all your heating and air conditioning needs. We offer expert HVAC installation services and can also repair and maintain your system so it works more efficiently. If you’re looking for ways to save on energy costs, we can also perform an energy audit and help with air sealing, insulation, and other energy-efficiency upgrades. Contact our team today for more information on how we can help you save money on your heating and AC costs.