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RV Heat Pump vs Air Conditioner: What You Need to Know

RV home and owners are often quite familiar with the phrase “air conditioner” as an appliance to cool down their home when it’s getting warmer out. Few have heard of a “heat pump.” Both are useful and effective to keep you from sitting around inside sweating while the sun bears down on you.

Since few people have heard of a heat pump, they often wonder if they do the same thing? Heat pumps are slightly unique in the appliance world and bring a slightly different utility to your RV or home.

A heat pump works in a similar way to an air conditioner, but it actually does more. A heat pump is capable of heating and cooling a home while an air conditioner is one dimensional and just cools.

What does an air conditioner do?

Believe it or not, air conditioners don’t push cold air into your home. This is actually a myth! An air conditioner’s fan helps remove the warm air from a home and send it outside. Your home has return air ducts for a reason – to have the fan move hot air back through the air conditioner and allow the interior to cool down.

The coolant? The coolant attracts warm air, but doesn’t actually cool the air within your home. This is a common misconception.

What does a heat pump do?

The heat pump is more multi functional. In addition to cooling your RV in a very similar process by attracting, moving, and ejecting warm air from the home, it’s also capable of providing heat to your RV.

A heat pump has a reversing valve. This reversing valve allows the heat pump to absorb the heat out of outdoor air and pump it into a home. 

How are they different?

A heat pump can provide heating and cooling. A heat pump’s job is literally to remove the heat from air, whether it’s in your home to create air conditioning or to send warm air (even in really cold weather) into your home.

An air conditioner only cools your home and does nothing else. If you live in a colder climate, your RV or home will also have a separate furnace.

What does the furnace do?

The furnace provides a similar result to a heat pump, but does so in a different way. Both the heat pump and the furnace can warm your RV.

A furnace takes in cool air from the outside and heats it with either propane or natural gas, then sends it around the house with the house of interior fans and ducts. 

So a heat pump acts like a furnace and an air conditioner?

Yes, a heat pump can do both, though not literally at the same time.

Are there any disadvantages and advantages to a heat pump?

Disadvantages

The miraculous machine that warms and cools your RV is an awesome appliance, but it does have some drawbacks. You don’t expect your fridge to heat up food, or your oven to cool it down, so there are some technical uses for a heat pump.

Heat pumps are not very energy efficient in the cold. They are using more energy in the cold to draw heat in, and stay warm themselves. 

Heat pumps are also not especially strong. They often come with an auxiliary indoor heater for when the outdoor temperature gets very cold. This combination helps them work better in especially cold climates.

A heat pump also costs more than a single furnace or air conditioner. It does not cost more than both combined, though.

Heat pumps typically don’t last as long as AC units. AC units are only used about half the year in most climates. A heat pump is used year round, so expect half the life out of it. To be fair, most AC units last 30+ years, and depending on your outlook, 15 years for a heat pump is pretty good.

Advantages

A heat pump only uses electricity. A furnace uses propane which can get expensive during the winter. Alternatively, electricity is generally cheaper. You’ll notice more spending on your electric bill, offset with less spending on your natural gas or propane bill.

Having only one unit can be a good thing for the purpose of space.

So which one should I get?

Our first suggestion here is to ask a local service professional which one works better for your RV or home.

If you are worried about the price of natural gas and don’t live in an especially cold climate, then consider getting a heat pump. A heat pump will provide cheaper heat. 

If you live in a cold climate and don’t really want auxiliary heaters in your home, you should probably consider a furnace instead.

Note that you can also get a heat pump and a furnace. While this will obviously cost more, some people enjoy not spending hundreds on natural gas in the winter, when it gets really cold outside. They can use the heat pump until their RV gets too cold, then turn on the furnace for support.

The decision is rather unique to the RV owner. A furnace and air conditioner will use electricity and the furnace will use natural gas too. The furnace and air conditioner also cost more separately but do their own respective jobs very well.

The biggest question is how are you going to use it? 

Conclusion

Heat pumps, air conditioners, and furnaces are all a little misunderstood. Heat pumps can provide both cooling and heat with some small drawbacks while furnaces and air conditioners specialize in heating or cooling. 

Have a service tech discuss your options and issues with your RV to determine which say you should go. Some will enjoy the relatively inexpensive monthly bill for a heat pump, but might not want to risk having colder weather make their RV a bit cooler.

A furnace and air conditioner will last longer, at the cost of space and more money.

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