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Air-to-Water vs. Air-to-Air Heat Pumps – Finding the Optimal Choice

In the past few years, the popularity of renewable energy has grown rapidly. Currently, alternative energy technologies have become the core of our daily lives, rather than just futuristic scientific terms.


Now, due to the increasing acceptance of these eco-friendly energy sources, manufacturers have come up with many solutions, particularly heat pumps, which are excellent choices for home heating.


They provide one of the cheapest and most energy-efficient ways for home cooling and heating, especially in environments with moderate cooling and heating demands. They are also ideal for retrofits and new constructions. So, whether you’re building a new house, renovating an old furnace, or looking to improve your home’s energy production, this guide outlines two main types of heat pumps to help you make a decision.


So, which is better: air-to-air heat pumps or air-to-water heat pumps?


Air-to-air heat pumps and air-to-water heat pumps: Which one is better?

Air-to-air heat pump systems and their characteristics

Air-to-air heat pumps can be used for water heating as well as cooling and heating air systems. This allows for the use of fewer devices, reducing the electricity cost. But are they beneficial, or would having an air-to-air system be better?


The function of an air-to-water system is to capture outdoor air and convert it into water for regulating the conditions of a house or office. Most outdoor units are located next to the house, while indoor units are placed inside.


One of the main benefits you get from an air-to-water system is that you don’t need to install another system for heating water. Essentially, what happens is that your heat pump recovers all the heat inside the pump to generate hot water. This means you don’t have to worry about expensive energy costs as the system utilizes the byproduct of its cooling and heating functions to produce warm water.


Another ideal feature of air-to-water heat pumps is that they are a one-time installation, which significantly reduces your operating and utility costs compared to traditional heat pumps or water heaters.


That being said, these types of systems are designed to replace the entire central heating system; however, some hybrid systems can be used in conjunction with boilers. Additionally, while current radiators can be used, in most cases, you will need to replace them with underfloor radiators or larger radiators.


This is because they are only effective in low-temperature heating demands that are intended to deliver heat over a large surface area. Due to these changes and additional equipment costs, air-to-water pumps are not inexpensive. So, if you are retrofitting an old energy system, you may need to reconsider. However, if you are building a new property or undergoing a major renovation, it can significantly reduce installation and operating costs.


heat pump installation

Other features include:

  • Lower energy costs if you replace an old electric heating system
  • Potential income (some governments provide Renewable Heat Incentive programs)
  • Heating and supplying water to the house
  • Low maintenance costs
  • Easy installation
  • Scalable and can be designed to work in conjunction with other related systems or independently


What is Air-to-air heat pump system?

Air-to-air heat pump systems also work by extracting heat from the external environment. The heat is then amplified through a compressor and pumped into the house. However, unlike the air-to-water system, which transfers the heat to the central heating system for distribution through underfloor heating or radiators, the air-to-air system releases the heated air directly from the system.


Now, with an air-to-air system, you will need to install ductwork around the house to allow for air circulation. The functioning of the ductwork is the same as underfloor systems or traditional radiators.


That being said, air-to-air systems are much cheaper. A complete unit can be installed in an average-sized house or property to meet all your heating needs for less than $2,000. Additionally, you don’t need major changes to your property, and the installation is typically inconspicuous and quick.


These units also have better heating and cooling efficiency compared to air-to-water units, with some units reaching up to 5.5. Furthermore, there are various options available, including central VRV/VRF systems that provide heating and cooling on demand.


The system can be used in conjunction with other existing heating systems, meaning users can use it according to their needs. Additionally, by assessing your energy usage, it’s easy to determine when it is more effective for different purposes.


That being said, using an air-to-air heat pump has some drawbacks compared to air-to-water heat pumps. For example, you will need another system for hot water as it cannot provide it. Regardless of whether you plan to install indoor units on the ceiling or walls, they require more space.


Furthermore, air-to-air systems also produce a unique type of heat. Although they heat the house faster, there is always some form of noise and air flow.

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Key features:


  • Lower installation costs (dependent on ductwork costs)
  • Can be used for cooling and heating performance
  • Faster heating than radiators and has powerful regulation for the house



  • Can provide renewable heat incentive funds in certain cases to help with installation costs
  • Can be used as a central heating system as well as for hot water
  • Can be connected to underfloor heating or existing radiators in most cases


Bottom line

Ultimately, the right type of heat pump depends on your personal preferences. The development cost of the systems is almost the same. This is mainly because your costs may increase under certain conditions and decrease under others, depending on the system you choose.


Therefore, if you lose one advantage by choosing either an air-to-air or air-to-water system, you will gain other advantages in a different way. It all depends on how you will use the equipment.


Both air-to-air and air-to-water heat pump systems have their unique advantages and considerations. Here are some additional points to consider:


Air-to-Air Heat Pump System:

Lower installation costs: Air-to-air heat pumps are generally more affordable to install compared to air-to-water systems, primarily due to the absence of complex piping and water circulation systems.

Cooling and heating performance: Air-to-air heat pumps can provide both cooling and heating capabilities, making them versatile for year-round comfort in homes or offices.

Faster heating and powerful regulation: Air-to-air heat pumps heat up spaces faster than traditional radiators and offer strong regulation over the temperature in the house.


Air-to-Water Heat Pump System:

Renewable heat incentive funds: In certain cases, air-to-water heat pump installations may qualify for renewable heat incentive programs provided by the government, which can help offset installation costs.


Central heating system and hot water supply: Air-to-water heat pumps can serve as both a central heating system and provide hot water for domestic use, eliminating the need for separate water heating systems.


Compatibility with underfloor heating and existing radiators: In most cases, air-to-water heat pumps can easily connect to underfloor heating systems or be integrated with existing radiators in a house.


Ultimately, the choice between air-to-air and air-to-water heat pump systems depends on your specific requirements, preferences, and budget. Consider factors such as installation costs, cooling and heating capabilities, hot water needs, existing infrastructure compatibility, and potential incentives available in your area.


It’s recommended to consult with HVAC professionals or energy experts who can assess your property, energy usage patterns, and help you make an informed decision based on your specific circumstances. They can provide guidance on the most suitable heat pump system that aligns with your heating, cooling, and hot water requirements while maximizing energy efficiency and cost savings.


Additionally, it’s important to consider the climate in your area. The efficiency and performance of both air-to-air and air-to-water heat pump systems can vary based on the ambient temperature.


Air-to-air heat pumps may experience reduced heating efficiency in extremely cold climates since they extract heat from the outside air. In contrast, air-to-water heat pumps can still maintain their heating capacity even in colder temperatures, as they transfer heat to water instead of directly heating the air. This makes air-to-water systems a favorable choice for regions with harsh winters.


Furthermore, noise levels and aesthetics can be factors to consider. Air-to-air heat pumps may produce some level of noise due to the air circulation and fans, which could be a consideration if you prioritize a quieter indoor environment. On the other hand, air-to-water systems generally operate quietly since the heat exchange occurs within the unit and doesn’t involve fans.


It’s worth noting that technological advancements and ongoing research in heat pump technology continue to improve the efficiency and performance of both types of systems. It’s beneficial to stay informed about the latest developments and consult with experts who can provide up-to-date information and recommendations.


In conclusion, when choosing between air-to-air and air-to-water heat pump systems, take into account factors such as installation costs, cooling and heating capabilities, hot water requirements, compatibility with existing infrastructure, regional climate, noise considerations, and ongoing advancements in the field. A comprehensive assessment of these factors will help you make an informed decision that best suits your specific needs and goals.

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