DIY or Not? Heat pump or straight cool

With so many residents throughout Greater Central Florida sending in questions and remarks revolving around the construction industry, West Orlando News Online has partnered with time-trusted community industry leaders to answer your questions and offer expert guidance.

Launching this community outreach program, April Knowles of Apopka wants to know:

My a/c and heating unit seems to be on its last leg. With so many changes with technology, who do I trust when it comes to replacing my system and what is the best system to go with?”

Let’s begin with the easy part, as an HVAC specialist with Tropical Air of Central Florida (been with the company since the family owned business began, 2005), which company to trust with your air conditioning and heating concerns, from new installations to servicing to maintenance, I know you won’t go wrong with the family and professionals at Tropical.

With a system on its last leg, you need to seriously consider replacing the unit immediately and moving into the 21st century with a high efficient system that will decrease your energy bill AND get you through rough weather conditions confidently. As for which system to go with, we’ll review a few things to consider when deciding what type of system may be your best bet.

First thing to take into consideration is the climate you’re in
If you happen to live in a northern region of Florida where temperatures can plummet below 40°F in the winter, a heat pump system alone may not be enough to maintain your desired level of comfort. Come to think of it, for those in the Central Florida area, a heat pump system alone may not be enough to maintain your desired level of comfort either. Much depends upon YOUR comfort level… and no one knows your comfort level better than you!

Time for an educational exercise: As strange as it may sound, a heat pump works by capturing the heat outside and moving it inside. Now you may ask yourself, how is it supposed to capture any heat when its 40°F outside? Good question as I am still scratching my head too…

Truth is that temperatures above absolute zero (around -459°F) contain stored heat energy. In other words, the temperature difference between any two temperatures is heat energy ripe for the taking. Since it becomes hard to extract heat from temperatures below 40°F, it is recommended that a secondary heat source be included when a heat pump is installed in climates prone to colder weather. That’s why a heat pump system alone is not always the best option.

Even here in Florida, Tropical Air of Central Florida always install auxiliary electric heat strips for the instance that it gets abnormally cold or in emergencies when the heat pump may not be running properly. In other words, Ms. Knowles, even if the area may not get below 40°F often, we will make sure you keep nice and warm for any unexpected times… these little things make a big difference when it comes to your comfort.

For those in an area that averages below 40°F in the winter, your best option would be a straight cool system with a gas furnace (whether it be Natural or LP). If a gas furnace isn’t an option, a heat pump system with auxiliary electric heat strips would be the next best choice.

Second thing to take into consideration is your comfort level
If you are used to the heat provided by gas furnaces or electric heat strips, the change to a heat pump system may leave you scratching your head, but only for a little while. To complicate the situation a bit further, supply temperatures of 120° F are normal for gas and electric heating systems. While this does allow for rapid heating of the house, it can also leave cold spots.

With temperatures this high pumping into your home, the thermostat may get to the desired comfort level quicker than it should, leaving areas of the home colder than the “set to” temperature. Making sense yet? Don’t feel alone if you are a bit lost… that’s why we take time to discuss these issues and how best to satisfy your comfort with each client before decisions are sealed… after all, making sure you remain comfortable requires a partnership based upon an educated judgment and trust.

Did you know: The average temperature for a heat pump in heating mode without auxiliary electric heat strips is between 80° F-90° F. For most, this is high enough to heat the house as families typically keep their homes set to between 68° F-72° F.

Lastly, you want to consider energy efficiency
Heat pumps are gaining the reputation of being the go to system for energy efficiency. By taking out the need for electric resistance heating, your electric consumption will be reduced.

The argument has been made that when heating, a heat pump system runs the indoor and outdoor equipment. Going one step further, one could assume it would be more costly than just an air handler with electric heat strips. Visually, the difference can be seen by looking at the amp draw.

An amp draw is the measure of electrical current flowing through a conductor or the energy being consumed, in this case, by the system. An air handler by itself can sometimes pull about 1 amp when just blowing air. With the electric heat strips active, it may pull 25 or more amps. A heat pump on the other hand, pulls about 6 to 10 amps total plus the 1 amp the air handler is pulling. In total, you are looking at a difference of around 14 amps less power consumption with the heat pump system versus standard straight cool with electric heat strips.

Though confusing, when temperatures get below the 40°F mark, your heat pump system will rely on its secondary heat source to help make up the difference.

To summarize and to get back to Ms. Knowles, there are a lot of things to take into consideration when deciding what kind of system to install. We briefly touched only three of the main issues one should review. Ultimately the decision must come from you and the company you partner with. I do know we resolved the “which company can I trust” part and now we need to look at budget, comfort level, and overall objective(s).

There is no one-size fitting all solution and for this reason, we always recommend having a professional evaluate your home, concerns, and comfort. No matter your decision or which company you trust to partner with, give me a call and I’ll be glad to offer an objective and professional opinion.

Keeping you cool (and warm) is what the trusted family at Tropical Air of Central Florida is all about.

Chris Crites, HVAC Specialist
Tropical Air of Central Florida,


  1. I’ve used their service before, and want to say that they did an excellent job. Not only do they complete their work, but they leave you with little pieces of information that can help you keep the condition of your ac good. Don’t hesitate to call them.

  2. Wow, great article. I’m stuck in the same dilemma, except I have a packaged unit under a tree. My house is also largely shaded, great for summer, bad for winter. In any case, it seems like a heat pump would make more sense if you don’t demand too much from it. Would it be a bad idea to get a heat pump without the strips?


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