Reverse cycle air conditioning: warmth and cool air for your home

Popular in summer when the hot weather gets a bit too much, air conditioning is an essential product for many households looking to cool their homes, in the UK and elsewhere. It's easy to see why! Monobloc or split, portable or wall mounted, in the bedroom or lounge, there’s a type of air conditioner to suit everyone’s needs and preferences. And the reverse cycle model is certainly flexible! Cool air or warmth: compare the range of different models available and discover the system that will keep you comfortable in winter and summer alike.

What is a reverse cycle air conditioner?

How does a reverse cycle air conditioning system work? 

Reverse cycle air conditioning is a 2-in-1 air conditioning system that can produce heat or cold air depending on the temperature you want to achieve in the room (or rooms if it’s a multi-split model for example) where you install it. You may also hear it referred to as a “reversible heat pump” or “hot/cold reverse cycle air conditioning”.

While a conventional air conditioner can only produce cold air, a reverse cycle air conditioner works by reversing the refrigerant cycle to produce either heat or cold air. Specifically:

  •        In “heating” mode, it uses a small amount of electrical energy to absorb warmth from the outside air, even in cold weather, and transfer it into your home to warm one or more rooms.
  •        In “air conditioning” mode, it absorbs heat inside the home and expels it outside to cool the air.

Air-to-air heat pump and reverse cycle air conditioner: are they the same product? Are there any differences? 

Which term should we be using: reverse cycle air conditioner or air-to-air heat pump? A reverse cycle air conditioner is not an air-to-air heat pump. They are two separate devices. Nevertheless, they work in a very similar way. You can install a reverse cycle air conditioner or an air-to-air heat pump for heating and cooling an area inside your house. Indeed, both products work by extracting warmth from the outside air to transfer it into the home in winter, and the other way round, by extracting warmth from the inside air to expel it outside in summer, for the purpose of cooling the home.

The main difference is that an air-to-air heat pump performs better at heating the house whereas a reverse cycle air conditioner cools more efficiently in the summer. 

The Netatmo Smart Controller lets you control your AC or air-to-air heat pump from anywhere. Adjust the temperatures and settings from your smartphone or tablet using the Home + Control app.

The main advantages of reverse cycle air conditioning 

A reverse cycle air conditioner has many advantages for your home. Let’s take a look at them: 

An energy efficient system 

Reverse cycle air conditioners are known to be more energy efficient than traditional forms of heating. It's the very way reverse cycle air conditioning works that makes it so economical. Indeed, the compressor is the only component that requires electricity to capture the calories present in the outside air and thus bring warmth into the home.  

Inverter technology for even more energy savings

This technology, introduced in the 80s by Toshiba, harmonises the power of the air conditioner in order to avoid constantly stopping and restarting the motor. Indeed, a conventional air conditioner operates in “on/off” mode, i.e. it starts up to warm or cool the room and turns off as soon as the desired temperature is reached. This results in high power consumption because the motor consumes energy each time it restarts (whether electric or otherwise). With Inverter technology, the air conditioner constantly regulates its speed and power to provide a steady temperature. 

Room by room temperature control with a multi-split reverse cycle air conditioner

The ability to control the temperature of each room individually is a considerable advantage of multi-split reverse cycle air conditioning. If the location of your rooms influences the temperature you feel and the thermal comfort in each of them, it’s an investment that will pay off. You will be able to cool down your lounge and warm up a bedroom at the same time, or air condition your entire house at once. Many scenarios are possible depending on your needs. These systems can be attached to a wall and offer a series of benefits such as smart technology and wifi control. So be sure to compare the products on the market to find the best option for you.

Does reverse cycle air conditioning consume a lot of energy?

Reverse cycle air conditioners offer a high standard of energy efficiency. The electricity consumption of a reverse cycle air conditioner will depend on certain criteria such as the size of the space to be air conditioned or the outside temperature. But overall, these products are considered more energy efficient than conventional systems. This is because they use outside air to raise or lower the temperature in your home, rather than generating heat or cold from scratch. In addition, they are generally more efficient at maintaining a constant temperature, which can further reduce energy consumption.

However, bear in mind that electricity consumption can vary considerably depending on certain factors such as the age of your reverse cycle air conditioner, the quality of the unit, etc. So it’s important to choose an efficient reverse cycle air conditioner and arrange regular maintenance by a professional to reduce its power consumption and lower your bills at the end of the month.

Which model of reverse cycle air conditioner is best for your home?

What is a monobloc reverse cycle air conditioner? 

A monobloc or packaged reverse cycle air conditioner uses a single air handling unit for cooling or heating the room in which it is located. Unlike split air conditioning systems, which have more than one unit (an indoor unit and an outdoor unit), a monobloc air conditioner is self-contained so it's easy to install.

Monobloc reverse cycle air conditioners are often used to cool and/or warm up individual rooms or small spaces (bedrooms, offices, studios, etc.). Their power and cooling capacity are limited so they may be less effective than split systems, especially for large areas. 

In addition, these devices' compact size and integrated motor make them rather noisy.

What is a split reverse cycle air conditioner? 

  • Mono-split reverse cycle air conditioner : a mono-split reverse cycle air conditioner is a system that consists of two separate units: an indoor unit and an outdoor unit. The indoor unit is installed in the room to be air conditioned and distributes cold or hot air, while the outdoor unit is installed outside the house and exchanges heat with the outside air. The term “mono-split” means this system has only one inside unit, unlike multi-split systems which may have several. Mono-split reverse cycle air conditioners are often used to air condition individual rooms or small areas, such as bedrooms, lounges or offices. One advantage of a mono-split air conditioner is its relatively simple installation. However, they are generally more expensive than monobloc reverse cycle air conditioners, especially since the outdoor unit and other components have to be installed.
  • Multi-split reverse cycle air conditioner: a multi-split reverse cycle air conditioner consists of several indoor units, all connected to an outdoor unit. The interior units can be installed in various rooms in the house (bedroom, office, lounge etc.). This makes it possible to cool and/or heat several areas in the house, but most importantly, each unit can be controlled individually. Just like in a mono-split system, the outdoor unit provides the heat exchange with the outside air. 

What is the life span of a reverse cycle air conditioner? 

The life span of a reverse cycle air conditioner depends on various factors, including: 

  •        Quality of manufacture: indeed, an entry-level air conditioner will be cheaper but might be less good quality than a top-of-the-range unit and that will have a direct impact on its life span.
  •        Frequency of use: this may seem obvious but the more you run your air conditioner, the more likely it is to wear out over time. So, intensive use is bad: only turn on your air conditioner when you really need it and when weather conditions make it essential.
  •        Regular maintenance: a lack of proper maintenance can shorten the life of your air conditioner. Indeed, an air conditioner has a filter that needs to be cleaned about once a year.

Generally, a well-maintained, good quality reverse cycle air conditioning system can last between 15 and 20 years.

What should I expect to pay for a reverse cycle air conditioner? 

The price of a reversible air conditioning system can vary considerably depending on several factors, such as the number of rooms to be air conditioned, the technology involved (Inverter for example), the complexity of the installation process, the quality of the product, the desired performance (and therefore the power of the air conditioner)…

The simplest and cheapest reverse cycle models can cost around £400 to £900 for a small room, while the cost of a high-end system for a large house can add up to several thousand pounds. You also have to add the cost of installation. This may vary depending on the complexity of the job, the materials needed and labour costs in your area. Tip: have an air conditioning installation professional assess your project and give you an accurate quote based on your needs and budget. You can also compare several quotes before making your final choice. 

Choosing a reverse cycle air conditioner will allow you to feel comfortable in your home in summer and winter alike thanks to the thermal comfort provided by the flexibility of this system (cool air and heating according to the season). Nonetheless, be sure to list all your selection criteria (budget, rooms to be heated or air conditioned, etc.) before making your purchase. Finally, think carefully about the price of installation, which may be added to the initial price.