How is Reverse Cycle AC Different from Regular AC?

Regarding regulating your household’s temperatures, there’s more than one approach – so understanding the differences in these alternatives is a key factor.

That’s why we’re comparing the two most popular air conditioning systems: the classic air conditioner (AC) and its more dynamic counterpart, the reverse cycle AC.

Together, let’s debunk the complexities so that you can make an informed decision tailored to your home’s heating and cooling needs.

Understanding the Regular Air Conditioner

Regular air conditioning, or cooling-only air conditioning, remains a common choice among homeowners for its primary function. This is to produce cool air and mitigate the heat within an interior space.

Traditional AC units function using a simple cooling system:

  • They gather warm air from within the room using a refrigerant.
  • This refrigerant absorbs the heat, effectively cooling the air.
  • The chilled air is then redistributed back into the room.

This cooling-only process is primarily concerned with temperature reduction, an ideal functionality for those enduring sweltering summer heat.

Enter the Reverse Cycle Air Conditioner

The increased versatility of reverse-cycle air conditioning systems makes them a formidable competitor to regular AC units.

Aside from cooling your home during hot weather, these conditioning systems can also warm your home during the winter. They are a two-in-one package that efficiently handles the extremes of climatic variation.

But how exactly does it work?

The “reverse cycle” refers to the unit’s ability to reverse its air conditioning process. Along with cooling, it can reverse the refrigeration cycle to heat up a room.

In heating mode, the unit:

  1. Extracts heat from the external air (even in colder temperatures) using its refrigerant.
  2. This heat is then transferred to the refrigerant, effectively warming it up.
  3. The heated air is then pumped back into the room, delivering a cosy, warm atmosphere even if it’s chilly outside.

Inverter reverse cycle air conditioner

Breaking Down the Differences

Understanding the differences between traditional AC and reverse cycle AC boils down to knowing their capabilities and limitations:

Heating and Cooling Functions

Many homeowners might assume that an air conditioner’s only function is to cool the air, particularly during the scorching summers. It’s here that the substantial difference between a typical air conditioner and a reverse cycle air conditioner becomes abundantly clear.

An ordinary AC unit, as expected, does an excellent job of bringing down the room temperature during hot spells. But what happens when the seasons shift, and the chill of winter seeps into your house? Unfortunately, these conventional AC units fall short as they can only make your space cooler, not warmer.

Stepping beyond this limitation is the reverse cycle air conditioning system. More than just cooling your house during the sweltering summer, it rises to the occasion on colder days by keeping your home comfortably warm.

Through efficient heating and cooling, the reverse cycle air conditioner provides total climate control, providing you comfort, efficiency and versatility, regardless of the season.

Initial Cost

For cost considerations, cooling-only systems are often cheaper regarding both initial purchase and installation.

However, the total cost can vary based on factors like the system’s size, efficiency and the complexity of the installation.

Conversely, heat pump systems tend to have a higher upfront cost due to their advanced technology and dual functionality. Despite the initial expense, the long-term energy savings may offset this higher cost.


Although the initial investment needed for a reverse-cycle air conditioner might be higher, the affordable running costs are noteworthy.

Given their energy efficiency, they can result in significant savings on your energy bills. This is especially true if you rely heavily on an air conditioner during both the summer and winter.


The versatility of a reverse cycle AC unit allows homeowners to rely on a single service for both heating and cooling needs.

Aside from a better user experience and reduced square footage needed for AC equipment, it also adds aesthetic appeal to your home’s interiors.

Mitsubishi inverter reverse cycle air conditioner

Energy Efficiency

You might wonder if the dual function of the reverse cycle AC system means it consumes more energy. After all, it seems to be pulling double duty.

However, we’re delighted to inform you that reverse cycle air conditioners are designed to be energy efficient, outperforming conventional heaters or electric-based heating systems.

What’s their secret? The answer lies in how they extract and use the heat that’s already available in the outside environment.

When in heating mode, reverse-cycle air conditioning systems absorb heat from the outdoors, even on cold days, and transfer it indoors.

This method is surprisingly efficient when compared to traditional heaters that generate heat from scratch. By harnessing the available heat energy outdoors and moving it indoors, these systems use less energy than you’d expect. When shopping for a reverse cycle air conditioner, always refer to the zoned energy rating label.

Such efficiency not only demonstrates the clever design of reverse-cycle air conditioners but also ensures cost savings, thanks to less energy consumption, for homeowners seeking comfort and cosiness.

Year-Round Use

The suitability of these systems largely depends on the climate and the need for year-round temperature control.

Cooling-only systems are perfect for hot summers and seasonal cooling requirements but are less practical for heating during colder months.

Heat pump systems, due to their dual functionality, are well-suited for regions with varying climate conditions. They can efficiently provide both cooling and heating, providing year-round comfort and versatility.


Maintenance plays a crucial role in providing the optimal performance of an air conditioner regardless of its type. Cooling-only models typically require standard maintenance practices such as the regular cleaning of filters and coils and checking refrigerant levels.

Heat pump systems also require similar maintenance for their cooling function, along with additional checks for the heating component. This may involve examining the defrost cycle and assessing the condition of the outdoor unit to provide efficient year-round operation.

Environmental Impact

Cooling-only systems are known for their significant electricity consumption, which can result in a higher environmental impact. This is especially true in regions where electricity is predominantly generated from fossil fuels.

Heat pump systems, on the other hand, are more environmentally friendly. They operate efficiently by transferring heat rather than generating it, reducing electricity consumption and fewer greenhouse gas emissions associated with heating and cooling.

The Bottom Line

There are many factors to consider in choosing between a regular AC or a reverse cycle air conditioning system. Among these factors include your individual heating and cooling needs, the local climate, energy efficiency goals, and budget.

If you’re someone who requires both efficient cooling and heating in your home, a reverse cycle AC might be the optimal solution. However, should you live in a consistently warmer climate, where a heating function is rarely needed, a regular AC unit may suffice.

Remember, knowledge is power – and understanding the distinctions between these two air conditioner typologies empowers you to bring thermal comfort within your home. As always, consult with a professional HVAC provider to make sure your chosen solution is suitable to your home’s specifications and personal preferences.

For more information, contact the reverse cycle air conditioner specialists at Metropolitan Air Conditioning. We can install and service all the best brands, including ActronAir, AquaMAX, Braemar, Carrier, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Mitsubishi Electric, Fujitsu, Kaden and more.

Please note: This information is provided for advice purposes only. Regulations differ from state to state, so please consult your local authorities or an industry professional before proceeding with any work. See our Terms & Conditions here.

Published: 2023-11-01

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