What is reverse cycle air conditioning?

Despite the stereotype that Australia is always hot, anyone who lives in here knows that most areas have at least two seasons and some of us even experience four separate seasons. Anything south of the tropics can even get cool / cold in winter.

Just like living in Cairns during summer's heat and humidity without without sounds unbearable - so does braving Melbourne's freezing winter nights without a heater. For this reason, reverse cycle air conditioning systems are the standard choice when installing a new system.

Most people know what a reverse cycle air conditioner is: it's an AC unit that can cool a room and heat it up. However, that's about as far as most people's knowledge on reverse cycle air conditioning goes. Here, we elaborate more on how reverse cycle air conditioning works, its benefits and frequently asked questions surrounding reverse cycle air conditioning.

What is reverse cycle air conditioning?

As mentioned above, reverse cycle air conditioning is a singular system that not only cools a room with the same effect as a normal air conditioner but also warms up a room or area with heating. Basically, it acts like an everyday air conditioner, with the added benefit of being able to warm a space as well.

Air conditioners are normally significantly more efficient than conventional means of heating a room - such as electric bar or oil heaters.

How does reverse cycle air conditioning work?

Reverse cycle air conditioning systems are made up of three major parts: an outdoor condenser unit, an indoor evaporator unit, a reversing valve and the control circuitry including the thermostat.

When a space is being cooled - the refrigerant is compressed at the outdoor unit and this creates heat. This heat is released into the atmosphere by means of the outdoor coil and fan. The compressed refrigerant is then pumped to the indoor unit and expands. The expansion process absorbs heat, and as it does so it passes through the indoor coil. Air is pushed through the indoor coil by a fan, is cooled and released into the air conditioned space. As well as cooling the air it also draws humidity out the air, hence why there is drain pipe fitted to the indoor unit.

When a space is being heated - the process is reversed. The heat release occurs at the indoor unit and the cooling occurs at the outdoor unit. This is why in winter you may find water pooling under your outdoor unit - this is normal behaviour. If this creates a problem the systems can normally have a drain fitted.

All types of air conditioners sold today - ducted air conditioners, split system air conditioners or wall unit - come in reverse cycle.

As long as a reverse cycle air conditioner has been sized correctly, it will be able to reach and maintain whatever temperature the thermostat is set to.

As long as a reverse cycle air conditioner has been sized correctly, it will be able to reach and maintain whatever temperature the thermostat is set to.

Advantages of reverse cycle air conditioning

Energy efficient

The running costs of heating a room through a reverse cycle air conditioner are significantly lower than the costs of using an electric heater. In fact, a reverse cycle air conditioner in heat mode uses approximately one-third of the amount of energy that a plugin electric heater uses.

Reverse cycle air conditioning units are also significantly more economical than gas heaters. For example, the average cost of running a reverse cycle air conditioner on heat between 2.9 -4.2kW in size is approximately $57 over 90 days, with it switched on for three hours a day. On the other hand, the average cost of running a gas heater between 2.9 -4.2kW in size for the same amount of time is $196.


Of course, one of the biggest advantages of a split system air conditioner is the fact that it's multi-use; it can cool and heat. This is economical because only one unit will need to be purchased, rather than paying for a separate heating and cooling system. Reverse cycle air conditioners should be able to cool a room down - or heat it up - to the desired temperature. However, it's important to ensure that you purchase a system with adequate capapcity for the room size you're installing it in. For more information on the correct size AC system to purchase, you can check out our guide here.

A safer way to heat

Plug-in portable heaters or gas heaters can be dangerous devices. We've all heard horror stories of a heater accidentally setting a house on fire. Reverse cycle air conditioners are a much safer way to heat a room as they don't pose the risk of overheating and setting it on fire. Reverse cycle air conditioners are also safer than using a gas system because gas systems produce carbon monoxide. If a gas system is poorly installed or faulty you can run the risk of releasing too much carbon monoxide in a room, which can have devastating health effects.


Can I install my own reverse cycle air conditioning system?

If you're opting for a split system reverse cycle air conditioner, or a ducted reverse cycle air conditioner, you will not be able to legally install the system on your own. Both variations include electrical work and refrigerant handling - both of which require licences.

Installing ducts involves climbing within confined roof spaces. This can be dangerous and should be done by a professional. Experts will have the knowledge on how to move around roof beams safely, one wrong move can cause a ceiling to cave in and accidental falls are also possible.

That being said, if you are installing a reverse cycle window unit, you may be able to install it yourself. You can check out our guide on here to do so, here

Does reverse cycle air conditioning cost any more than a cooling only system?

Not much. Many manufacturers do not make cooling only air conditioners any more. There a few who still do make cooling only systems - but the difference in cost between the a reverse cycle system and cooling only is usually negligible.

Is it possible to have a home inspection to receive a quote for the costs of installing reverse cycle air conditioning?

Absolutely! If you're located in the greater Brisbane area, one of our skilled technicians can travel to assess what sort of reverse cycle air conditioner is best suited to your house. Our experts will be able to explain to you your options and recommend the right size air conditioner, as well as write up a quote for the cost of the system and installation.

Ready for a quote?

If you're interested in installing an air conditioning system, fixing your current one or would just like some more information about your options, get in touch with our friendly team for a quote or to schedule an at home inspection.

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