Heat Pump vs. Air Conditioner: Which One is Right for Cooling Your Home

March 28, 2016

Although heat is included in the name, you can use a heat pump for AC. It works by transferring heat instead of generating it (furnaces burn fuel to generate heat) which is why it is used as a two way unit. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, but also know that most air conditioners are roughly equivalent in terms of their efficiency. Just compare these two top of the line units from Lennox.

XC25 air conditioner from Lennox

XC25 Air Conditioner
up to 26 SEER
ENERGY STAR® Qualified

XP25 Heat pump from Lennox

XP25 Heat Pump
up to 23.5 SEER
up to 10.2 HSPF
ENERGY STAR® Qualified



What is SEER and HSPF?


SEER is an efficiency rating for air conditioning systems, and the higher the number, the cheaper it is to operate. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not astounding however, and the efficiency differs depending on the model. On the other hand, HSPF is a different standard that stands for "heating seasonal performance factor" and is unique to heat pumps. It tells you how efficient the system is at heating. Notice from these examples by looking at the SEER rating, air conditioners are about equal, if not a little better depending on the model you choose. The greatest difference between them is that heat pumps can also heat your home while an AC only cools.

Updated minimum SEER guidelines for 2018 for air conditioning units and heat pumps
Updated minimum SEER guidelines for 2018 for air conditioning units and heat pumps


Does climate matter for heat pumps?


Heat pumps are most effective in warm climates with less severe winters, save for some integrated systems that use heat pumps as a backup, such as with a geothermal system. We encourage you to consult with a NATE certified HVAC technician who has experience in your area before settling on a heat pump. If the equipment just isn't right for your climate, you could have unnecessarily high electric bills. Once the temperature sinks too low, it's near impossible for the heat pump to draw heat out of the air and it may never warm your home to the temperature you set. This means you may end up running your heat pump non-stop or switching on emergency heat 24/7 during cold snaps which drives your energy consumption way up.

How does a heat pump compare with a furnace?


A furnace is a stronger heating system and is critical for certain cooler climates. That’s because a heat pump has difficulty when the temperatures hit about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or 4.4 degrees Celsius. As peculiar as it may seem, during cooler temperatures, a heat pump is intended to extract heat from the air outside and use it to warm the inside air. Just because the air outside feels cold, there is still plenty of available heat for the heat pump to work properly, but at exceptionally low temperatures there is not ample heat available outside to heat the air inside to high enough temperatures needed to keep warm. So while a heat pump may be great during the heating season for someone in Daytona Beach, someone living in upstate New York with a heat pump would likely also need a furnace for the more extreme temperatures. If you’re living in those colder climates without a furnace to kick in during freezing temperatures, a heat pump may run for hours trying to make your home warm enough for comfort.

How to achieve maximum efficiency with your heat pump


In certain areas, heat pumps can work with geothermal systems, and the heating source is better for the environment since it is not burning fossil fuels and, instead, uses the Earth’s native temperature to heat and cool. This is a fantastic alternative for particular northern climates, but extra land must be available in order to install the correct piping for a geothermal system.

We know, we know – you didn’t need another thing to think about when it comes to home comfort; but, remember, it’s important to understand the pros and cons of each heating and cooling system so you don’t end up installing a system that turns off when extreme temperatures hit, or investing in additional systems when one would suffice.

If you can’t decide which system would best fit your needs, call Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning to schedule a complimentary in-home quote. We are happy to answer any and all of your questions to make sure you make the right choice for your home.
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