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

March 28, 2016

Although heat is part of the name, you can use a heat pump for air conditioning. It works by moving heat instead of creating it (furnaces burn fuel to generate heat) which is why it can be used as a heating and cooling system. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, although most air conditioners are roughly equivalent in terms of energy efficiency. Just look at these two luxury level 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 guideline for air conditioners, and the larger the number, the more efficient it is. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not great though, and the efficiency varies depending on the model. On the other hand, HSPF is a rating system that stands for "heating seasonal performance factor" and is designed to grade heat pumps. It tells you how efficient the unit is at heating. Notice from these examples that as far as energy effiency goes, air conditioners are about equal, if not even better depending on the AC you choose. The largest difference between the two is that heat pumps can also add warmth to 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 hotter climates with milder winters, save for some integrated systems that use heat pumps as an auxiliary, such as with a geothermal system. We recommend a consultation with a NATE certified HVAC tech who has experience in your city before settling on a heat pump. If the equipment just isn't right for your climate, you could have very high electric bills. Once the temperature drops 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 winter which drives your energy consumption way up.

How does a heat pump compare with a furnace?


A furnace is a more powerful heating system and is critical for certain colder climates. That’s because a heat pump has difficulty when the temperatures hit about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. As weird as it sounds, during cooler temperatures, a heat pump is purposed to pull heat from the outdoors and use it to heat the inside air. Even when it feels cold outside, there is still a sufficient amount of heat for the heat pump to operate correctly, but in exceptionally cold climates there is not sufficient heat available outside to warm the inside air to higher temperatures needed to stay warm. So while a heat pump may work perfectly during the heating season for someone in Orlando, someone living in upstate New York with a heat pump would likely also need a furnace for the more extreme temperatures. If freezing temperatures hit and you don’t have a furnace to take over, a heat pump could run for hours trying to keep your home warm enough.

How to achieve maximum efficiency with your heat pump


In many areas, heat pumps can function 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 actual temperature to heat and cool. This is a wonderful alternative for certain northern areas, but additional land must be available in order to install the proper 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 consider the pros and cons of each heating and cooling system so you don’t end up buying a system that shuts down when extreme temperatures hit, or investing in multiple systems when one would suffice.

If you still aren’t convinced which system is best for your home, call Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning to schedule a complimentary in-home quote. We are available to answer any and all of your questions to make sure you make the right choice for your home.
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