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 air conditioning. It works by shifting heat instead of making it (furnaces burn fuel to generate heat) which is why it is used as a dual function appliance. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, but also know that most air conditioners are roughly equivalent in terms of energy efficiency. Just look at these two top of the line systems 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 scale for air conditioners, and the higher the number, the cheaper it is to operate. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not great however, 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. We can see from these examples when comparing efficiency ratings, air conditioners are almost equal, if not even better depending on the model you choose. The largest difference between them 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 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 pro who has experience in your city before getting your heart set on a heat pump. If the equipment just isn't right for your area, 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 hit the temperature setting on your thermostat. 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 up.

How does a heat pump compare with a furnace?


A furnace is a more robust heating system and is critical for certain colder climates. That’s because a heat pump has issues when the weather hits about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or 4.4 degrees Celsius. As weird as it sounds, during heating season, a heat pump is designed to pull heat from the outdoors and use it to warm the inside air. Although it may be too cool outside for comfort, there is still a sufficient amount of heat for the heat pump to function well, but at extremely low temperatures there is not enough heat available outside to warm the inside air to higher temperatures needed to stay warm. So while a heat pump may be ideal during the cooler temperatures 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 don’t have a furnace that kicks in when the freezing temperatures hit, the heat pump can run for hours trying to keep your home warm enough.

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 because it is not burning fossil fuels and, instead, uses the Earth’s native temperature to heat and cool. This is a great alternative for certain northern areas, but more land must be available in order to install the essential piping for a geothermal system.

Just what you needed – one more thing to think about when it comes to your home comfort; but, remember, it’s important to review the pros and cons of each heating and cooling system so you don’t end up purchasing a system that turns off when extreme temperatures hit, or investing in multiple 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 no-charge in-home quote. We are available to answer any and all of your questions to help you make the right choice for your home.
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