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 AC. It works by shifting heat instead of generating it (the way a furnace does) which is why it is used as a heating and cooling appliance. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, although most air conditioners are roughly equivalent in terms of energy efficiency. Just compare these two top of the line cooling 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 ACs, and the higher the number, the more efficient it is. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not astounding though, and the efficiency varies depending on the model. On the other hand, HSPF is another scale that stands for "heating seasonal performance factor" and is specially for heat pumps. It tells you how efficient the system is at heating. Notice from these examples when comparing efficiency ratings, air conditioners are mostly equal, if not superior depending on the AC you choose. The greatest difference between heat pumps and ACs is that heat pumps can also heat your home while an AC cannot.

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 much more effective in warmer climates with less severe winters, save for some integrated systems that use heat pumps as an auxiliary, such as with a geothermal system. You should speak with a NATE certified HVAC pro who has experience in your region before settling on a heat pump. If the equipment just isn't right for your climate, you could have extremely high electric bills. Once the temperature sinks too low, it's much harder for the heat pump to draw heat out of the air and it may never reach the temperature set by your thermostat. This means you might end up running your heat pump non-stop or switching on emergency heat 24/7 during colder months which drives your energy consumption through the roof.

How does a heat pump stack up against a furnace?


A furnace is a more powerful heating system and is essential for certain colder climates. That’s because a heat pump has trouble when the weather hits about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. As peculiar as it may sound, during heating season, a heat pump is purposed to pull heat from the air outside and use it to raise the temperature of the inside air. Just because the air outside feels cold, there is still a sufficient amount of heat for the heat pump to operate correctly, but at exceptionally 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 great during the winter months 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 some 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 wonderful alternative for specific northern climates, but more land must be available in order to install the necessary piping for a geothermal system.

When it comes to home comfort, you probably didn’t need anything else to think about; 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 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 free 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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