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 transferring heat instead of creating it (furnaces burn fuel to generate heat) which is why it is used as a two way system. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, but most air conditioners are similar in terms of their efficiency. Just look at these two high quality 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 guideline for air conditioning systems, and the larger the number, the better 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 equipment is at heating. Notice from these examples when comparing efficiency ratings, air conditioners are mostly equal, if not even better depending on the model you choose. The largest difference between heat pumps and ACs is that heat pumps can also warm up 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 more effective in warmer climates with milder winters, save for some integrated systems that use heat pumps as backups or auxiliary, such as with a geothermal system. We recommend a consultation 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 very 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 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 to a furnace?


A furnace is a stronger heating system and is necessary for certain cooler climates. That’s because a heat pump has issues when the weather hits about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or 4.4 degrees Celsius. As unusual as it seems, during cold weather, a heat pump is intended to pull heat from the outside air and use it to warm the inside air. Although it may be too cool outside for comfort, there is still an adequate 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 cooler temperatures 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 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 be used 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 particular northern regions, but extra land must be available in order to install the correct 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 review the pros and cons of each heating and cooling system so you don’t end up buying a system that doesn’t work when extreme temperatures hit, or investing in additional systems when one would suffice.

If you’re not sure which system would work best for you, 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 ensure you choose the right option for your home.
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