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

March 28, 2016

Although heat is in the name, you can use a heat pump for air conditioning. It works by shifting heat instead of creating it (unlike furnaces) which is why it is 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 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 guideline for ACs, and the higher the number, the more efficient it is. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not great however, and the efficiency changes 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. We can see from these examples that as far as energy effiency goes, air conditioners are mostly equal, if not a little better 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 hotter climates with less severe winters, save for some integrated systems that use heat pumps as an auxiliary, such as with a geothermal system. We encourage you to consult with a NATE certified HVAC pro 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 gets too low, it's difficult 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 might unknowingly begin 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 stack up against a furnace?


A furnace is a more robust heating system and is critical for certain chillier climates. That’s because a heat pump has issues when the temperature hits about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. As unusual as it may sound, during heating season, a heat pump is intended to extract 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 work properly, but in exceptionally cold climates 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 probably 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 many areas, heat pumps can be used with geothermal systems, and the heating source is better for the environment as 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 regions, but extra land must be available in order to install the needed 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 installing a system that turns off 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 make sure you make the right choice for your home.
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