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 system. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, but most air conditioners are about equal in terms of energy efficiency. Just look at 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 air conditioners, and the higher the number, the more efficient it is. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not astounding 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 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 biggest difference between heat pumps and ACs is that heat pumps can also warm up your home while an AC can't.

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 backups or auxiliary, such as with a geothermal system. We recommend a consultation with a NATE certified HVAC pro who has experience in your region before getting your heart set on a heat pump. If the equipment just isn't right for your area, you could have unnecessarily high electric bills. Once the temperature drops 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 colder months 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 weather hits about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. As weird as it may sound, during heating season, a heat pump is designed to extract heat from the outdoors and use it to heat 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 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 work perfectly 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 many areas, heat pumps can function 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 certain northern climates, 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 shuts down when extreme temperatures hit, or investing in additional 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 decision for your home.
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