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 moving heat instead of making it (unlike furnaces) 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 about equal in terms of energy efficiency. Just compare 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 rating for ACs, and the bigger the number, the cheaper it is to operate. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not crazy though, and the efficiency differs 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. Notice from these examples when comparing efficiency ratings, air conditioners are about equal, if not superior depending on the AC you choose. The greatest difference between the two 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 most effective in warmer 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 tech who has experience in your city before deciding on a heat pump. If the equipment just isn't right for your home, you could have extremely high electric bills. Once the temperature gets too low, it's near impossible 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 could start 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 powerful heating system and is critical for certain chillier climates. That’s because a heat pump has trouble when the temperatures hit about 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 degrees Celsius. As odd as it sounds, during cooler temperatures, a heat pump is intended to extract heat from the outdoors and use it to warm the inside air. Just because the air outside feels cold, there is still plenty of available heat for the heat pump to function well, but in exceptionally cold climates there is not enough heat available outside to increase the inside temperature high enough 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 may also need a furnace for the more extreme temperatures. If you’re living in those colder climates without a furnace to kick in during freezing temperatures, a heat pump may run for hours trying to make your home warm enough for comfort.

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 because it is not burning fossil fuels and, instead, uses the Earth’s actual temperature to heat and cool. This is a fantastic alternative for specific northern climates, but extra land must be available in order to install the needed 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 purchasing a system that doesn’t work when extreme temperatures hit, or investing in two 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 ensure you choose the right option for your home.
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