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 air conditioning. It works by shifting heat instead of making 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 also know that most air conditioners are similar in terms of SEER rating. Just examine these two luxury level 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 cheaper it is to operate. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not crazy 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 designed to grade heat pumps. It tells you how efficient the equipment is at heating. You can tell from these examples by looking at the SEER rating, air conditioners are almost equal, if not even better depending on the AC you choose. The largest difference between the two is that heat pumps can also warm up 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 most effective in hotter climates with milder winters, save for some integrated systems that use heat pumps as a backup, such as with a geothermal system. You should speak with a NATE certified HVAC technician who has experience in your city 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 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 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 trouble when the temperature hits about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. As odd as it may seem, during heating season, a heat pump is designed to remove heat from the outside air and use it to heat the inside air. Just because the air outside feels cold, there is still plenty of available heat for the heat pump to work properly, but at extremely low temperatures there is not enough heat available outside to heat the air inside to high enough temperatures needed to keep warm. So while a heat pump may be ideal during the winter months 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’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 some areas, heat pumps can function 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 fantastic alternative for particular northern areas, but additional land must be available in order to install the required 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 examine the pros and cons of each heating and cooling system so you don’t end up installing a system that doesn’t work when extreme temperatures hit, or investing in two 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 free in-home quote. We are happy to answer any and all of your questions to ensure you choose the right option for your home.
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