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 transferring heat instead of creating it (furnaces burn fuel to generate heat) which is why it can be used as a two way appliance. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, but also know that most air conditioners are roughly equivalent in terms of SEER rating. 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 scale 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 a different standard that stands for "heating seasonal performance factor" and is unique to heat pumps. It tells you how efficient the equipment is at heating. Notice from these examples that as far as energy effiency goes, air conditioners are about equal, if not superior depending on the model you choose. The greatest difference between them is that heat pumps can also add warmth to 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 most effective in warm climates with mild 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 getting your heart set on a heat pump. If the equipment just isn't right for your area, you could have extremely 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 could start running your heat pump non-stop or switching on emergency heat 24/7 during colder months which drives your energy consumption up.

How does a heat pump compare to a furnace?


A furnace is a stronger heating system and is critical for certain chillier climates. That’s because a heat pump has difficulty when the temperature hits about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or 4.4 degrees Celsius. As unusual as it sounds, during cold weather, a heat pump is purposed to remove heat from the air outside and use it to heat the inside air. Just because the air outside feels cold, there is still a sufficient amount of heat for the heat pump to operate correctly, but at extremely low temperatures there is not enough heat available outside to increase the inside temperature high enough to stay warm. So while a heat pump may work perfectly during the heating season for someone in Orlando, 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 function 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 natural temperature to heat and cool. This is a fantastic alternative for particular northern climates, but additional land must be available in order to install the required piping for a geothermal system.

We know, we know – you didn’t need another thing to think about when it comes to home comfort; but, remember, it’s important to examine the pros and cons of each heating and cooling system so you don’t end up purchasing a system that shuts down 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 here to answer any and all of your questions to make sure you make the right decision for your home.
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