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

March 28, 2016

Although heat is included in the name, you can use a heat pump for air conditioning. It works by transferring heat instead of generating it (the way a furnace does) which is why it also is used as a two way system. 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 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 air conditioners, and the larger the number, the better it is. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not crazy however, 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 unique to heat pumps. It tells you how efficient the unit is at heating. You can tell from these examples that as far as energy effiency goes, air conditioners are mostly equal, if not superior depending on the AC you choose. The greatest difference between heat pumps and ACs 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 much more effective in warm 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 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 sinks too low, it's much harder 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 end up running your heat pump non-stop or switching on emergency heat 24/7 during cold snaps which drives your energy consumption up.

How does a heat pump stack up against a furnace?


A furnace is a more robust heating system and is critical for certain cooler climates. That’s because a heat pump has trouble when the temperature hits about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or 4.4 degrees Celsius. As unusual as it may sound, during cold weather, a heat pump is intended to pull heat from the outdoors and use it to warm the inside air. Although it may be too cool outside for comfort, there is still plenty of available heat for the heat pump to work properly, 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 cooler temperatures for someone in Orlando, someone living in upstate New York with a heat pump would probably 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 certain 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 natural temperature to heat and cool. This is a great alternative for specific northern climates, 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 consider the pros and cons of each heating and cooling system so you don’t end up investing in a system that doesn’t work when extreme temperatures hit, or investing in additional 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 make sure you choose the right option for your home.
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