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 cooling. It works by transferring heat instead of generating it (furnaces burn fuel to generate heat) which is why it can be used as a heating and cooling unit. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, but most air conditioners are similar in terms of SEER rating. Just look at these two luxury level 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 higher the number, the cheaper it is to operate. 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 another scale that stands for "heating seasonal performance factor" and is unique to heat pumps. It tells you how efficient the system is at heating. We can see from these examples that as far as energy effiency goes, air conditioners are mostly equal, if not even better depending on the AC you choose. The greatest difference between heat pumps and ACs is that heat pumps can also heat 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 hotter climates with less severe winters, save for some integrated systems that use heat pumps as an auxiliary, such as with a geothermal system. We encourage you to consult with a NATE certified HVAC tech who has experience in your area 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 difficult for the heat pump to draw heat out of the air and it may never warm your home to the temperature you set. This means you might start running your heat pump non-stop or switching on emergency heat 24/7 during cold snaps which drives your energy consumption through the roof.

How does a heat pump compare with a furnace?


A furnace is a more robust heating system and is essential for certain cooler climates. That’s because a heat pump has trouble when the temperatures hit about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or 4.4 degrees Celsius. As strange as it sounds, during cooler temperatures, a heat pump is intended to extract heat from the outdoors 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 in exceptionally cold climates 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 Daytona Beach, someone living in upstate New York with a heat pump would probably 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 some 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 actual temperature to heat and cool. This is a wonderful alternative for particular northern climates, but more land must be available in order to install the essential 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 examine the pros and cons of each heating and cooling system so you don’t end up purchasing a system that turns off 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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