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 moving heat instead of creating it (furnaces burn fuel to generate heat) which is why it also is used as a dual function unit. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, but also know that most air conditioners are about equal in terms of SEER rating. Just examine these two high quality 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 air conditioners, and the higher the number, the better it is. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not great 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 specially for heat pumps. It tells you how efficient the unit is at heating. We can see from these examples that as far as energy effiency goes, air conditioners are almost equal, if not superior depending on the system you choose. The largest difference between heat pumps and ACs is that heat pumps can also warm up 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 more effective in warm climates with mild 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 deciding on a heat pump. If the equipment just isn't right for your home, you could have very high electric bills. Once the temperature drops 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 could unknowingly begin running your heat pump non-stop or switching on emergency heat 24/7 during colder months 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 necessary for certain chillier climates. That’s because a heat pump has trouble when the temperature hits about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. As strange as it may seem, during heating season, a heat pump is intended to remove heat from the outdoors and use it to raise the temperature of the inside air. Although it may be too cool outside for comfort, there is still plenty of available heat for the heat pump to operate correctly, but at exceptionally low temperatures there is not enough heat available outside to warm the inside air to higher temperatures needed to stay warm. So while a heat pump may work perfectly during the heating season for someone in Tampa, someone living in upstate New York with a heat pump may also need a furnace for the more extreme temperatures. If freezing temperatures hit and you don’t have a furnace to take over, a heat pump could 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 fantastic alternative for certain 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 understand 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 multiple 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 free in-home quote. We are here to answer any and all of your questions to ensure you choose the right option for your home.
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