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 AC. It works by moving heat instead of making it (the way a furnace does) which is why it also is used as a heating and cooling system. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, although most air conditioners are roughly equivalent in terms of SEER rating. Just look at these two top of the line units 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 rating for air conditioning systems, and the bigger the number, the cheaper it is to operate. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not crazy however, and the efficiency differs depending on the model. On the other hand, HSPF is a rating system that stands for "heating seasonal performance factor" and is unique to heat pumps. It tells you how efficient the unit 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 largest difference between the two 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 a backup, such as with a geothermal system. You should speak with a NATE certified HVAC pro 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 gets too low, it's near impossible 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 end up running your heat pump non-stop or switching on emergency heat 24/7 during cold snaps which drives your energy consumption way up.

How does a heat pump stack up against a furnace?


A furnace is a stronger heating system and is essential for certain cooler climates. That’s because a heat pump has difficulty when the temperature hits about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or 4.4 degrees Celsius. As weird as it may seem, during cooler temperatures, a heat pump is purposed to pull heat from the air outside and use it to raise the temperature of 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 warm the inside air to higher temperatures needed to stay warm. So while a heat pump may be great during the heating season for someone in Daytona Beach, 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 as it is not burning fossil fuels and, instead, uses the Earth’s natural temperature to heat and cool. This is a wonderful alternative for particular northern regions, but more land must be available in order to install the essential 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 review the pros and cons of each heating and cooling system so you don’t end up buying a system that shuts down 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 here to answer any and all of your questions to help you make the right decision for your home.
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