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 air conditioning. It works by moving heat instead of generating it (furnaces burn fuel to generate heat) which is why it is used as a two way unit. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, although most air conditioners are similar in terms of energy efficiency. Just examine 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 rating for air conditioning systems, and the higher the number, the more efficient 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 designed to grade heat pumps. It tells you how efficient the unit is at heating. You can tell from these examples when comparing efficiency ratings, air conditioners are almost equal, if not superior depending on the system you choose. The biggest difference between heat pumps and ACs is that heat pumps can also heat 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 much more effective in warm climates with mild winters, save for some integrated systems that use heat pumps as backups or auxiliary, such as with a geothermal system. We recommend a consultation with a NATE certified HVAC technician 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 unnecessarily 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 reach the temperature set by your thermostat. This means you could 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 to a furnace?


A furnace is a more powerful heating system and is necessary 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 peculiar as it may sound, during cooler temperatures, a heat pump is designed to pull heat from the outside air and use it to heat the inside air. Even when it feels cold outside, there is still plenty of available heat for the heat pump to work properly, 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 be ideal during the cooler temperatures for someone in Orlando, someone living in upstate New York with a heat pump would likely 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 be used with geothermal systems, and the heating source is better for the environment since it is not burning fossil fuels and, instead, uses the Earth’s native temperature to heat and cool. This is a great alternative for certain northern areas, 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 consider 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 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 free in-home quote. We are here to answer any and all of your questions to ensure you make the right decision for your home.
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