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

March 28, 2016

Although heat is 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 is used as a dual function system. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, but also know that most air conditioners are roughly equivalent in terms of energy efficiency. Just look at these two luxury level 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 rating for air conditioning systems, and the larger the number, the cheaper it is to operate. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not great though, and the efficiency changes depending on the model. On the other hand, HSPF is a rating system that stands for "heating seasonal performance factor" and is specially for 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 almost equal, if not a little better depending on the model you choose. The biggest difference between heat pumps and ACs is that heat pumps can also warm up your home while an AC cannot.

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 warmer climates with milder winters, save for some integrated systems that use heat pumps as an auxiliary, such as with a geothermal system. You should speak with a NATE certified HVAC pro who has experience in your region before getting your heart set on a heat pump. If the equipment just isn't right for your area, you could have very high electric bills. Once the temperature sinks too low, it's near impossible 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 may start running your heat pump non-stop or switching on emergency heat 24/7 during winter which drives your energy consumption up.

How does a heat pump compare to a furnace?


A furnace is a more robust heating system and is essential for certain chillier climates. That’s because a heat pump has issues when the temperatures hit about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or 4.4 degrees Celsius. As unusual as it sounds, during cooler temperatures, a heat pump is designed to remove heat from the outdoors and use it to heat the inside air. Although it may be too cool outside for comfort, there is still a sufficient amount of heat for the heat pump to function well, but in exceptionally cold climates there is not sufficient 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 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’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 many 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 wonderful alternative for specific northern climates, but additional land must be available in order to install the proper 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 understand 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 can’t decide which system would best fit your needs, call Service Experts Commercial HVAC to schedule a free in-home quote. We are happy to answer any and all of your questions to help you make the right decision for your home.
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