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 shifting heat instead of creating it (the way a furnace does) which is why it can be used as a two way unit. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, although most air conditioners are about equal in terms of energy efficiency. Just examine 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 guideline for air conditioners, and the higher the number, the cheaper it is to operate. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not crazy however, 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 designed to grade heat pumps. It tells you how efficient the unit is at heating. We can see from these examples by looking at the SEER rating, air conditioners are almost equal, if not even better depending on the AC you choose. The greatest difference between them 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 much more 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 recommend a consultation with a NATE certified HVAC pro who has experience in your region 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 gets too low, it's much harder for the heat pump to draw heat out of the air and it may never hit the temperature setting on your thermostat. This means you may end up running your heat pump non-stop or switching on emergency heat 24/7 during colder months 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 necessary for certain chillier 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 seems, during cold weather, a heat pump is purposed to extract heat from the outside air and use it to warm the inside air. Just because the air outside feels cold, there is still an adequate amount of heat for the heat pump to operate correctly, 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 work perfectly 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 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 certain 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 great alternative for specific northern regions, but extra land must be available in order to install the correct piping for a geothermal system.

We know, we know – you didn’t need another thing to think about when it comes to 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 investing in 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 to schedule a free in-home quote. We are here to answer any and all of your questions to make sure you make the right decision for your home.
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