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 AC. It works by transferring heat instead of creating it (unlike furnaces) which is why it can be used as a dual function system. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, but most air conditioners are similar in terms of SEER rating. Just compare these two top of the line 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 conditioners, and the higher the number, the more efficient it is. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not great 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 specially for heat pumps. It tells you how efficient the unit is at heating. Notice from these examples when comparing efficiency ratings, air conditioners are mostly equal, if not a little better depending on the model you choose. The greatest difference between them is that heat pumps can also warm up 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 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 ACE certified HVAC tech who has experience in your region before deciding on a heat pump. If the equipment just isn't right for your home, you could have extremely 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 unknowingly begin 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 compare with a furnace?


A furnace is a stronger heating system and is necessary for certain cooler climates. That’s because a heat pump has difficulty when the weather hits about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or 4.4 degrees Celsius. As weird as it may seem, during cold weather, a heat pump is designed to extract heat from the air outside 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 work properly, but in exceptionally cold climates there is not sufficient heat available outside to heat the air inside to high enough temperatures needed to keep warm. So while a heat pump may be ideal during the winter months 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 don’t have a furnace that kicks in when the freezing temperatures hit, the heat pump can run for hours trying to keep your home warm enough.

How to achieve maximum efficiency with your heat pump


In certain areas, heat pumps can be used 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 certain northern regions, but additional land must be available in order to install the proper 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 examine 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 multiple 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 no-charge in-home quote. We are available to answer any and all of your questions to make sure you choose the right option for your home.
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