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 shifting heat instead of generating it (unlike furnaces) which is why it also is 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 examine 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 scale for ACs, and the higher the number, the better it is. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not astounding 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 specially for heat pumps. It tells you how efficient the system is at heating. Notice from these examples when comparing efficiency ratings, air conditioners are about equal, if not a little better depending on the AC you choose. The largest difference between heat pumps and ACs is that heat pumps can also add warmth to 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 more 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 technician 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 very 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 colder months which drives your energy consumption way up.

How does a heat pump compare to a furnace?


A furnace is a more powerful heating system and is necessary for certain chillier climates. That’s because a heat pump has difficulty when the weather hits about 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 degrees Celsius. As strange as it sounds, during cold weather, a heat pump is purposed to extract heat from the outdoors and use it to heat the inside air. Just because the air outside feels cold, there is still plenty of available heat for the heat pump to function well, but at extremely low temperatures there is not enough heat available outside to heat the air inside to high enough temperatures needed to keep warm. So while a heat pump may be great during the cooler temperatures for someone in Orlando, 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 because it is not burning fossil fuels and, instead, uses the Earth’s native temperature to heat and cool. This is a fantastic alternative for specific northern areas, but more land must be available in order to install the necessary 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 review the pros and cons of each heating and cooling system so you don’t end up investing in a system that doesn’t work 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 Air Engineers Service Experts to schedule a no-charge in-home quote. We are available to answer any and all of your questions to make sure you make the right decision for your home.
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