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 moving heat instead of making it (unlike furnaces) which is why it also is used as a heating and cooling unit. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, but also know that most air conditioners are roughly equivalent in terms of their efficiency. 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 rating for ACs, and the higher the number, the better it is. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not great however, and the efficiency changes 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 unit is at heating. You can tell 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 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 much more effective in warmer climates with mild winters, save for some integrated systems that use heat pumps as a backup, such as with a geothermal system. We encourage you to consult with a NATE certified HVAC pro 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 unnecessarily 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 hit the temperature setting on your thermostat. This means you might end up running your heat pump non-stop or switching on emergency heat 24/7 during colder months which drives your energy consumption up.

How does a heat pump compare to a furnace?


A furnace is a stronger heating system and is necessary for certain cooler climates. That’s because a heat pump has trouble when the temperatures hit about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. As weird as it may sound, during cooler temperatures, a heat pump is designed to remove heat from the outside air and use it to warm 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 exceptionally low temperatures there is not ample 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 heating season for someone in Orlando, someone living in upstate New York with a heat pump may 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 some 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 natural temperature to heat and cool. This is a great alternative for certain northern regions, but more land must be available in order to install the necessary 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 turns off when extreme temperatures hit, or investing in additional systems when one would suffice.

If you’re not sure which system would work best for you, call Fras-Air/General Service Experts to schedule a no-charge in-home quote. We are here to answer any and all of your questions to help you make the right choice for your home.
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