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 (the way a furnace does) 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 about equal in terms of their efficiency. Just examine 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 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 varies depending on the model. On the other hand, HSPF is a rating system that stands for "heating seasonal performance factor" and is unique to heat pumps. It tells you how efficient the system is at heating. You can tell from these examples that as far as energy effiency goes, air conditioners are about equal, if not a little better depending on the AC you choose. The greatest difference between them is that heat pumps can also heat 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 warm climates with milder 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 stack up against a furnace?


A furnace is a more robust heating system and is necessary for certain colder climates. That’s because a heat pump has trouble when the temperatures hit about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or 4.4 degrees Celsius. As unusual as it may sound, during cooler temperatures, a heat pump is intended to pull heat from the outdoors 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 operate correctly, 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’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 some 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 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 examine the pros and cons of each heating and cooling system so you don’t end up installing a system that shuts down 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 Heating & Air Conditioning to schedule a no-charge 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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