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 air conditioning. It works by moving heat instead of creating it (unlike furnaces) which is why it also is used as a two way unit. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, but also know that most air conditioners are roughly equivalent in terms of energy efficiency. Just compare these two luxury level 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 scale for ACs, and the higher the number, the more efficient 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 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. We can see from these examples by looking at the SEER rating, air conditioners are mostly equal, if not even better depending on the AC you choose. The largest difference between the two is that heat pumps can also add warmth to 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 hotter climates with mild 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 technician who has experience in your city before settling on a heat pump. If the equipment just isn't right for your climate, you could have very high electric bills. Once the temperature gets 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 could unknowingly begin 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 powerful heating system and is necessary for certain cooler climates. That’s because a heat pump has trouble when the temperature hits about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or 4.4 degrees Celsius. As unusual as it sounds, during heating season, a heat pump is designed to extract heat from the air outside 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 exceptionally low temperatures there is not sufficient heat available outside to increase the inside temperature high enough 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 freezing temperatures hit and you don’t have a furnace to take over, a heat pump could 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 work with geothermal systems, and the heating source is better for the environment since it is not burning fossil fuels and, instead, uses the Earth’s native temperature to heat and cool. This is a wonderful alternative for certain northern areas, 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 review the pros and cons of each heating and cooling system so you don’t end up investing in 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 complimentary in-home quote. We are happy to answer any and all of your questions to ensure you make the right choice for your home.
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