Heat Pump vs. Air Conditioner: Which One is Right for Cooling Your Home

March 28, 2016

Although heat is included in the name, you can use a heat pump for air conditioning. It works by transferring heat instead of creating it (the way a furnace does) which is why it can be used as a dual function system. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, although most air conditioners are similar in terms of energy efficiency. Just examine these two luxury level 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 cheaper it is to operate. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not astounding 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. We can see from these examples that as far as energy effiency goes, air conditioners are about equal, if not even better depending on the system 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 most effective in hotter climates with milder 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 tech 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 unnecessarily 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 may start running your heat pump non-stop or switching on emergency heat 24/7 during winter which drives your energy consumption up.

How does a heat pump compare with a furnace?


A furnace is a more powerful heating system and is necessary for certain cooler climates. That’s because a heat pump has difficulty when the temperature hits about 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 degrees Celsius. As odd as it may seem, during cooler temperatures, a heat pump is intended to remove heat from the air outside and use it to heat the inside air. Even when it feels cold outside, there is still plenty of available heat for the heat pump to function well, but at extremely low temperatures there is not ample heat available outside to warm the inside air to higher temperatures needed to stay warm. So while a heat pump may be ideal 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 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 many areas, heat pumps can work 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 native temperature to heat and cool. This is a wonderful alternative for particular northern climates, but additional land must be available in order to install the required 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 purchasing a system that doesn’t work when extreme temperatures hit, or investing in two 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 make sure you make the right decision for your home.
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