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 cooling. It works by transferring heat instead of generating it (unlike furnaces) 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 roughly equivalent in terms of their efficiency. Just look at these two high quality 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 guideline for ACs, and the bigger the number, the more efficient it is. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not astounding though, 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 designed to grade heat pumps. It tells you how efficient the unit is at heating. Notice from these examples that as far as energy effiency goes, air conditioners are mostly equal, if not a little better depending on the model you choose. The biggest difference between the two is that heat pumps can also add warmth to your home while an AC can't.

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 warm climates with less severe 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 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 extremely high electric bills. Once the temperature drops too low, it's difficult 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 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 to a furnace?


A furnace is a stronger heating system and is necessary for certain cooler climates. That’s because a heat pump has issues 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 purposed to remove 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 exceptionally low temperatures there is not enough heat available outside to warm the inside air to higher temperatures needed to stay warm. So while a heat pump may be great during the heating season for someone in Daytona Beach, someone living in upstate New York with a heat pump would probably 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 function 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 great alternative for certain northern areas, but additional land must be available in order to install the proper piping for a geothermal system.

When it comes to home comfort, you probably didn’t need anything else to think about; but, remember, it’s important to consider 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 can’t decide which system would best fit your needs, call Roland J. Down Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning to schedule a complimentary in-home quote. We are here to answer any and all of your questions to ensure you make the right decision for your home.
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