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 air conditioning. It works by shifting heat instead of generating it (the way a furnace does) which is why it can be used as a dual function appliance. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, although most air conditioners are roughly equivalent in terms of SEER rating. Just look at 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 scale for air conditioners, and the larger the number, the better it is. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not great however, and the efficiency differs 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 when comparing efficiency ratings, air conditioners are almost equal, if not a little better depending on the AC you choose. The biggest difference between them is that heat pumps can also warm up 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 more effective in warmer climates with mild winters, save for some integrated systems that use heat pumps as backups or auxiliary, such as with a geothermal system. We encourage you to consult with a NATE certified HVAC pro who has experience in your city before getting your heart set on a heat pump. If the equipment just isn't right for your area, you could have extremely 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 unknowingly begin running your heat pump non-stop or switching on emergency heat 24/7 during cold snaps which drives your energy consumption through the roof.

How does a heat pump compare to a furnace?


A furnace is a more robust heating system and is critical 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 odd as it may seem, during cooler temperatures, a heat pump is designed to pull heat from the outdoors 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 work properly, but at exceptionally low temperatures there is not sufficient heat available outside to warm the inside air to higher temperatures needed to stay warm. So while a heat pump may work perfectly during the cooler temperatures for someone in Tampa, 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 many 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 actual temperature to heat and cool. This is a fantastic alternative for particular northern climates, but extra land must be available in order to install the needed 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 understand 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 two systems when one would suffice.

If you’re not sure which system would work best for you, call Neal Harris Service Experts to schedule a complimentary in-home quote. We are available to answer any and all of your questions to help you make the right choice for your home.
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