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 (the way a furnace does) which is why it can be used as a heating and cooling system. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, but most air conditioners are about equal in terms of their efficiency. Just compare 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 scale for ACs, and the higher the number, the more efficient it is. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not crazy however, and the efficiency changes depending on the model. On the other hand, HSPF is a different standard that stands for "heating seasonal performance factor" and is specially for heat pumps. It tells you how efficient the system is at heating. We can see from these examples when comparing efficiency ratings, air conditioners are about equal, if not superior 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 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 much more effective in hotter climates with less severe winters, save for some integrated systems that use heat pumps as an auxiliary, such as with a geothermal system. We encourage you to consult with a NATE certified HVAC technician who has experience in your area 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 near impossible 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 might unknowingly begin 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 colder climates. That’s because a heat pump has difficulty when the weather hits about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or 4.4 degrees Celsius. As weird as it may seem, during cold weather, a heat pump is designed to pull heat from the outside air and use it to raise the temperature of the inside air. Even when it feels cold outside, there is still an adequate amount of heat for the heat pump to operate correctly, 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 ideal during the winter months 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 because 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 extra land must be available in order to install the needed 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 consider the pros and cons of each heating and cooling system so you don’t end up investing in a system that doesn’t work 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 Pardee Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning to schedule a free in-home quote. We are here to answer any and all of your questions to make sure you make the right choice for your home.
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