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 shifting heat instead of creating it (furnaces burn fuel to generate heat) which is why it can be used as a heating and cooling system. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, but also know that 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 scale for ACs, and the higher the number, the cheaper it is to operate. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not crazy however, and the efficiency varies depending on the model. On the other hand, HSPF is a different standard that stands for "heating seasonal performance factor" and is unique to heat pumps. It tells you how efficient the unit is at heating. You can tell from these examples by looking at the SEER rating, air conditioners are mostly equal, if not superior depending on the AC you choose. The biggest difference between the two is that heat pumps can also heat 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 more 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 encourage you to consult with a NATE certified HVAC tech who has experience in your city before deciding on a heat pump. If the equipment just isn't right for your home, you could have very high electric bills. Once the temperature drops too low, it's much harder for the heat pump to draw heat out of the air and it may never warm your home to the temperature you set. This means you might end up 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 powerful heating system and is necessary for certain colder climates. That’s because a heat pump has issues when the weather hits about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or 4.4 degrees Celsius. As unusual as it seems, during heating season, a heat pump is designed to remove heat from the outdoors and use it to heat the inside air. Even when it feels cold outside, there is still a sufficient amount of heat for the heat pump to function well, but in exceptionally cold climates there is not ample heat available outside to increase the inside temperature high enough 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 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 many areas, heat pumps can be used 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 natural temperature to heat and cool. This is a wonderful alternative for specific northern regions, but extra land must be available in order to install the correct 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 doesn’t work when extreme temperatures hit, or investing in multiple systems when one would suffice.

If you’re not sure which system would work best for you, call Strogen's Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning to schedule a complimentary in-home quote. We are happy to answer any and all of your questions to help you make the right choice for your home.
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