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 AC. 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 unit. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, but also know that most air conditioners are about equal in terms of energy 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 air conditioners, and the bigger the number, the cheaper it is to operate. 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. You can tell from these examples that as far as energy effiency goes, air conditioners are mostly equal, if not superior depending on the model you choose. The greatest difference between the two is that heat pumps can also warm up 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 most effective in hotter climates with milder 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 ACE certified HVAC technician 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 extremely 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 reach the temperature set by your thermostat. 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 cooler climates. That’s because a heat pump has difficulty when the weather hits about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. As unusual as it may seem, during heating season, a heat pump is designed to pull heat from the outdoors and use it to warm 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 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 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 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 two systems when one would suffice.

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