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 transferring heat instead of creating it (unlike furnaces) which is why it also is used as a dual function system. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, but most air conditioners are roughly equivalent in terms of energy efficiency. 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 rating for air conditioners, and the bigger the number, the more efficient it is. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not great though, and the efficiency differs depending on the model. On the other hand, HSPF is another scale that stands for "heating seasonal performance factor" and is specially for heat pumps. It tells you how efficient the system is at heating. Notice from these examples when comparing efficiency ratings, air conditioners are about equal, if not a little better depending on the system you choose. The largest difference between heat pumps and ACs 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 most 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 recommend a consultation with a NATE certified HVAC technician who has experience in your region before settling on a heat pump. If the equipment just isn't right for your climate, you could have very 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 hit the temperature setting on your thermostat. This means you could start 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 essential for certain cooler climates. That’s because a heat pump has issues when the temperatures hit about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. As strange as it may seem, during cooler temperatures, a heat pump is intended to pull heat from the outdoors and use it to warm the inside air. Just because the air outside feels cold, there is still a sufficient amount of heat for the heat pump to work properly, but at extremely low temperatures there is not ample heat available outside to heat the air inside to high enough temperatures needed to keep warm. So while a heat pump may be ideal during the cooler temperatures for someone in Tampa, 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 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 natural temperature to heat and cool. This is a wonderful alternative for particular northern climates, but more land must be available in order to install the essential 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 buying a system that shuts down when extreme temperatures hit, or investing in two systems when one would suffice.

If you can’t decide which system would best fit your needs, call Strand Brothers Service Experts to schedule a free in-home quote. We are happy to answer any and all of your questions to make sure you choose the right option for your home.
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