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 making it (the way a furnace does) which is why it is used as a two way appliance. 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 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 ACs, and the larger the number, the better it is. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not astounding 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 designed to grade heat pumps. It tells you how efficient the system is at heating. We can see from these examples by looking at the SEER rating, air conditioners are mostly equal, if not even better depending on the system you choose. The biggest difference between heat pumps and ACs 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 more effective in warmer climates with less severe winters, save for some integrated systems that use heat pumps as backups or auxiliary, such as with a geothermal system. We recommend a consultation 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 very high electric bills. Once the temperature gets 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 start running your heat pump non-stop or switching on emergency heat 24/7 during colder months which drives your energy consumption through the roof.

How does a heat pump stack up against a furnace?


A furnace is a stronger heating system and is essential for certain colder climates. That’s because a heat pump has issues when the weather hits about 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 degrees Celsius. As odd as it may seem, during cold weather, a heat pump is intended to pull heat from the air outside and use it to raise the temperature of the inside air. Although it may be too cool outside for comfort, there is still an adequate amount of heat for the heat pump to function well, but in exceptionally cold climates 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 great 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 don’t have a furnace that kicks in when the freezing temperatures hit, the heat pump can run for hours trying to keep your home warm enough.

How to achieve maximum efficiency with your heat pump


In certain 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 actual temperature to heat and cool. This is a wonderful alternative for particular northern areas, but additional land must be available in order to install the required 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 installing a system that turns off when extreme temperatures hit, or investing in multiple systems when one would suffice.

If you still aren’t convinced which system is best for your home, call A-PLUS 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 choose the right option for your home.
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