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 generating 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 also know that most air conditioners are about equal in terms of SEER rating. Just compare these two high quality 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 higher the number, the more efficient it is. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not great however, and the efficiency changes depending on the model. On the other hand, HSPF is a rating system that stands for "heating seasonal performance factor" and is designed to grade heat pumps. It tells you how efficient the equipment is at heating. You can tell from these examples by looking at the SEER rating, air conditioners are almost equal, if not even better depending on the system you choose. The greatest difference between heat pumps and ACs is that heat pumps can also heat 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 warm 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 pro who has experience in your area before getting your heart set on a heat pump. If the equipment just isn't right for your area, 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 could unknowingly begin 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 compare to a furnace?


A furnace is a more robust 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. As peculiar as it may seem, during cold weather, a heat pump is purposed to extract heat from the outdoors 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 work properly, but at exceptionally low temperatures there is not sufficient 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 heating season for someone in Daytona Beach, someone living in upstate New York with a heat pump would likely 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 certain areas, heat pumps can function with geothermal systems, and the heating source is better for the environment as it is not burning fossil fuels and, instead, uses the Earth’s native temperature to heat and cool. This is a fantastic alternative for particular northern climates, but more land must be available in order to install the necessary 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 examine 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 Becht/Givens Service Experts to schedule a no-charge in-home quote. We are happy to answer any and all of your questions to ensure you make the right decision for your home.
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