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 AC. It works by transferring heat instead of making it (unlike furnaces) which is why it can be used as a dual function system. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, although most air conditioners are similar in terms of SEER rating. Just compare 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 guideline for ACs, and the higher the number, the more efficient it is. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not crazy though, and the efficiency changes 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. We can see from these examples that as far as energy effiency goes, air conditioners are almost equal, if not superior depending on the system you choose. The biggest difference between the two 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 warmer climates with milder winters, save for some integrated systems that use heat pumps as a backup, such as with a geothermal system. We encourage you to consult with a NATE certified HVAC tech who has experience in your city before settling on a heat pump. If the equipment just isn't right for your climate, you could have extremely 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 may start running your heat pump non-stop or switching on emergency heat 24/7 during winter which drives your energy consumption through the roof.

How does a heat pump stack up against a furnace?


A furnace is a more powerful heating system and is critical for certain cooler climates. That’s because a heat pump has difficulty when the temperatures hit about 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 degrees Celsius. As strange as it may sound, during cooler temperatures, a heat pump is designed to pull heat from the outside air and use it to warm 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 at extremely 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 probably 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 some areas, heat pumps can work 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 great alternative for certain northern areas, but extra land must be available in order to install the correct 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 consider the pros and cons of each heating and cooling system so you don’t end up purchasing 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 Coastal Service Experts to schedule a free in-home quote. We are here to answer any and all of your questions to help you choose the right option for your home.
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