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 AC. It works by shifting heat instead of generating it (unlike furnaces) which is why it also is used as a dual function unit. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, but also know that most air conditioners are roughly equivalent in terms of SEER rating. Just look at these two luxury level 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 rating for ACs, and the higher the number, the more efficient it is. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not great though, and the efficiency varies depending on the model. On the other hand, HSPF is another scale that stands for "heating seasonal performance factor" and is unique to heat pumps. It tells you how efficient the unit is at heating. You can tell from these examples that as far as energy effiency goes, air conditioners are about equal, if not a little better depending on the AC you choose. The largest difference between them 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 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 city before deciding on a heat pump. If the equipment just isn't right for your home, you could have very high electric bills. Once the temperature sinks 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 winter which drives your energy consumption up.

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 weird as it sounds, during heating season, a heat pump is purposed to extract heat from the outside air and use it to raise the temperature of the inside air. Although it may be too cool outside for comfort, there is still plenty of available heat for the heat pump to work properly, but at extremely low temperatures 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 heating season for someone in Orlando, someone living in upstate New York with a heat pump may 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 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 natural temperature to heat and cool. This is a fantastic alternative for specific northern climates, but additional land must be available in order to install the proper 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 installing a system that turns off when extreme temperatures hit, or investing in additional systems when one would suffice.

If you can’t decide which system would best fit your needs, call A1 Chesney Service Experts to schedule a free in-home quote. We are happy to answer any and all of your questions to make sure you make the right decision for your home.
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