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 cooling. It works by transferring heat instead of generating it (furnaces burn fuel to generate heat) 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 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 air conditioners, and the bigger the number, the more efficient it is. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not crazy 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 unit is at heating. We can see from these examples by looking at the SEER rating, air conditioners are almost equal, if not superior depending on the system you choose. The largest difference between them is that heat pumps can also add warmth to 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 hotter climates with milder winters, save for some integrated systems that use heat pumps as a backup, such as with a geothermal system. You should speak with a NATE certified HVAC tech 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 extremely high electric bills. Once the temperature sinks too low, it's difficult for the heat pump to draw heat out of the air and it may never reach the temperature set by your thermostat. This means you might 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 with a furnace?


A furnace is a stronger heating system and is necessary for certain cooler climates. That’s because a heat pump has issues when the temperatures hit about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. As strange as it sounds, during cooler temperatures, a heat pump is intended to extract heat from the air outside and use it to heat the inside air. Just because the air outside feels cold, there is still a sufficient amount of heat for the heat pump to operate correctly, but at exceptionally low temperatures there is not ample heat available outside to increase the inside temperature high enough to stay warm. So while a heat pump may be ideal during the heating season 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 some areas, heat pumps can work with geothermal systems, and the heating source is better for the environment because it is not burning fossil fuels and, instead, uses the Earth’s native temperature to heat and cool. This is a great alternative for particular northern regions, but more land must be available in order to install the essential 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 buying a system that shuts down 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 Gordon's Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning to schedule a no-charge 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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