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 air conditioning. It works by shifting heat instead of creating it (the way a furnace does) which is why it can be used as a two way unit. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, although most air conditioners are about equal in terms of SEER rating. Just look at these two luxury level 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 better it is. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not great however, and the efficiency differs depending on the model. On the other hand, HSPF is a different standard that stands for "heating seasonal performance factor" and is unique to heat pumps. It tells you how efficient the equipment is at heating. We can see from these examples that as far as energy effiency goes, air conditioners are mostly equal, if not superior depending on the AC you choose. The biggest difference between the two is that heat pumps can also warm up 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 more effective in warm 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 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 unnecessarily high electric bills. Once the temperature drops too low, it's near impossible for the heat pump to draw heat out of the air and it may never hit the temperature setting on your thermostat. This means you may unknowingly begin 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 compare to a furnace?


A furnace is a more robust heating system and is critical for certain colder climates. That’s because a heat pump has trouble when the temperatures hit about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or 4.4 degrees Celsius. As weird as it sounds, during cooler temperatures, a heat pump is intended to extract heat from the outside air and use it to raise the temperature of the inside air. Just because the air outside feels cold, there is still plenty of available heat for the heat pump to operate correctly, 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 great during the winter months 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 many 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 natural temperature to heat and cool. This is a great alternative for specific northern climates, but more land must be available in order to install the necessary 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 purchasing a system that shuts down when extreme temperatures hit, or investing in additional systems when one would suffice.

If you’re not sure which system would work best for you, call D & K Heating Service Experts to schedule a complimentary in-home quote. We are available to answer any and all of your questions to help you make the right choice for your home.
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