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 cooling. It works by transferring heat instead of creating it (the way a furnace does) which is why it can be used as a two way system. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, although most air conditioners are roughly equivalent in terms of their efficiency. Just compare 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 scale for ACs, and the bigger the number, the cheaper it is to operate. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not crazy however, and the efficiency differs 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 when comparing efficiency ratings, air conditioners are mostly equal, if not a little better depending on the system you choose. The largest difference between heat pumps and ACs 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 most effective in hotter climates with mild winters, save for some integrated systems that use heat pumps as a backup, such as with a geothermal system. You should speak with a ACE certified HVAC tech 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 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 cold snaps which drives your energy consumption way up.

How does a heat pump compare to a furnace?


A furnace is a more robust heating system and is necessary for certain chillier climates. That’s because a heat pump has trouble when the temperature hits about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. As odd as it may sound, during cold weather, 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 work properly, but at exceptionally low temperatures there is not sufficient heat available outside to heat the air inside to high enough temperatures needed to keep warm. So while a heat pump may work perfectly 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 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 many 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 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 needed 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 examine the pros and cons of each heating and cooling system so you don’t end up installing 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 Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning 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.