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 air conditioning. It works by moving heat instead of making it (unlike furnaces) which is why it can be used as a heating and cooling unit. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, but most air conditioners are roughly equivalent in terms of SEER rating. Just compare these two top of the line 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 scale for air conditioners, and the higher the number, the cheaper it is to operate. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not crazy 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 designed to grade heat pumps. It tells you how efficient the equipment is at heating. Notice from these examples that as far as energy effiency goes, air conditioners are about equal, if not a little better depending on the system you choose. The greatest difference between the two 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 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. We recommend a consultation with a ACE certified HVAC pro 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 extremely high electric bills. Once the temperature drops too low, it's much harder 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 could end up running your heat pump non-stop or switching on emergency heat 24/7 during cold snaps which drives your energy consumption through the roof.

How does a heat pump compare with a furnace?


A furnace is a more powerful heating system and is necessary for certain chillier climates. That’s because a heat pump has difficulty when the weather hits about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or 4.4 degrees Celsius. As strange as it sounds, during heating season, a heat pump is intended to extract heat from the outdoors and use it to raise the temperature of the inside air. Even when it feels cold outside, there is still an adequate amount of heat for the heat pump to operate correctly, but in exceptionally cold climates there is not sufficient 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 Orlando, 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 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 native temperature to heat and cool. This is a fantastic alternative for specific northern regions, but additional land must be available in order to install the required 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 investing in a system that shuts down when extreme temperatures hit, or investing in multiple systems when one would suffice.

If you still aren’t convinced which system is best for your home, call 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 make sure you choose the right option for your home.
Contact Us