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 AC. It works by moving heat instead of making it (furnaces burn fuel to generate heat) which is why it is used as a dual function system. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, but also know that most air conditioners are roughly equivalent in terms of energy efficiency. Just examine these two high quality 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 bigger the number, the more efficient it is. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not astounding though, 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 specially for heat pumps. It tells you how efficient the unit is at heating. You can tell from these examples by looking at the SEER rating, air conditioners are mostly equal, if not a little better depending on the model you choose. The greatest difference between heat pumps and ACs is that heat pumps can also add warmth to your home while an AC can't.

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 much more effective in hotter climates with less severe winters, save for some integrated systems that use heat pumps as an 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 getting your heart set on a heat pump. If the equipment just isn't right for your area, you could have extremely 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 hit the temperature setting on your thermostat. This means you could unknowingly begin 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 to a furnace?


A furnace is a stronger heating system and is critical for certain chillier climates. That’s because a heat pump has issues when the temperature hits about 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 degrees Celsius. As odd as it sounds, during heating season, a heat pump is designed to pull heat from the air outside and use it to warm the inside air. Even when it feels cold outside, there is still a sufficient amount of heat for the heat pump to work properly, but at exceptionally low temperatures there is not sufficient heat available outside to increase the inside temperature high enough to stay warm. So while a heat pump may work perfectly during the heating season for someone in Daytona Beach, someone living in upstate New York with a heat pump may 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 certain areas, heat pumps can be used 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 actual temperature to heat and cool. This is a fantastic alternative for particular northern areas, but more land must be available in order to install the essential 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 consider 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 can’t decide which system would best fit your needs, call Midland Air Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning to schedule a no-charge in-home quote. We are happy to answer any and all of your questions to help you make the right decision for your home.
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