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 transferring heat instead of generating it (the way a furnace does) which is why it is used as a heating and cooling system. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, although most air conditioners are roughly equivalent in terms of SEER rating. Just look at 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 rating for ACs, and the larger the number, the more efficient it is. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not great though, and the efficiency varies 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 even better depending on the AC you choose. The biggest difference between them 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 warm climates with less severe 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 pro who has experience in your region before getting your heart set on a heat pump. If the equipment just isn't right for your area, you could have unnecessarily high electric bills. Once the temperature drops too low, it's difficult for the heat pump to draw heat out of the air and it may never warm your home to the temperature you set. This means you may end up 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 stack up against a furnace?


A furnace is a stronger heating system and is essential for certain cooler climates. That’s because a heat pump has issues when the temperatures hit about 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 degrees Celsius. As odd as it seems, during cold weather, a heat pump is designed to remove heat from the outdoors and use it to raise the temperature of the inside air. Although it may be too cool outside for comfort, there is still an adequate amount of heat for the heat pump to work properly, but at extremely 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 be great during the heating season for someone in Daytona Beach, someone living in upstate New York with a heat pump would probably 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 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 specific northern areas, 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 review the pros and cons of each heating and cooling system so you don’t end up investing in a system that doesn’t work when extreme temperatures hit, or investing in multiple systems when one would suffice.

If you can’t decide which system would best fit your needs, call Freschi Service Experts to schedule a complimentary in-home quote. We are here to answer any and all of your questions to make sure you make the right choice for your home.
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