Heat Pump vs. Air Conditioner: Which One is Right for Cooling Your Home

March 28, 2016

Although heat is part of the name, you can use a heat pump for cooling. It works by shifting heat instead of making it (furnaces burn fuel to generate heat) which is why it is used as a heating and cooling appliance. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, but also know that most air conditioners are similar in terms of SEER rating. Just compare these two luxury level cooling 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 larger the number, the more efficient it is. 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 unit is at heating. Notice from these examples that as far as energy effiency goes, air conditioners are almost equal, if not even better depending on the AC you choose. The biggest 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 less severe winters, save for some integrated systems that use heat pumps as an auxiliary, such as with a geothermal system. We recommend a consultation with a NATE certified HVAC tech who has experience in your area before settling on a heat pump. If the equipment just isn't right for your climate, you could have very 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 reach the temperature set by your thermostat. This means you may start 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 stack up against a furnace?


A furnace is a more powerful heating system and is essential for certain colder climates. That’s because a heat pump has difficulty when the weather hits about 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 degrees Celsius. As peculiar as it may sound, during heating season, a heat pump is intended to pull heat from the air outside and use it to raise the temperature of 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 enough 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 heating season 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 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 natural temperature to heat and cool. This is a fantastic alternative for specific 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 examine the pros and cons of each heating and cooling system so you don’t end up investing in a system that turns off when extreme temperatures hit, or investing in two systems when one would suffice.

If you can’t decide which system would best fit your needs, call Knochelmann 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 ensure you make the right decision for your home.
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