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 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 top of the line 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 guideline 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 another scale that stands for "heating seasonal performance factor" and is designed to grade heat pumps. It tells you how efficient the system is at heating. We can see from these examples that as far as energy effiency goes, air conditioners are about equal, if not even better depending on the AC 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 less severe winters, save for some integrated systems that use heat pumps as backups or auxiliary, such as with a geothermal system. We encourage you to consult with a NATE certified HVAC technician 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 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 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 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 issues 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 remove heat from the air outside and use it to raise the temperature of the inside air. Although it may be too cool outside for comfort, 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 be great during the winter months for someone in Orlando, 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 function 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 certain northern areas, but additional land must be available in order to install the required piping for a geothermal system.

Just what you needed – one more thing to think about when it comes to your 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 can’t decide which system would best fit your needs, call Knochelmann Service Experts to schedule a no-charge in-home quote. We are happy to answer any and all of your questions to ensure you make the right decision for your home.
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