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 AC. It works by transferring heat instead of generating it (furnaces burn fuel to generate heat) which is why it also is used as a two way system. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, although most air conditioners are roughly equivalent in terms of their efficiency. Just look at these two high quality 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 ACs, and the higher the number, the cheaper it is to operate. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not crazy however, and the efficiency changes 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. You can tell 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 largest 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 more effective in hotter climates with less severe 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 NATE certified HVAC tech who has experience in your city before settling on a heat pump. If the equipment just isn't right for your climate, 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 could start running your heat pump non-stop or switching on emergency heat 24/7 during winter which drives your energy consumption up.

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 trouble when the temperatures hit about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. As unusual as it may seem, during cold weather, a heat pump is designed to extract heat from the outdoors and use it to raise the temperature of the inside air. Just because the air outside feels cold, there is still plenty of available heat for the heat pump to function well, but at exceptionally low temperatures there is not ample heat available outside to warm the inside air to higher temperatures needed to stay warm. So while a heat pump may work perfectly during the winter months for someone in Tampa, 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 many areas, heat pumps can work 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 particular northern climates, 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 installing a system that turns off 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 Midway Services to schedule a free 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.
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