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 (unlike furnaces) which is why it is used as a heating and cooling appliance. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, but most air conditioners are similar in terms of their efficiency. Just examine these two top of the line 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 ACs, and the larger the number, the more efficient it is. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not astounding however, and the efficiency changes 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 equipment is at heating. You can tell from these examples by looking at the SEER rating, air conditioners are almost equal, if not superior depending on the system you choose. The largest difference between them is that heat pumps can also add warmth to your home while an AC cannot.

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 mild 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 technician who has experience in your region before deciding on a heat pump. If the equipment just isn't right for your home, 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 might 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 compare to a furnace?


A furnace is a more robust heating system and is critical for certain cooler climates. That’s because a heat pump has trouble when the temperature hits about 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 degrees Celsius. As peculiar as it seems, during cooler temperatures, a heat pump is designed to pull heat from the outside air and use it to raise the temperature of the inside air. Even when it feels cold outside, there is still an adequate amount of heat for the heat pump to work properly, but at exceptionally low temperatures there is not ample heat available outside to heat the air inside to high enough temperatures needed to keep warm. So while a heat pump may work perfectly during the heating season 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 you’re living in those colder climates without a furnace to kick in during freezing temperatures, a heat pump may run for hours trying to make your home warm enough for comfort.

How to achieve maximum efficiency with your heat pump


In many areas, heat pumps can be used 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 specific northern areas, but extra land must be available in order to install the needed 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 consider 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’re not sure which system would work best for you, call Barlow Service Experts to schedule a free in-home quote. We are available to answer any and all of your questions to ensure you make the right choice for your home.
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