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 cooling. It works by moving heat instead of creating it (the way a furnace does) which is why it also is used as a dual function unit. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, although most air conditioners are similar in terms of SEER rating. Just examine 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 rating for ACs, and the higher the number, the cheaper it is to operate. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not astounding however, and the efficiency varies depending on the model. On the other hand, HSPF is another scale that stands for "heating seasonal performance factor" and is unique to heat pumps. It tells you how efficient the unit is at heating. We can see from these examples that as far as energy effiency goes, air conditioners are mostly equal, if not superior depending on the system you choose. The greatest 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 most effective in warmer 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 recommend a consultation with a NATE certified HVAC pro who has experience in your area before getting your heart set on a heat pump. If the equipment just isn't right for your area, 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 hit the temperature setting on your thermostat. This means you might start running your heat pump non-stop or switching on emergency heat 24/7 during winter which drives your energy consumption through the roof.

How does a heat pump compare to a furnace?


A furnace is a more robust heating system and is essential for certain cooler climates. That’s because a heat pump has trouble when the temperature hits about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. As weird as it sounds, during heating season, a heat pump is purposed to remove heat from the air outside and use it to warm the inside air. Just because the air outside feels cold, there is still a sufficient amount of heat for the heat pump to function well, but at extremely 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 Tampa, someone living in upstate New York with a heat pump would likely also need a furnace for the more extreme temperatures. If you don’t have a furnace that kicks in when the freezing temperatures hit, the heat pump can run for hours trying to keep your home warm enough.

How to achieve maximum efficiency with your heat pump


In some areas, heat pumps can be used 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 actual temperature to heat and cool. This is a wonderful alternative for particular northern climates, but extra land must be available in order to install the correct 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 consider 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 additional systems when one would suffice.

If you’re not sure which system would work best for you, call Teays Valley Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning to schedule a no-charge in-home quote. We are available to answer any and all of your questions to help you choose the right option for your home.
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