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 AC. It works by transferring heat instead of making it (the way a furnace does) which is why it can be used as a heating and cooling system. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, but 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 guideline for ACs, and the higher the number, the more efficient it is. 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 a rating system that stands for "heating seasonal performance factor" and is specially for heat pumps. It tells you how efficient the system is at heating. We can see from these examples when comparing efficiency ratings, air conditioners are about equal, if not even better depending on the AC you choose. The greatest difference between heat pumps and ACs is that heat pumps can also heat 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 mild 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 technician 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 drops too low, it's near impossible 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 could unknowingly begin 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 compare to a furnace?


A furnace is a more robust heating system and is necessary for certain cooler climates. That’s because a heat pump has trouble when the weather hits about 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 degrees Celsius. As peculiar as it sounds, during heating season, a heat pump is designed to pull heat from the outside air and use it to warm the inside air. Even when it feels cold outside, there is still plenty of available heat for the heat pump to function well, 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 work perfectly 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 some areas, heat pumps can function 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 natural temperature to heat and cool. This is a fantastic alternative for certain northern areas, 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 examine the pros and cons of each heating and cooling system so you don’t end up investing in a system that doesn’t work when extreme temperatures hit, or investing in multiple systems when one would suffice.

If you’re not sure which system would work best for you, call Rolf Griffin Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning to schedule a free in-home quote. We are happy to answer any and all of your questions to ensure you choose the right option for your home.
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