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 (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, but most air conditioners are roughly equivalent in terms of their efficiency. Just look at 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 ACs, and the larger the number, the better it is. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not great though, and the efficiency changes depending on the model. On the other hand, HSPF is a different standard that stands for "heating seasonal performance factor" and is specially for 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 about equal, if not superior depending on the AC you choose. The biggest difference between heat pumps and ACs 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 warm climates with less severe winters, save for some integrated systems that use heat pumps as a backup, such as with a geothermal system. We encourage you to consult with a NATE certified HVAC tech 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 extremely high electric bills. Once the temperature drops too low, it's much harder 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 cold snaps which drives your energy consumption up.

How does a heat pump compare to a furnace?


A furnace is a more powerful heating system and is critical for certain colder climates. That’s because a heat pump has trouble when the temperatures hit about 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 degrees Celsius. As weird as it seems, during cooler temperatures, a heat pump is designed to extract heat from the air outside and use it to warm 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 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 heating season for someone in Orlando, 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 certain 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.

When it comes to home comfort, you probably didn’t need anything else to think about; but, remember, it’s important to examine the pros and cons of each heating and cooling system so you don’t end up buying a system that shuts down when extreme temperatures hit, or investing in additional systems when one would suffice.

If you still aren’t convinced which system is best for your home, call All American Air 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 choice for your home.
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