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 creating it (the way a furnace does) which is why it is used as a dual function system. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, although most air conditioners are similar in terms of energy efficiency. Just examine these two luxury level units 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 air conditioners, and the larger the number, the cheaper it is to operate. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not crazy though, and the efficiency differs depending on the model. On the other hand, HSPF is a rating system that stands for "heating seasonal performance factor" and is unique to heat pumps. It tells you how efficient the system is at heating. You can tell from these examples that as far as energy effiency goes, air conditioners are about equal, if not a little better depending on the AC you choose. The largest difference between them is that heat pumps can also warm up 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 most effective in warmer climates with less severe winters, save for some integrated systems that use heat pumps as a backup, such as with a geothermal system. You should speak with a NATE certified HVAC technician who has experience in your region 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 might start running your heat pump non-stop or switching on emergency heat 24/7 during colder months which drives your energy consumption up.

How does a heat pump stack up against a furnace?


A furnace is a more powerful heating system and is necessary for certain chillier 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 seems, during heating season, a heat pump is intended to extract heat from the outdoors and use it to raise the temperature of the inside air. Although it may be too cool outside for comfort, there is still an adequate amount of heat for the heat pump to operate correctly, but in exceptionally cold climates there is not sufficient heat available outside to warm the inside air to higher temperatures needed to stay 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 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 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 native temperature to heat and cool. This is a great alternative for particular northern regions, but more land must be available in order to install the essential 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 understand the pros and cons of each heating and cooling system so you don’t end up buying a system that doesn’t work 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 Epperson Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning to schedule a free in-home quote. We are here to answer any and all of your questions to ensure you make the right choice for your home.
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