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 AC. It works by transferring heat instead of creating it (the way a furnace does) which is why it also is used as a heating and cooling system. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, but most air conditioners are roughly equivalent in terms of SEER rating. Just examine these two luxury level 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 air conditioners, and the bigger the number, the more efficient it is. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not crazy however, and the efficiency differs depending on the model. On the other hand, HSPF is another scale 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 that as far as energy effiency goes, air conditioners are mostly equal, if not a little better depending on the model you choose. The biggest difference between the two is that heat pumps can also warm up 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 much more effective in warm climates with less severe 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 region before deciding on a heat pump. If the equipment just isn't right for your home, you could have very high electric bills. Once the temperature gets too low, it's much harder for the heat pump to draw heat out of the air and it may never reach the temperature set by your thermostat. This means you could unknowingly begin running your heat pump non-stop or switching on emergency heat 24/7 during winter which drives your energy consumption way up.

How does a heat pump compare with a furnace?


A furnace is a stronger heating system and is essential for certain chillier climates. That’s because a heat pump has difficulty when the temperatures hit about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or 4.4 degrees Celsius. As unusual as it may sound, during cooler temperatures, a heat pump is purposed to extract heat from the outside air 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 work properly, but in exceptionally cold climates there is not enough heat available outside to heat the air inside to high enough temperatures needed to keep warm. So while a heat pump may be ideal during the winter months for someone in Orlando, 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 many areas, heat pumps can be used with geothermal systems, and the heating source is better for the environment as it is not burning fossil fuels and, instead, uses the Earth’s actual temperature to heat and cool. This is a fantastic alternative for certain northern climates, 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 consider the pros and cons of each heating and cooling system so you don’t end up buying a system that turns off 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 Stark Services to schedule a complimentary 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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