Heat Pump vs. Air Conditioner: Which One is Right for Cooling Your Home

March 28, 2016

Although heat is in the name, you can use a heat pump for AC. It works by moving heat instead of making it (furnaces burn fuel to generate heat) which is why it can be used as a dual function unit. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, but most air conditioners are about equal in terms of energy efficiency. Just compare 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 rating for air conditioners, and the larger the number, the more efficient it is. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not great 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 designed to grade heat pumps. It tells you how efficient the unit is at heating. You can tell from these examples by looking at the SEER rating, air conditioners are mostly equal, if not superior depending on the model you choose. The largest difference between them 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 warmer 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 pro who has experience in your city before settling on a heat pump. If the equipment just isn't right for your climate, you could have very high electric bills. Once the temperature sinks too low, it's difficult 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 might unknowingly begin 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 compare with a furnace?


A furnace is a stronger heating system and is necessary for certain chillier climates. That’s because a heat pump has difficulty when the temperature hits about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or 4.4 degrees Celsius. As weird as it may seem, during heating season, a heat pump is intended to pull heat from the outside air and use it to warm the inside air. Just because the air outside feels cold, there is still an adequate amount of heat for the heat pump to operate correctly, but at extremely low temperatures there is not sufficient heat available outside to increase the inside temperature high enough to stay warm. So while a heat pump may work perfectly during the cooler temperatures 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 function 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 particular northern climates, but additional land must be available in order to install the required piping for a geothermal system.

Just what you needed – one more thing to think about when it comes to your 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 purchasing 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 Aramendia Plumbing, Heating and Air to schedule a no-charge in-home quote. We are available to answer any and all of your questions to ensure you choose the right option for your home.
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