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 air conditioning. It works by shifting heat instead of making it (the way a furnace does) which is why it also is used as a dual function appliance. 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 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 rating for air conditioners, and the higher the number, the better it is. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not astounding however, and the efficiency varies depending on the model. On the other hand, HSPF is another scale that stands for "heating seasonal performance factor" and is unique to 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 about equal, if not superior depending on the system you choose. The greatest difference between the two is that heat pumps can also add warmth to 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 milder winters, save for some integrated systems that use heat pumps as a backup, such as with a geothermal system. We recommend a consultation with a NATE certified HVAC pro 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 extremely high electric bills. Once the temperature sinks too low, it's near impossible 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 cold snaps which drives your energy consumption up.

How does a heat pump stack up against a furnace?


A furnace is a stronger heating system and is essential for certain colder climates. That’s because a heat pump has difficulty when the weather hits about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or 4.4 degrees Celsius. As odd as it may sound, during cold weather, a heat pump is purposed to remove heat from the outdoors and use it to raise the temperature of the inside air. Even when it feels cold outside, there is still a sufficient amount of heat for the heat pump to function well, but at exceptionally low temperatures there is not ample heat available outside to increase the inside temperature high enough 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 likely 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 many areas, heat pumps can function with geothermal systems, and the heating source is better for the environment because 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 climates, but extra land must be available in order to install the needed 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 investing in a system that shuts down 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 Church Services to schedule a complimentary in-home quote. We are here to answer any and all of your questions to ensure you make the right decision for your home.
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