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 AC. It works by moving heat instead of making it (the way a furnace does) which is why it is used as a dual function unit. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, but also know that most air conditioners are about equal in terms of energy efficiency. Just look at 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 conditioning systems, and the larger the number, the more efficient it is. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not astounding 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 specially for heat pumps. It tells you how efficient the unit is at heating. We can see from these examples by looking at the SEER rating, air conditioners are almost equal, if not even better depending on the model you choose. The largest difference between heat pumps and ACs is that heat pumps can also heat 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 more effective in hotter climates with milder winters, save for some integrated systems that use heat pumps as backups or auxiliary, such as with a geothermal system. We encourage you to consult with a NATE certified HVAC technician who has experience in your area 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 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 could end up 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 robust heating system and is necessary for certain colder climates. That’s because a heat pump has difficulty when the temperature hits about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. As odd as it sounds, during cold weather, a heat pump is designed to extract heat from the air outside and use it to warm the inside air. Even when it feels cold outside, there is still plenty of available heat for the heat pump to operate correctly, but at extremely low temperatures there is not enough heat available outside to warm the inside air to higher temperatures needed to stay warm. So while a heat pump may be ideal during the heating season for someone in Daytona Beach, someone living in upstate New York with a heat pump would probably also need a furnace for the more extreme temperatures. If you don’t have a furnace that kicks in when the freezing temperatures hit, the heat pump can 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 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 native temperature to heat and cool. This is a wonderful alternative for specific northern climates, but more land must be available in order to install the essential piping for a geothermal system.

We know, we know – you didn’t need another thing to think about when it comes to 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 buying a system that turns off when extreme temperatures hit, or investing in two systems when one would suffice.

If you can’t decide which system would best fit your needs, call Donelson Air Service Experts to schedule a no-charge in-home quote. We are here to answer any and all of your questions to help you make the right decision for your home.
Contact Us