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 transferring 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 most air conditioners are roughly equivalent 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 guideline for ACs, and the larger the number, the more efficient it is. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not crazy though, and the efficiency varies 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. Notice from these examples that as far as energy effiency goes, air conditioners are mostly equal, if not even better depending on the AC you choose. The greatest difference between them is that heat pumps can also add warmth to 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 warm climates with mild winters, save for some integrated systems that use heat pumps as an auxiliary, such as with a geothermal system. You should speak with a NATE certified HVAC technician who has experience in your city 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 near impossible 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 start running your heat pump non-stop or switching on emergency heat 24/7 during winter which drives your energy consumption up.

How does a heat pump compare to a furnace?


A furnace is a more powerful heating system and is essential for certain colder climates. That’s because a heat pump has difficulty when the temperature hits about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or 4.4 degrees Celsius. As odd as it may sound, during cold weather, a heat pump is designed to extract heat from the air outside and use it to warm the inside air. Just because the air outside feels cold, there is still plenty of available heat for the heat pump to function well, but at exceptionally low temperatures 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 great during the heating season 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 some areas, heat pumps can work 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 wonderful alternative for particular northern climates, but extra land must be available in order to install the needed 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’re not sure which system would work best for you, call McKinley Heating Service Experts to schedule a free in-home quote. We are happy to answer any and all of your questions to help you make the right choice for your home.
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