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 transferring heat instead of creating it (the way a furnace does) which is why it also is used as a two way system. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, but also know that most air conditioners are similar in terms of their efficiency. Just examine these two top of the line 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 air conditioners, and the larger the number, the better 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 another scale that stands for "heating seasonal performance factor" and is specially for heat pumps. It tells you how efficient the equipment is at heating. Notice from these examples when comparing efficiency ratings, air conditioners are about equal, if not superior depending on the AC you choose. The biggest difference between the two is that heat pumps can also warm up 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 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. You should speak with a NATE certified HVAC pro who has experience in your area before deciding on a heat pump. If the equipment just isn't right for your home, you could have extremely high electric bills. Once the temperature drops 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 might end up 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 stack up against a furnace?


A furnace is a stronger heating system and is critical for certain chillier climates. That’s because a heat pump has issues when the temperatures hit about 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 degrees Celsius. As odd as it sounds, during cooler temperatures, a heat pump is designed to remove heat from the outdoors and use it to heat the inside air. Even when it feels cold outside, there is still an adequate amount of heat for the heat pump to work properly, but at exceptionally low temperatures there is not sufficient 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 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 because it is not burning fossil fuels and, instead, uses the Earth’s natural temperature to heat and cool. This is a wonderful alternative for specific 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 understand the pros and cons of each heating and cooling system so you don’t end up installing a system that shuts down when extreme temperatures hit, or investing in additional systems when one would suffice.

If you still aren’t convinced which system is best for your home, call Mountainwest 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 decision for your home.
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