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 cooling. It works by shifting heat instead of generating it (furnaces burn fuel to generate heat) which is why it is used as a heating and cooling system. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, but also know that most air conditioners are similar in terms of energy efficiency. Just compare 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 conditioning systems, and the bigger the number, the better it is. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not great though, and the efficiency varies depending on the model. On the other hand, HSPF is a different standard 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 about equal, if not a little better depending on the AC you choose. The biggest difference between heat pumps and ACs 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 more effective in warm climates with less severe 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 pro who has experience in your city before getting your heart set on a heat pump. If the equipment just isn't right for your area, you could have extremely high electric bills. Once the temperature gets too low, it's much harder for the heat pump to draw heat out of the air and it may never hit the temperature setting on your thermostat. 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 through the roof.

How does a heat pump stack up against a furnace?


A furnace is a more robust heating system and is critical for certain cooler climates. That’s because a heat pump has issues when the temperatures hit about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. As peculiar as it may seem, during cold weather, a heat pump is purposed to pull heat from the outside air and use it to raise the temperature of the inside air. Even when it feels cold outside, there is still plenty of available heat for the heat pump to work properly, but in exceptionally cold climates 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 work perfectly during the winter months for someone in Orlando, 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 certain areas, heat pumps can function with geothermal systems, and the heating source is better for the environment since it is not burning fossil fuels and, instead, uses the Earth’s natural temperature to heat and cool. This is a fantastic alternative for certain northern climates, but more land must be available in order to install the necessary 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 consider the pros and cons of each heating and cooling system so you don’t end up purchasing 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 Stevenson Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning to schedule a complimentary in-home quote. We are here to answer any and all of your questions to help you choose the right option for your home.
Contact Us