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 transferring heat instead of creating it (unlike furnaces) which is why it also is used as a two way appliance. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, although 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 rating for air conditioning systems, and the larger the number, the cheaper it is to operate. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not astounding however, and the efficiency differs 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 system is at heating. Notice from these examples that as far as energy effiency goes, air conditioners are about equal, if not superior depending on the system you choose. The largest difference between them 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 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. We recommend a consultation with a NATE certified HVAC pro who has experience in your region before getting your heart set on a heat pump. If the equipment just isn't right for your area, you could have very 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 reach the temperature set by your thermostat. This means you could start 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 chillier climates. That’s because a heat pump has difficulty when the weather hits about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. As unusual as it sounds, during heating season, a heat pump is designed to pull heat from the air outside and use it to heat the inside air. Just because the air outside feels cold, there is still plenty of available heat for the heat pump to work properly, 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 work perfectly during the cooler temperatures for someone in Daytona Beach, someone living in upstate New York with a heat pump would likely 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 be used 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 native temperature to heat and cool. This is a wonderful alternative for particular northern areas, but additional land must be available in order to install the required 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 shuts down when extreme temperatures hit, or investing in additional systems when one would suffice.

If you can’t decide which system would best fit your needs, call Boehmers/Cronin Emery Service Experts to schedule a no-charge in-home quote. We are happy to answer any and all of your questions to ensure you make the right decision for your home.
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