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 air conditioning. It works by moving heat instead of creating it (the way a furnace does) which is why it is used as a two way system. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, although most air conditioners are about equal in terms of energy efficiency. Just look at these two luxury level 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 scale for air conditioners, and the larger the number, the better 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 different standard that stands for "heating seasonal performance factor" and is unique to 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 mostly equal, if not superior depending on the model you choose. The biggest difference between heat pumps and ACs is that heat pumps can also warm up 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 much 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 tech 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 unnecessarily high electric bills. Once the temperature sinks 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 may end up 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 with a furnace?


A furnace is a more robust heating system and is necessary for certain cooler climates. That’s because a heat pump has difficulty when the temperatures hit about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or 4.4 degrees Celsius. As unusual as it may sound, during heating season, a heat pump is purposed to extract heat from the air outside and use it to heat the inside air. Even when it feels cold outside, there is still plenty of available heat for the heat pump to function well, but at extremely low temperatures there is not ample heat available outside to increase the inside temperature high enough to stay warm. So while a heat pump may work perfectly during the heating season for someone in Tampa, someone living in upstate New York with a heat pump may 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 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 particular northern areas, but more land must be available in order to install the necessary piping for a geothermal system.

Just what you needed – one more thing to think about when it comes to your home comfort; but, remember, it’s important to review the pros and cons of each heating and cooling system so you don’t end up buying a system that doesn’t work when extreme temperatures hit, or investing in two systems when one would suffice.

If you still aren’t convinced which system is best for your home, call Hammond Plumbing & Heating to schedule a complimentary in-home quote. We are available to answer any and all of your questions to help you choose the right option for your home.
Contact Us