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 (the way a furnace does) which is why it is used as a two way appliance. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, although most air conditioners are similar in terms of SEER rating. Just examine these two luxury level 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 bigger the number, the more efficient it is. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not astounding though, 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. You can tell from these examples when comparing efficiency ratings, air conditioners are about equal, if not superior depending on the system you choose. The greatest difference between them is that heat pumps can also warm up your home while an AC only cools.

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 milder 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 technician who has experience in your region 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 drops too low, it's much harder 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 may 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 compare with a furnace?


A furnace is a more powerful heating system and is critical for certain cooler 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 seem, during cooler temperatures, a heat pump is intended to remove heat from the outdoors and use it to heat the inside air. Even when it feels cold outside, there is still a sufficient amount of heat for the heat pump to operate correctly, but at exceptionally low temperatures there is not ample heat available outside to heat the air inside to high enough temperatures needed to keep warm. So while a heat pump may work perfectly during the cooler temperatures 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 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 many 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 native temperature to heat and cool. This is a great alternative for particular northern regions, but more land must be available in order to install the essential 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 investing in a system that shuts down 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 Parker Pearce Service Experts Heating & Air Conditioning to schedule a free in-home quote. We are here to answer any and all of your questions to make sure you make the right choice for your home.
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