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 cooling. It works by transferring heat instead of making it (unlike furnaces) which is why it can be used as a dual function unit. 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 look at these two high quality units 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 cheaper it is to operate. 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 specially for heat pumps. It tells you how efficient the equipment is at heating. We can see from these examples when comparing efficiency ratings, air conditioners are almost equal, if not even better depending on the AC you choose. The greatest difference between them 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 more effective in warmer climates with less severe winters, save for some integrated systems that use heat pumps as a backup, such as with a geothermal system. We recommend a consultation 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 very high electric bills. Once the temperature sinks 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 might unknowingly begin running your heat pump non-stop or switching on emergency heat 24/7 during colder months which drives your energy consumption way up.

How does a heat pump compare to a furnace?


A furnace is a more robust heating system and is critical for certain colder climates. That’s because a heat pump has trouble when the temperature hits about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. As unusual as it sounds, during heating season, a heat pump is intended to pull heat from the air outside and use it to raise the temperature of the inside air. Just because the air outside feels cold, there is still an adequate amount of heat for the heat pump to function well, but at extremely low temperatures there is not ample heat available outside to warm the inside air to higher temperatures needed to stay warm. So while a heat pump may be great during the cooler temperatures for someone in Orlando, someone living in upstate New York with a heat pump may 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 many areas, heat pumps can work 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 certain northern climates, but additional land must be available in order to install the proper 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 understand the pros and cons of each heating and cooling system so you don’t end up purchasing a system that shuts down when extreme temperatures hit, or investing in additional systems when one would suffice.

If you’re not sure which system would work best for you, call San Antonio Air Service Experts to schedule a complimentary in-home quote. We are happy to answer any and all of your questions to ensure you make the right choice for your home.
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