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 shifting heat instead of creating it (the way a furnace does) which is why it can be used as a two way system. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, although most air conditioners are similar in terms of SEER rating. Just compare 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 conditioners, and the bigger the number, the better it is. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not crazy however, and the efficiency changes depending on the model. On the other hand, HSPF is a rating system 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 by looking at the SEER rating, air conditioners are mostly equal, if not even better depending on the AC you choose. The greatest difference between the two 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 most effective in warm climates with mild winters, save for some integrated systems that use heat pumps as a backup, such as with a geothermal system. You should speak 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 gets too low, it's difficult 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 may start running your heat pump non-stop or switching on emergency heat 24/7 during cold snaps which drives your energy consumption way 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 trouble when the weather hits about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. As odd as it may sound, during cooler temperatures, a heat pump is purposed to remove heat from the air outside and use it to warm the inside air. Just because the air outside feels cold, 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 winter months for someone in Tampa, someone living in upstate New York with a heat pump would probably 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 work 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 fantastic alternative for specific northern regions, but more land must be available in order to install the essential 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 understand the pros and cons of each heating and cooling system so you don’t end up investing in 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 Komfort Air to schedule a free in-home quote. We are happy to answer any and all of your questions to help you choose the right option for your home.
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