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 AC. It works by transferring heat instead of creating it (furnaces burn fuel to generate heat) which is why it also is used as a two way appliance. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, but most air conditioners are about equal in terms of energy efficiency. Just look at these two top of the line 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 ACs, and the bigger the number, the better it is. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not astounding 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. Notice from these examples that as far as energy effiency goes, air conditioners are mostly equal, if not even better depending on the model you choose. The largest 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 most effective in hotter climates with milder winters, save for some integrated systems that use heat pumps as a backup, such as with a geothermal system. We encourage you to consult with a NATE certified HVAC pro who has experience in your area before settling on a heat pump. If the equipment just isn't right for your climate, you could have unnecessarily high electric bills. Once the temperature gets 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 with a furnace?


A furnace is a more powerful heating system and is essential for certain colder climates. That’s because a heat pump has difficulty when the temperatures hit about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. As odd as it seems, during cold weather, a heat pump is purposed to remove heat from the air outside and use it to raise the temperature of the inside air. Although it may be too cool outside for comfort, there is still plenty of available heat for the heat pump to work properly, but at exceptionally 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 Orlando, someone living in upstate New York with a heat pump may also need a furnace for the more extreme temperatures. If you don’t have a furnace that kicks in when the freezing temperatures hit, the heat pump can 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 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 fantastic alternative for particular northern regions, but additional land must be available in order to install the required 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 examine the pros and cons of each heating and cooling system so you don’t end up purchasing a system that turns off 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 Winnipeg Supply Service Experts to schedule a free in-home quote. We are available to answer any and all of your questions to ensure you make the right choice for your home.
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