Heat Pump vs. Air Conditioner: Which One is Right for Cooling Your Home

Although heat is included in the name, you can use a heat pump for cooling. It works by transferring heat instead of generating it (unlike furnaces) which is why it also is used as a dual function system. It’s true that heat pumps can be very efficient, but most air conditioners are roughly equivalent in terms of their efficiency. Just compare these two top of the line systems from Lennox. 

Air Conditioner
Heat Pump

What is SEER and HSPF? 

SEER is an efficiency guideline for air conditioners, and the higher the number, the more efficient it is. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not great though, and the efficiency changes depending on the model. On the other hand, HSPF is another scale that stands for “heating seasonal performance factor” and is designed to grade heat pumps. It tells you how efficient the unit is at heating. Notice 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 add warmth to your home while an AC cannot. 

Does climate matter for heat pumps? 

Heat pumps are more effective in hotter 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 ACE certified HVAC technician who has experience in your region before getting your heart set 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 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 could end up running your heat pump non-stop or switching on emergency heat 24/7 during winter which drives your energy consumption through the roof. 

How does a heat pump compare to a furnace? 

A furnace is a stronger heating system and is essential for certain colder climates. That’s because a heat pump has trouble when the temperature hits about 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 degrees Celsius. As unusual as it sounds, during heating season, a heat pump is intended to pull heat from the outdoors and use it to warm the inside air. Just because the air outside feels cold, there is still plenty of available heat for the heat pump to operate correctly, but at exceptionally low temperatures there is not sufficient heat available outside to warm the inside air to higher temperatures needed 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 would likely 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 some 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 natural temperature to heat and cool. This is a great alternative for specific northern regions, but extra land must be available in order to install the necessary 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 review the pros and cons of each heating and cooling system so you don’t end up purchasing a system that doesn’t work when extreme temperatures hit, or investing in additional systems when one would suffice. 
 
If you still aren’t convinced which system is best for your home, call Stevenson Service Experts to schedule a no-charge in-home quote. We are here to answer any and all of your questions to help you make the right decision for your home. 

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