Air Conditioners vs. Heat Pumps: Choosing the Best Option for Your Home

The pros and cons of each cooling option to help you decide between the two.

Published July 13, 2022

An air conditioner might not be your only option when it comes to cooling your home. A heat pump is another alternative you could consider. Just like an AC, a heat pump could also help you stay cool during summer. However, some differences between the two, as well as pros and cons, may make one a better choice for your needs.

What is the difference between an air conditioner and a heat pump?

While an air conditioner and a heat pump could cool your home, only the heat pump could heat your home. This feature might be especially important if you live in a colder area.

Central air conditioners vs. heat pumps: Equally energy efficient

When it’s time to replace your old air conditioner, the new cooling appliance you buy - whether it’s an AC or heat pump - may be more energy efficient than your current appliance.

If you’ve had your current cooling appliance for over 15 years, there’s a possibility that the appliance might pre-date the energy efficiency requirements introduced in 2006. These requirements outline that new air conditioners and heat pumps need a minimum SEER rating of 13 instead of the previous rating of 10.

Since then, SEER ratings have been further adjusted to factor in where you live:

  • A 13 SEER rating is needed if you live in the northern U.S.
  • A 14 SEER rating is needed if you live in the south

What’s a SEER rating? SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, and it is an indicator of the appliance’s energy efficiency. The higher the SEER rating, the more energy-efficient the air conditioner or heat pump.

Air conditioners and heat pumps with the same SEER rating are equally energy-efficient as they use the same basic technology to cool your home. For instance, a 15 SEER air conditioner is just as energy efficient as a 15 SEER heat pump. However, if you’re interested in buying a heat pump, you may also want to look at the Heating Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF). The current minimum HSPF rating required is 8.2, but you may choose a higher rating for better performance. Similar to SEER, the higher the HSPF, the more efficient the heat pump is to help keep your home warm.

Pros and cons of air conditioners

Air conditioners are a common cooling appliance used in the U.S. and there are many reasons that may help with their popularity.


  • AC units may last longer than heat pumps because they’re mainly used during the cooling (summer) season.
  • Air conditioners are generally cheaper to buy than a heat pump.
  • Air is filtered through an air conditioner, which may help provide better air quality inside the home. However, it is also important to regularly replace your air conditioner’s filter to help maintain the air quality.


  • An air conditioner cannot heat your home. If you live in an area where you may need to heat your home, then you may want another appliance, such as a furnace, to provide warmth.

Pros and cons of heat pumps

Heat pumps can be versatile, which may be helping them to gain traction with homeowners in the US.


  • Heat pumps run on electricity, which is often considered to be a greener energy source than fuels like propane or natural gas.
  • Heat pumps could help dehumidify the air in your home better than a standard air conditioner. This may be especially nice in areas that get muggy.
  • Since a heat pump can provide heat, it may help replace the need for a furnace or help minimize how often you rely on the furnace. Since electricity is often cheaper than other energy sources, this may also help you save money on your utility bills.


  • A heat pump sometimes has a slightly shorter lifespan than an air conditioner because it is used more often due to its dual heating and cooling features.
  • A heat pump may generally cost more upfront than an air conditioner since they typically cost more to make.

Air Conditioner or Heat Pump? You Don’t Have to Decide on Your Own

Let a Local Home Pro HVAC specialist help with your cooling needs. Get your no-obligation, free consultation today to help you decide what’s right for your home and your family.

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