Informational Guide


Key Differences Compared for Heat Pumps

by Josh M

Despite what the name might imply, heat pumps provide customers with heating in the cooler months and cooling in the warmer months. There are many factors for homeowners to consider when choosing a new heat pump, the HSPF and SEER ratings being two of the most important.

Cost savings, energy efficiency, and environmental output are essential when deciding on a heat pump. With heating and air conditioning accounting for nearly three-fourths of the overall energy consumption of a household in the US, that’s not surprising.

If both HSPF ratings and SEER ratings need to be considered, which number matters more? This guide will discuss the similarities, differences, and factors to consider in the HSPF vs. SEER argument.

Heat Pump Behind a Wooden Paneled House

In the argument of SEER vs. HSPF, which is more important? The answer is not that simple. HSPF and SEER ratings are essentially the same thing with a different focus. One represents heating efficiency while the other represents cooling efficiency.

The climate and location matter when determining which rating holds more weight. Those living and working in warmer temperatures, with hotter summers and milder winters, will want to focus their attention on the SEER rating. In contrast, those living in cooler climates will pay more attention to the HSPF rating. That does not mean that the other number should be ignored, though.

Choosing a suitable unit for the home or business can be complex. You will have to determine the right size for both heating and cooling needs while providing the client with the energy efficiency they want.

Heat Pump Gas Energy

What Is HSPF? Why Does It Matter In Heat Pumps?

The Heating Seasonal Performance Factor, or HSPF, is the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) standard measurement for the heat pump’s heating efficiency during the heating season. An efficient system will lower the household’s energy costs and provide better, more consistent heat and lower the home’s environmental impact.

A higher HSPF rating equals a more efficient system. The system will have higher energy efficiency and provide more significant savings for the homeowner.

How To Determine The HSPF Of A Heat Pump

The easiest way to determine the HSPF rating of a heat pump is to check the yellow EnergyGuide label located on the outside of the unit. If this option is not available to you for some reason, you can calculate the HSPF on your own.

Essentially, the HSPF tells us how much heating effect, measured in British Thermal Units (BTUs), the heat pump produces per kilowatt-hour (kWh). The calculation for HSPF is Heating Effect (BTU) / Electricity Spent (Wh).

First, you will need to find the BTU for the household. You will need to measure the square footage and total volume of the space being heated to do this. Then, you will need to use the EPA recommended “BTU per Square Foot” rule: 1 sq ft should have 20 BTU. In addition to the square footage, you will want to consider some additional environmental factors as well.

You will then need to determine the kilowatt-hours (kWh) and convert them into watt-hours (Wh). To determine kWh, you divide the number of kW by the number of hours the appliance is used for. Then multiply that number by 1,000 to determine Wh.

For example, the average heating season is five months long. That’s approximately 3,700 hours if the unit is running 24/7. Since this is unlikely, let’s assume that the unit will be running about 12 hours per day. That leaves us with a number closer to 1,800.

1,800 kWh x 1,000 = 1,800,000 Wh.

Let’s say that the home requires 8,000 BTU. A home with 8,000 BTU powered by 1,800 kWh produced a total of 14,400,000 BTU.

Then the HSPF calculation would be 14,400,000 BTU / 1,800,000 Wh = 8.

What Is a Good HSPF Rating For Heat Pumps?

The current minimum HSPF rating in the US is 8.2, though this is set to rise to 8.8 in 2023. For new heat pumps, the HSPF rating can range from 8.2 to 13. The higher the rating, the more efficient the pump is with this rating system.

Unfortunately, though unsurprising, the higher the rating, the more expensive the heat pump. So you may pay a higher cost upfront, but the homeowner will save on their heating bill over time. The rating you choose will depend on the customer’s needs, but pumps with an HSPF rating between 9 and 10 are considered good.

What Is SEER? Why Does It Matter In Heat Pumps?

Though the name “heat pump” implies that the unit will provide heating, it can also be reversed to cool down the home during warmer seasons. Seasonal Energy Efficient Ratio (SEER) is the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) standard measurement for the heat pump’s cooling efficiency during the cooling season.

A high SEER provides the same benefits as a high HSPF rating.

Air Source Heat Pump Vaillant Aromtherm Plus

How To Determine The SEER Of A Heat Pump

Like the HSPF, the best place to find the SEER rating is on the yellow EnergyGuide label on the outside of the unit. However, if the label is unavailable and you need to calculate the SEER rating on your own, you can do so the same way you would the HSPF.

Where HSPF is calculated as Heating Effect (BTU) / Electricity Spent (Wh), SEER would be Cooling Output (BTU) / Electricity Spent (Wh).

For example, let’s assume we are cooling a house for 12 hours a day over the three-month summer period. We get a little over 1,100 kWh or 1,100,000 Wh. If that home requires 20,000 BTU over 1,100 kWh, then we know the output for the season is 20,000,000 BTU.

20,000,000 BTU / 1,100,000 Wh = 18

What Is A Good SEER Rating For Heat Pumps?

Modern heat pumps typically have SEER ratings between 13 and 23, though they can go higher. 13 SEER is the minimum for northern states, while 14 is the minimum for southern states. This is because the warmer climate requires a more efficient system.

The higher the SEER rating, the more efficient the system. As expected, though, the higher the SEER rating, the higher the cost of the system.

While a 14 SEER rating is considered good, some may want more efficient systems. Heat pumps with a 16 SEER rating are also quite popular. Units like these can save the homeowner upwards of $1000 over the system’s lifetime.

People Also Ask (FAQ)

What is the highest HSPF on a heat pump?

Heat pumps generally have an HSPF rating that ranges from 8–13. You will not see an HSPF rating higher than 13. SEER ratings are higher, with ratings ranging from 13–20 on average.

How is the COP rating different from the HSPF?

HSPF and COP are both ways of measuring the efficiency of a heat pump. COP, or Coefficient of Performance, is calculated as Energy Out / Energy In, where energy is the energy required to run the heat pump and is measured in watts.

Is a higher SEER rating worth the cost in the long term?

It depends on how high you’re looking to go. Often, a higher SEER rating does not provide enough cost savings over its lifetime to offset the higher initial cost. Anything over a 16 SEER may not be worth it for the homeowner; this is, of course, dependent on the price difference between units.

Does a higher SEER cool better?

Higher SEER ratings are more effective. Units with higher SEER ratings tend to keep rooms cooler for a longer period of time and allow for better overall temperature control.

What is SEER vs EER vs HSPF?

SEER is the DOE’s standard measurement for cooling efficiency. HSPF is the DOE’s standard measurement for heating efficiency. EER, or Energy Efficient Ratio, is another measurement for cooling efficiency. Similar to SEER, it measures how efficiently a cooling system will operate when the outdoor temperature is 95-degrees Fahrenheit. See how to calculate EER here.


The HSPF rating and the SEER rating of a heat pump are fundamentally the same. The only difference is that HSPF measures the heating efficiency, and the SEER measures the cooling efficiency.

Environmental factors should be considered to determine which rating is more important to the homeowner.

Last Updated on January 23, 2022

Josh M

My name is Josh and I am obsessed with the HVAC industry. I created this website to help HVAC techs of all levels get the best out of their heating & cooling systems. I have spent thousands of hours studying air conditioners, heaters and home air products so you can learn & buy with confidence. Learn more about the team here.