What is an HSPF Rating for Heat Pumps?

What is an HSPF Rating for Heat Pumps?
Keeping your home or building warm is important, especially during the colder months. Fireplaces are cute and cozy, but there are plenty of more efficient ways to stave off the chill, such as a heat pump. However, few people want  to pay an exorbitant heating bill. Only turning on the heat when your fingers start to turn blue is one way to save money, but it's hardly pleasant. So how can you keep yourself warm without emptying out your wallet when the time comes to pay the bills? The answer is by making sure you have an efficient heat pump. An efficient pump will give you the most bang for your buck by producing more heat per consumed unit of energy. Depending on how often you use it and what factors influence it, a more efficient pump could save you hundreds of dollars. In order to choose an efficient heating pump, however, you need to understand heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF) ratings.

A heat pump with a higher HSPF rating is more efficient and eco friendly.

What is an HSPF Rating?

Let's imagine you're shopping for a new heat pump. You see two pumps that are identical in shape, model and even color — the only differences is that one has a high HSPF rating, and the other has a low one, with slight variations in price to mark this difference. Your first instinct might be to purchase the one with the lower rating, since it's cheaper. But would that really be the best choice? The HSPF rating measures the efficiency of your heat pump. This is done by measuring the heat output compared to the pump's electricity consumption. In essence, this score shows how much heat the pump generates per a set amount of energy used. That means that a pump with a higher HSPF rating will consume less electricity to produce heat, while a low rating means it will consume more to produce the same amount. A higher rating also means the pump is more ecologically friendly, since it uses less energy to produce the same amount of heat. This means that a pump with a higher HSPF rating not only lessens your heating bill, but lessens your environmental footprint as well. This can be important to those who wish to make their home or building as ecologically friendly as possible.

HSPF Ratings vs. SEER: How do They Differ?

Now that you know what an HSPF rating is, you may think you know everything you need to know to choose your heating pump. However, when you start browsing, you may come across other rating terms you don't understand, such as the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating (SEER). Once you see that, you may be wondering — what's the difference between the SEER and an HSPF rating?

HSPF Ratings

HSPF ratings apply exclusively to heat pumps. As stated, they measure the efficiency of the heating pump by comparing the heat output to the energy consumption. A higher HSPF rating means more heat per amount of energy consumed, while a lower rating means less heat per amount of energy consumed.


The SEER can apply to both heat pumps and air-conditioning units. In contrast to the HSPF rating, the SEER measures the cooling capabilities of its device. It's measured by comparing the amount of heat removed from the air with the amount of energy consumed during the process. The minimum SEER allowed by US law is 13. While most don't surpass 20, some can be rated as high as 23. However, a high SEER doesn't necessarily mean your heat pump will be removing heat at maximum efficiency. The climate you live in, the duration of your pump's operation, the durability of the device, and the insulation status of your building can all influence how well your unit cools the surrounding air.

Which is More Important?

Whether you should focus on the HSPF rating or the SEER depends on two things — your climate and the system effects you want. Outside of these two circumstances, the scores themselves are purely subjective. If you live in an area with mild summers, you won't need to worry as much about the SEER, but if your summers are commonly very hot, then a higher SEER is optimal. Likewise, an area with extremely cold winters means you'll want to focus on the HSPF rating. Regardless of your climate, if you want your system to be optimized toward cooling, then getting air-conditioning units or heat pumps with a high SEER is the best decision. If you want a system optimized toward indoor heating, then you want a heat pump with a high HSPF.

How is the HSPF Rating Calculated?

The HSPF rating shows how efficiently the heat pump is using energy. This is measured by taking the total heating used during the measurement period in British Thermal Units (BTUs) and dividing it by the amount of electricity used in watt-hours. The resulting number indicates how efficiently that pump is operating. For frame of reference, suppose a pump with an HSPF rating of 7.7 required $1,000 for a single heat bill. A pump with a rating of 8.5 could create that same amount of heat using only $906 worth of energy. A pump with a rating of 10 would go even lower, requiring only $770 worth of energy to create that same level of heating.

A good HSPF rating is 8.5 or higher.

What's a Good HSPF Rating for Heat Pumps?

Now that you understand what an HSPF rating is and how it applies to your heat pump, you may be wondering what a good rating is. The higher the HSPF rating of a heat pump, the more efficiently it heats the building it's placed in. However, without a frame of reference, you might not recognize what a "higher" rating actually is. The minimum HSPF rating required by US law for pumps created after 2005 is 7.7, but 8.5 or higher is what's considered a good rating. Some heat pumps can even have an HSPF rating of 10 or higher, although those are largely unnecessary for home heating systems.

Are Heat Pumps with a High HSPF Good for Every Home?

One would assume that a pump with a higher HSPF rating is the better choice in every situation, but this isn't always the case. Let's return to the example scenario — two heat pumps of the same model but with different HSPF ratings and adjusted prices to match. How high the price is often depends on how high the HSPF rating is. When purchasing a heat pump, you have to weigh the potential savings of a high HSPF rating against the initial cost of the pump itself. Pumps with a high HSPF rating may be more energy efficient than a lower-rated pump, but they're often more expensive. The difference in savings between this initial cost and the pump's energy expenditure may not always come out in your favor. In fact, purchasing the most efficient heat pumps often means you'll experience a net loss. However, you can occasionally claim tax credits or rebates on higher-efficiency pumps, depending on your area, your model, and your local power company. Ultimately, it's up to the buyer to decide whether the pros outweigh the cons. Not everyone is able to front a high initial cost, and even if you can, not everyone is willing to take the net loss. If you can, however, you'll have a more efficient pump with a smaller environmental impact and potential tax credits to boot. If you're planning to run the pump for longer periods of time, the more efficient one is the better option.

Do Air-Source Heat Pumps and Geothermal Heat Pumps Use Different Ratings?

Sometimes you can't choose between largely identical pumps. Returning to the example scenario from earlier, let's adjust the setting slightly. Instead of two pumps of identical models, you're now faced with two different types — an air-source heat pump and a geothermal heat pump. While air-source heat pumps draw heat energy from the air outside and use it to warm the air inside, geothermal heat pumps draw their heating energy from either the ground or from local water sources, such as rivers or lakes. With such a marked difference in energy sources, it makes sense that these two kinds of pumps can't be rated with the exact same rating system. How will the rating vary between these two types? Do they use the same standards of measurement, or will you need to mentally adjust the difference in order to make your purchase? Instead of HSPF ratings and the SEER, geothermal pumps utilize two different ratings systems:
  • Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER): This is the geothermal system's equivalent of the SEER. It measures the cooling capabilities of the pump, although it focuses on a specific temperature instead of a range of temperatures like the SEER does.
  • Coefficient of Performance (COP): This is the geothermal system's equivalent of the HSPF rating. It measures the heating capabilities of the pump, although it focuses on a specific temperature instead of a range of temperatures like the HSPF rating does.
Ground and water temperatures don't fluctuate as much as air temperatures, making the EER and COP ratings fairly accurate measures of the system's capabilities. If you're going to purchase a geothermal heat pump instead of an air-source heat pump, use these ratings as you would HSPF ratings and SEERs in order to make your decision.

Several factors can influence a heat pump's efficiency level.

What Else Influences Heat Pump Efficiency?

A high HSPF rating doesn't guarantee the same level of heating in every building. There are several factors that can influence the pump's performance:

Energy source:

Different kinds of pumps will create from different sources. For example, there are air-source pumps that transfer heat energy from the air, and geothermal pumps that pull heating energy from the ground or nearby water sources. These different energy sources have different energy efficiency levels and can affect how well your pump utilizes its energy. These energy sources also run more efficiently depending on the climate.


The climate where your building resides influences how hard your heat pump has to work to achieve the desired heat levels. For example, a pump that constantly fights against sub-zero temperatures will have to work harder than a pump that rarely experiences anything below fifty degrees. A pump with a lower HSPF rating in a warmer climate will likely expend less energy than a higher-rated pump in an extremely cold climate, simply because it won't be running as often.


The size of the building you want to heat influences the size of your pump. A smaller pump will have to work much harder to heat a large building than a large pump. You need a properly sized heat pump to effectively heat your building. Make sure your pump isn't unnecessarily large to improve cost-efficiency.


In order to keep a building warm, the heat inside needs to be replenished as it's lost. A heat pump will have to work harder to restore lost heat if it is lost quickly. Therefore, heat pumps will have to work harder in poorly insulated houses to keep the temperature up. If your home isn't properly insulated, caulk your windows and insulate drafty spaces like attics to improve heat retention.


The pre-existing ductwork in your home or building can influence what kind of heat pumps you can install. As different types of heat pumps have different efficiency levels, this means the ductwork can indirectly influence how efficient of a heating system you can get. If you would rather have a more efficient heating system, then you'll have to dedicate the time and money to redoing your building's ductwork. These factors can help you decide how high of an HSPF rating you want on your heat pump. They can also help you to enhance the efficiency of otherwise low-rated pumps. If the area you live in and the attributes of the building naturally increase how well the pump can heat the surrounding area, then a lower-efficiency heat pump will be more cost-effective than a higher-efficiency heat pump.

Choose the Right Heat Pump for You Today

At Ingrams Water and Air Equipment, you'll find a variety of high-quality, high-efficiency HVAC products to suit every comfort need. If you're looking for a new heat pump, we've got you covered. We'll help you find the perfect heat pump, whether it be a central unit or a ductless mini-split system. You deserve perfect comfort, so let us help you start your search for the right unit today!
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