Split System Heat Pumps

Split system heat pumps are a cost-effective and energy-efficient way of heating and cooling your home. In this guide, you’ll learn more about how a split system heat pump works, how their energy-efficiency is measured, the benefits of these units and their costs.

What is a Split System Heat Pump?

A split system heat pump is an HVAC unit that heats and cools the interior spaces of your home. It uses advanced technology and a refrigeration cycle to keep your home comfortable. As a result, these systems provide year-round comfort inside your home no matter the season. People add split system heat pumps to their homes because of their small size, ability to create zone heating and cooling, their energy efficiency and ease of installation.

Types of Split Systems

There is more than one kind of heat pump. As you research you’ll see reversible heat pumps, solid-state, air to air, geothermal and hybrid heat pumps. Let’s dig into these different types to help you understand what they are, as well as their differences.

Reversible air-source heat pumps

When you see a heat pump that says it’s reversible, that means it has a reversing valve. That valve allows refrigerant in the heat pump to reverse away from the compressor. Then, that refrigerant moves through the condenser and evaporation coils.

Geothermal

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, geothermal heat pumps work by using the ground’s consistent temperatures to heat and cool interior spaces. Geothermal heat pumps install 10 feet into the ground, where temperatures remain between 50°F and 60°F. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that geothermal heat pumps are the most cost-effective, energy-efficient and environmentally clean heating and cooling systems.

Hybrid

Hybrid heat pumps, which also have the name “dual-fuel systems,” can switch between electricity and gas. That way, the unit uses the most cost-efficient performance. Electricity fueled heating and cooling are available through the heat pump in combination with a furnace and evaporator coil. The unit’s smart controls allow it to collect data and determine which fuel source — electricity or gas — is the most efficient.

Split System Energy Efficiency

Depending on the climate you live in, you’ll place more focus on a system’s EER, SEER, or HSPF ratings. The Seasonal Efficiency Ratio (SEER) measures a system’s cooling efficiency. Heating Season Performance Factor (HSPF) indicates its heating efficiency.  So if you’re in a warmer climate, the SEER rating is what’s important. In colder climates, the HSPF is what you should be looking for.

To ensure a unit is the most energy-efficient, look for the Energy Star certification and ratings and  When you see EER, that stands for Energy Efficiency Ratio. That measurement is available for smaller units that need an energy efficiency rating. The EER rating works differently than SEER and HSPF because it doesn’t use seasonal temperatures. Instead, it measures a set inside and outside temperature as well as 50% relative humidity.

The Department of Energy set the following minimum ratings for heat pumps to ensure consumers are receiving the best energy efficiency:

  • Split system and single package systems (less than 65,000 British Thermal Units, or BTUs): 15 SEER and 8.5 HSPF
  • Split system and single package systems (less than and greater than 65,000 BTU and less than 135,000 BTU): 11.8 EER
  • Split system and single package systems (less than and greater than 135,000 BTU and less than 240,000 BTU): 10.9 EER
  • Geothermal, closed-loop water-to-air (single phase): between 16.1 and 17.1 EER
  • Geothermal, open-loop water-to-air (single phase): between 20.1 and 21.1 EER
  • Geothermal, direct exchange: 16.0 EER

Benefits of a Split System

Adding a split heat pump system to your home is beneficial for a variety of reasons. First, pumping air throughout your home uses less electricity, which results in a lower utility bill compared to using other HVAC systems. Additional benefits include:

  • Air quality: No greenhouse emissions produce when you’re using these systems because they don’t use combustion.
  • Comfort: The air from heat pumps won’t dry out your skin because it’s pumping naturally humid air.
  • Energy efficiency: Because transferring heat is more straightforward than producing it; these units are more energy-efficient compared to other HVAC systems.
  • Installation cost: These systems heat and cool the air using a single unit. As a result, there’s no need to spend money installing two separate units.

Split System Costs

The price of a split system heat pump depends on its size, efficiency and the brand you choose. Trane heat pumps, for example, range between $1,800 and $4,000

When you’re looking specifically at the heat pump’s size, expect to pay $1,300-$1,700 for units between 1.5 and 2.5 tons. You’ll pay $1,700-$2,900 for 1.5 to 4 tons, and 3-5-ton units range between $2,500 and $3,100. The average installation costs range between $600 and $2,300. Note that efficiency ratings can also increase heat pump prices. For example, a system that’s more than 19 SEER can start at more than $3,000 on up to $8,000 with the installation.

The annual cost to operate a heat pump depends on its BTUs. For example, if the split system heat pump has 9,000 BTUs, expect your utility bill to increase by approximately $300 annually. Maintaining your system is critical, and annual maintenance helps increase its energy efficiency.For example, if you don’t clean your system or change its filter, it will use between 10 and 25% more energy.

What’s the difference between a regular heat pump and a split system?

Heat pumps are all-in-one units that offer heating and air conditioning year-round. A standard heat pump can operate at 100% capacity in temperatures as cold as 5°F. But when temps drop, so does efficiency. At -13 °F,  heat pumps operate at only 76% capacity. Split systems also offer year-round heating and cooling but, instead of a single system, they consist of an indoor and outdoor unit. If temperatures dip below zero, you’ll need a split system heat pump with a higher HSPF to ensure it can handle the frigid weather.

How do split systems work?

Split system heat pumps have an indoor and outdoor unit that work together to heat and cool your home. The outside unit has the compressor and condenser to maintain temperature. The inside unit distributes air throughout your home.

What is a split heat pump system?

Split system heat pumps are HVAC units that heat and cool your home using indoor and outdoor units. They operate similarly to an air conditioner whereby the unit’s refrigerant cycle removes heat from your home’s air. When temperatures drop, they remove heat from the outside air and pump it back into your home.

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