We’ve selected the 10 best air heat pumps in three performance categories to give you the information needed to make your buying decision.
This air source heat pump buying guide includes costs for each model, features, pros and cons, and the use that gives the best return on investment for each.
Air Heat Pump Options
Size and efficiency vary significantly, producing a wide cost range as a result.
Size or capacity to move heat: 1.5 tons to 5.0 tons, or 18,000 to 60,000 BTUs per hour.
Efficiency: 13 SEER cooling efficiency and 8.0 HSPF heating efficiency to 24 SEER and 13 HSPF. The higher the rating, the more efficient the unit.
Installed cost range: $4,500 to $13,500
Average cost: A 3-ton, 17 SEER two-stage central heat pump is right about average, and the installed cost is $7,500 to $10,500 based on brand and installation complexities. Expect to pay about $9,000 for a complete system with the capability, especially if you choose one of the top heat pumps available.
There are cheaper brands like Goodman and Payne, but you might not get the long-term quality and performance you’re here to find.
Cost factors are explored below. They’ll allow you to narrow down your potential heat pump installation cost based on the units you’re considering.
What is an Air Source Heat Pump?
Simply put, an air heat pump, or air source heat exchange pump moves heat from one place to another. It does not create heat. A heat pump collects heat from the outside air when heating your home. It dumps heat from your house into outside air when air conditioning your home. That seems obvious – but the contrast is to a ground source heat pump, also called a geothermal heat pump.
Ground source heat pumps collect and dump heat underground, or sometimes in a body of water, where year-round temperatures are consistent. This makes geothermal heat pumps more efficient – it is easier to collect heat for warming your home in ground that is 55 to 60 degrees than from air that is much colder.
Likewise, dumping heat into ground or water in that temperature range is easier than dispersing it into air that is 80 to 100+ degrees. However, geothermal heat pumps cost much more and might not be a cost-effective choice for your situation.
When to Choose an Air Source Heat Pump
They are an excellent fit for most climates, though they make less sense for locations where winters are very cold.
When winter temperatures drop into the 30s or lower, auxiliary electric heat strips in the air handler assist with heating.
However, electric heat is the most expensive type, so overall efficiency is lost, and energy costs rise when the heat strips are used a lot. For this reason, heat pumps are not best sellers in the colder, northern regions of North America.
Dual fuel systems with a heat pump and gas furnace are an option in very cold climates. They’re explained in the Top Air Source Heat Pump Reviews below.
Top 10 Air Heat Pumps
We’ve selected 3 single-stage, 4 two-stage and 3 variable capacity heat pumps for the list. They’re sorted accordingly below where you will find full heat pump reviews for these top 10 models including cost, pros and cons, ROI based on your climate and more details.
- Trane XL16i Heat Pump
- Carrier 25HCC5 Performance 15 Heat Pump
- Ducane 4HP15L Heat Pump
- Lennox XP21 Heat Pump
- Armstrong 4SHP16LS Heat Pump
- Carrier 25HNB6 Infinity 16 Heat Pump
- Rheem Classic Series RP16 Heat Pump
- Carrier 25VNA4 Infinity 24 Heat Pump
- Lennox XP25 Heat Pump
- Trane XV20i Variable Speed Heat Pump
Top 10 Air Source Heat Pumps – Full Reviews
Here are the unit performance, features, and cost details. Sizes start at either 1.5 or 2.0 tons depending on the model. The largest units for all models in the list are 5 tons, or approximately 60,000 BTUs.
As discussed later in this guide, many heat pump brands are identical. In the reviews section, we mention the identical units. Knowing, for example, that the Trane XL16i and American Standard Silver 16 heat pumps are identical, allows you to choose between your local Trane and American Standard certified dealers and choose the installer you believe is a better choice based on local reviews, experience, and system cost.
Top Single Stage Heat Pumps, 14-18+ SEER
Single-stage heat pumps, aka 1-stage heat pumps, run at 100% capacity when on.
Pros: Their advantage is lower cost for the equipment and repairs.
Cons: The disadvantages are generally lower efficiency plus the fact they cause slight temperature imbalance. However, most homeowners don’t notice a difference of a degree or two.
Best choice: Single-stage heat pumps are good equipment for cooler climates where higher efficiency isn’t a “must”.
Trane is consistently at or near the top of the list for dependability and consumer satisfaction in research conducted by Consumer Reports and other independent testing organizations. This is an efficient, reliable heat pump ideal for cool to moderately warm climates.
Installed Cost: $6,500 to $9,600 according to Trane’s website. The cost is based on the size and where you live, as it is with all the units on this list.
Efficiency: 17 SEER and 9.6 HSPF
Top Features: Trane’s Climatuff compressor is widely considered one of the best in the industry. Trane and American Standard use their proprietary Spine Fin outdoor coil. It has traditional fins but also includes spines extending out from the fins that provide much more surface area. The result is faster dispersion of heat when in AC mode. The base pan is composite, so won’t corrode.
Pros and Cons: This unit is highly rated for reliability. The efficiency is very good for a single-stage unit. For those benefits, you’ll pay a higher installed cost than for most other brands. The warranty is average for the industry – 10 years on all parts including the compressor.
Best ROI: You’ll get the best return on this unit in cool to moderate climates. In very hot, humid regions, a heat pump with higher efficiency will reduce long-term energy costs. Also, since the upfront cost of Trane equipment is higher than average, this unit makes sense for homeowners who intend to stay in their current home for at least 10 years.
Why It Made the List: Trane’s track record of dependability plus quality installation provided by a factory-trained installer.
Identical Models: American Standard Silver 16 Heat Pump
Carrier and identical brand Bryant are also among the top-rated heat pumps for quality and dependability.
Installed Cost: $6,000 – $9,200
Efficiency: 16 SEER and 9.0 HSPF. Carrier also provides the EER rating – 13.0.
Top Features: This single-stage Energy Star certified heat pump is quieter than most in this category with an operating level of 68 decibels. This is partly due to the compressor sound blanket that muffles noise. It is compatible with Hybrid Heat systems that include a gas furnace, not just an air handler. Also called dual fuel systems, the gas furnace heats your home when outdoor temperatures are too cold for a heat pump to be efficient.
Pros and Cons: This Carrier heat pump offers very good quality. The Hybrid Heat option is ideal for northern climates where winter temperatures often fall below freezing.
The downside is that Carrier equipment is more expensive than average, especially if you include a gas furnace instead of an air handler.
And like all single-stage heat pumps, it might cause slight temperature imbalances and does not remove as much humidity as 2-stage and variable capacity heat pumps.
Best ROI: In a standard system, it’s a good choice where summers are warm but not extremely hot. If you install a Hybrid Heat system, you’ll get a good return over the life of the system in very cold climates.
Why It Made the List: Like Trane, Carrier is a top-tier brand for quality. It’s backed by a 10-year warranty on all parts.
Identical Models: Also available as the Payne PH16NC and Bryant 225B Preferred Single Stage Heat Pump
Ducane doesn’t have the name recognition of Trane or Carrier, but homeowners that own one of these heat pumps give them high ratings that are very comparable.
Installed Cost: $5,100 – $7,700
Efficiency: 15 SEER and 8.5 HSPF; Energy Star certified
Top Features: Advanced corrosion protection will keep this unit looking good and performing for many years. The single stage compressor is quiet and dependable with technology designed to reduce the noise of shifting into defrost mode. This is a dual fuel heat pump, should you want to install it with a compatible gas furnace.
Pros and Cons: It offers the lowest cost in this category, but its efficiency is the lowest too.
Best ROI: This unit should be considered where summers are mild. If you install it in a very warm region, high energy costs will soon waste the upfront savings.
Why It Made the List: We chose it for reliability, lower cost, and the dual fuel option for cold regions of the country.
Identical Models: Armstrong Air 4SHP15LE Heat Pump and the AirEase 4SHP15LE
Top 2-stage Heat Pumps, 16-19 SEER
Two-stage heat pumps, or 2-stage, run on low most of the time, which is 65% or 70% depending on the heat pump model.
Pros: The advantage is that low capacity is quieter, more efficient and produces a more comfortable indoor climate. This includes removing more humidity from the air when in AC mode in warm weather.
Cons: Cost can be significantly higher than for single-stage heat pumps. The 2-stage compressor and 2-speed fan cost more to replace if they fail.
Best Choice: Best sellers, two-stage heat pumps are a good fit for all but the coldest climates.
Lennox makes the most efficient lineup of heat pumps in the industry. This unit is the most efficient 2-stage air heat pump you can buy.
Installed Cost: $7,700 – $12,000
Efficiency: 19.2 SEER and 9.7 HSPF; Energy Star certified.
Top Features: The efficiency really stands out, and it is quiet too at just 67dB.
Pros and Cons: Two-stage heating and cooling offers better climate control including better dehumidification during AC cycles.
On the downside, Lennox is one of the most expensive brands. And because Lennox uses a higher percentage of proprietary parts than other brands, there are occasional delays in getting repair parts.
Best ROI: The best bang for your buck will be achieved in very warm climates, especially those with high humidity. The 19+ SEER will allow you to recoup the higher equipment cost in less than 10 years of lower energy bills.
Why It Made the List: It offers the best efficiency in the 2-stage heat pump class. And Lennox quality rankings have risen in the past 5 years after being middle of the pack.
Identical Models: None
Armstrong Air is another brand with below-radar recognition. But homeowners using this brand place them in the upper tiers of reliability. Consumer Reports gives Armstrong Air the same top rating achieved by Trane, American Standard, Carrier, and other leading brands.
Installed Cost: $6,400 – $9,800
Efficiency: 16 SEER and 8.5 HSPF; Energy Star certified.
Top Features: Two-stage heating and air conditioning results in quieter operation and more balanced temperatures. The Comfort Sync thermostat, available as an option, gets good marks for providing premium indoor climate comfort.
Pros and Cons: The cost of this Armstrong Air heat pump is very competitive. While Energy Star rated, the 16 SEER energy efficiency is not a good fit for the warmest climates.
Best ROI: Regions of the country with mild and warm summers. This is also a good solution if you need a new heat pump now but plan to move in a few years – the upfront investment isn’t as high as for many other heat pumps on the list.
Why It Made the List: It’s a good value – the combination of reasonable cost, good quality and decent efficiency.
Identical Models: AirEase 4SHP16LS and Ducane 4HP16LT
This is Carrier’s best 2-state heat pump. Like with many brands, the model numbers stay the same, but efficiency increases with advances in technology. This one is 17+ SEER.
Installed Cost: $7,000 – $11,300
Efficiency: 17.5 SEER (13.5 EER) and 9.5 HSPF; Energy Star
Top Features: The 2-stage compressor is made by Copeland, the top-rated compressor manufacturer in the industry.
Pros and Cons: Carrier achieves high consumer satisfaction and reliability ratings in two ways – using quality components and ensuring proper installation through certified installers. However, these benefits come at pricing that is well above average.
Best ROI: This unit makes the most sense in warm to hot climates and for homeowners willing to invest a little more to get long-term dependability.
Why It Made the List: Proven dependability. This unit should last 17-20+ years with regular maintenance and minor repairs.
Identical Models: Bryant 286B Evolution
Rheem and Ruud are generally one tier down from the top brands in quality and reliability.
But this unit offers very good quality on par with the top-rated brands. This unit, like many from Carrier, Goodman, and other brands, uses the Copeland Scroll compressor with proven reliability.
Installed Cost: $6,800 – $10,500
Efficiency: 16 SEER, 12.5 EER and 9.0 HSPF; Energy Star
Top Features: 2-stage Copeland compressor runs on low, or 65% capacity, most of the time for quieter performance, precise temperatures and better humidity removal in AC mode.
Pros and Cons: This unit produces excellent indoor comfort and is backed by a 10-year comprehensive parts warranty. Price is reasonable. Overall, Rheem’s ratings aren’t quite as high as Trane, Carrier and Lennox. Also, the efficiency is on the low end of 2-stage models.
Best ROI: This unit isn’t super-efficient, so it is best installed in regions with moderately warm summer temperatures. In hotter climates, consider a more efficient heat pump that will cut energy use and cost.
Why It Made the List: Decent quality at a fair price.
Identical Models: Ruud Achiever Series RP16
Top Variable Capacity Heat Pumps, 18-24 SEER
Variable capacity heat pumps modulate output between 25% capacity (40% on some models) and 100% capacity. Their control boards adjust output in increments as small as .1%, though 1% increments are more common.
Pros: The advantages of variable capacity, aka modulating and variable speed, are precise temperature balance, quietest operation and optimal humidity control in summer. They’re also the most efficient heat pumps.
Cons: Disadvantages are the higher equipment cost, higher potential cost of repairs and that they can be temperamental.
Most use a communicating thermostat – meaning that the unit gives feedback to the thermostat about operating conditions rather than simply receiving commands from the thermostat.
There is no uniform communicating technology among the brands. As a result, troubleshooting these systems is beyond the experience of many HVAC technicians.
Best Choice: These units are mostly sold where extreme summer heat is a reality. Homeowners very committed to green heating and air conditioning are also attracted to them.
Carrier has led the way in variable capacity performance in standard air source heat pumps. Lennox overtook Carrier in efficiency for a time, but this unit is now the most efficient air heat pump you can find.
Installed Cost: $8,500 – $13,500
Efficiency: 24 SEER, 16 EER and 13 HSPF; Energy Star.
Top Features: This unit has a modulating capacity compressor that runs as low as 25%. It adjusts in increments of 1% for precise temperatures and premium dehumidifying when cooling. Sound level is as low as 51dB.
Pros and Cons: Superior efficiency heads the list along with excellent control of the indoor climate. This is a very expensive heat pump, however.
Best ROI: This system is suited for climates with extreme heat with the AC running from spring into fall. In other climates, you won’t save enough on energy costs to recoup the higher cost of the heat pump equipment.
Why It Made the List: Super efficiency and performance along with top-rated quality. It is covered by a 10-year compressor and parts warranty.
Identical Models: Also sold as the Bryant 284ANV Evolution Extreme 24
This was the most efficient heat pump available for almost a decade.
Installed Cost: $8,300 – $13,000
Efficiency: 23.5 SEER and 10.2 HSPF; Energy Star.
Top Features: Modulating compressor delivers between 40% and 100% capacity. It is dual fuel compatible.
Pros and Cons: The efficiency and climate control are among the best available. It is expensive, and Lennox has struggled with supply chain issues making parts hard to get on some jobs.
Best ROI: This unit is really only cost-effective in a hot, humid climate or for use in extreme desert heat. Some homeowners, regardless of cost, choose it when they want optimal indoor climate control or are committed to green heating and cooling.
Why It Made the List: Good quality with premium energy savings and comfort.
Identical Models: None
This is a high-quality heat pump with good-but-not-great efficiency.
Installed Cost: $8,800 – $13,600
Efficiency: 20 SEER and 10.0 HSPF; Energy Star.
Top Features: Trane’s Climatuff variable capacity compressor and heat-dispersing Spine Fin coil. It can be paired with a gas furnace for hybrid heating in very cold climates.
Pros and Cons: Top performance, but at top cost too relative to 2-stage Trane heat pumps.
Best ROI: This unit is best suited to locations where the air conditioning season is very warm and long.
Why It Made the List: Trane’s track record of reliability makes it a safe choice for homeowners that are willing to pay more to quality.
Identical Models: Also available as the American Standard AccuComfort Platinum 20 Heat Pump
Brand Confusion – Who Makes Heat Pumps?
Most consumers are a little surprised to learn there are less than 10 major manufacturers of residential air source split system heat pumps. Sure, you can probably rattle off a dozen brands easily, and in all, there are more than 25 brands sold nationally. But many of them are identical equipment except for the labeling badge on the cabinet.
Just so you know, here’s the list of manufacturers with the brands they make with a few notes about the equipment.
Carrier – The leading name in residential HVAC equipment makes three brands: Carrier, Bryant and Payne. The product lineup from Carrier and Bryant is identical – made in the same factory, using the same parts.
The Payne lineup is limited to a few single-stage heat pumps and one 2-stage model. The four models are identical to Carrier and Bryant. The difference is that Carrier and Bryant must be installed by factory-trained and certified installers while any licensed HVAC tech can install Payne.
What difference do certified installers make?
Installation is hugely important to heat pump performance and efficiency. This is demonstrated in reliability ratings reported by Consumer Reports and other independent testing agencies.
Although the equipment is the same, Carrier and Bryant have slightly higher dependability ratings than Payne because overall quality slips when “anybody” can install the heat pumps. This is true with ICP, Ducane and Goodman, among other brands that don’t require factory-trained installers to do the work.
ICP Brands – This Carrier subsidiary, International Comfort Products, makes brands sold nationally and regionally. They are Heil, Arcoaire, Keeprite, Comfortmaker, Tempstar and Day & Night.
The brands are identical to one another and quite similar, though not identical to Carrier. However, since installation isn’t restricted to factory-trained installers, consumer ratings are lower for ICP brands.
Ingersoll-Rand – Trane and American Standard are identical and highly rated brands from this major manufacturer.
Lennox – The Lennox Corporation makes the Lennox brand and others through its Allied Air subsidiary. Lennox in recent years has regained a place among the highest rated brands.
Allied Air – This is a Lennox company, but its brands are slightly different than Lennox models. Allied Air makes Armstrong Air, AirEase and Ducane. These brands are in the top tier of consumer and independent testing ratings. Ducane sells a limited lineup of single-stage and two-stage heat pumps.
Daikin – In recent years, global HVAC giant Daikin bought Goodman and Amana brands to get into the North American residential HVAC market. As a result, Goodman quality has improved.
Daikin maintains Goodman as the low-cost leader in the heat pump industry with some of the best warranties available. The brands’ equipment is identical.
Johnson Controls – This Fortune 100 company makes Luxaire, Coleman, Champion and York brands. Our recommendation at this time is to avoid these brands due to ongoing quality issues.
Paloma Industries – Based in Japan, Paloma Industries manufacturers Rheem and Ruud. The equipment is identical. Ratings are middle of the pack to slightly above average.
Nortek Global – Brands made by Nortek Global were once among the top-rated, but quality has slipped significantly in recent years to the point many models have been pulled from the lineup due to stubborn mechanical issues. As a result, we cannot recommend Nortek brands Maytag, Frigidaire, Broan, Gibson and Miller.
Note: Tappan, NuTone and Westinghouse heat pumps are retired Nortek Global heat pump brands.
Heat Pump Brand Ratings
Based on surveys of homeowners and independent research, here are the current ratings for the brands listed above.
- Trane and American Standard: 9.0 / 10
- Carrier, Bryant, and Payne: 8.5 / 10
- Lennox: 8.5 / 10
- Armstrong Air, Ducane and AirEase: 8.5 / 10
- Rheem and Ruud: 8.0 / 10
- Daikin, Goodman, and Amana: 7.5 / 10
- Heil, Arcoaire, Keeprite, Comfortmaker, Tempstar and Day & Night: 7.5 / 10
- Maytag, Frigidaire, Broan, Gibson and Miller: 6.5 / 10
- York, Luxaire, Champion, Coleman: 6.5 / 10
Air Source Heat Pump Installation Cost – What’s Included?
We’ve listed installed costs since more than 95% of heat pumps are installed by professionals. The cost of heat pump installation includes:
- The outdoor condensing unit containing the compressor, fan and condensing coil
- The indoor evaporator coil placed in or alongside the air handler or furnace
- Refrigerant line set connecting the coils
- Refrigerant charge
- Wiring whip
- Thermostat (May be optional, but usually selected as part of the package)
- Pad for the condensing unit (optional)
- Installation labor, set up and testing of the system
Professional Installation/Labor costs range from $1,500 to $3,000 based on the ease of access/job complexity, system size and the cost of living in your area.
Rebates and Tax Credits
Federal energy tax credits of up to $300 are in effect until the end of 2021. It is unclear at this time whether they will be renewed.
Many energy providers are offering rebates on the installation of Energy Star certified equipment. The rebates range from $200 to $700. Check with your local energy company or search for rebates on the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency.