Heat Pump vs. Furnace: The Best Way to Heat Your Home
The biggest concern when preparing for the winter season is how to heat your home. A heat pump and furnace are two of the most popular options to beat the chilly season. Both these home heating systems work quite differently and have their own pros and cons, leaving you confused about which one to choose! This article draws a comparison between a heat pump vs. furnace to help you make the best choice. Before you move on to deciding which one is better, it’s essential to know how heat pumps and furnaces work.
How Does a Heat Pump Work?
A heat pump transfers heat from one place to another. It extracts warmth from outdoor air and moves it inside your home. Even if the temperature is below freezing, they’re still able to extract heat from the air outside.
The most significant advantage of heat pumps is that they can heat and cool your home. Talk about two birds with one stone. A heat pump can heat and cool your home through a simple component: the reversing valve. In summers, it works as a traditional air conditioner, cooling your home. However, in winters, the reversing valve turns the evaporator coil into the condenser coil and vice versa. Read this article to learn in detail how do heat pumps work.
The most commercially available heat pumps are air-to-air heat pumps. As the name indicates, air-to-air heat pumps use air as a heat source and a heat sink. They heat areas with moderate climates quite well. However, air-to-air heat pumps are not a good option in extremely hot or freezing climates. Their efficiency takes a toll as the temperature difference between inside and outside increases, making them a poor choice for areas with extreme temperatures.
If traditional heat pumps can’t rescue you in freezing weather, you still have one other option left, geothermal or underground heat pumps.
What is a Geothermal Heat Pump?
Geothermal heat pumps eliminate traditional heat pumps’ most significant flaw: their poor performance in extreme temperatures.
Geothermal heat pumps work in the same way as air-to-air heat pumps except for one crucial difference; they are located underground where the temperature is constant throughout the year. Even when the temperature above ground is below freezing, the underground temperature will be around 40-50 degrees providing enough warmth for the heat pump to work efficiently.
However, geothermal heating systems are notoriously difficult and expensive to install, compelling homeowners to look for other options.
How Does a Furnace Work?
A furnace is a heating appliance that is most suitable for people living in an extremely cold climate area. As opposed to the heat pumps, they work by generating heat. Furnaces typically use fuel, such as gas or propane to heat your home.
The way furnaces work is quite simple. A flame activates the oil, gas, or electricity inside the unit to generate heat. The blower blows the hot air through the ducts, and the ducts distribute the hot air throughout your home. There is also a flue that serves as an exhaust for gaseous by-products.
Heat Pump vs. Gas Furnace
While heat pumps only transfer heat from one place to another, gas furnaces burn gas to generate heat. The efficiency of gas furnaces is improving day by day. According to Energy Star, there are now gas furnaces with an efficiency as high as 97%. That means they successfully convert 97% of gas into heat. Only 3% is lost through the exhaust flue or elsewhere. Moreover, gas is very cheap compared to other fuels. If you are looking for a budget-friendly furnace option, a gas furnace may be the way to go.
Coming to heat pump vs. gas furnace, the former has the advantage of much higher efficiency. At 46 F, a heat pump can produce 200% to 540% more heat energy than the electricity it consumes.
Heat Pump vs. Electric Furnace
Electric furnaces work much like a hairdryer. First, they pull air into the system. Then the electric heating elements warm up the air. The blowers then send the hot air through the ducts and into your home.
Electric furnaces are like heat pumps in the sense that they do not use fuel and don’t produce carbon monoxide. They also do not have a flue because there are no toxic fumes to remove. If you want the heat of a furnace but aren’t comfortable with the idea of burning fuel, electric heat pumps are a good option for you.
What is a Modulating Furnace?
Modulating furnaces adjust the amount of gas they burn to reach the target temperature. Modulating furnaces run steadily at a lower energy level rather than running at full speed and turning on and off repeatedly. You get the temperature you want, but with significant energy savings.
Dual-Fuel System: The Best of Both Worlds
Can’t decide between a heat pump and a furnace? A dual fuel system combines the best of both worlds. It includes both a heat pump and a gas furnace. During milder temperatures, it operates only as a heat pump. However, the moment temperatures fall, it switches to work as a furnace. Because dual fuel heat pumps switch between a heat pump and a gas furnace depending on which is more efficient, they also save homeowners a considerable amount of money.
Heat Pump vs. Furnace: How to Decide?
Now that you know quite a bit about furnaces and heat pumps and their different types, you may be wondering which one is best for you. There are several factors to consider when deciding which heating option to choose.
How Much Are You Willing to Spend on Installation?
Furnaces are cheaper to install than heat pumps on average. The average cost of installing a furnace is $4631, while installing a heat pump is $5613. Considering that furnaces perform significantly better in below-freezing temperatures, this makes furnaces a no-brainer for most homeowners. Geothermal heat pumps provide equally good heating as furnaces and are also more efficient. However, they have incredibly high installation costs. The installation cost of a geothermal heat pump can be anywhere between $6000 to $40000.
Furnaces Have High Operating Costs
A heat pump uses much less energy than a furnace and subsequently has lower operating costs. Exact operating costs depend on your location, the unit’s efficiency, and local gas or electricity prices. However, on average, you should expect to spend between $820 to $1550 annually when using any furnace. On the other hand, you will only need to spend an average of $260-$850 when using a heat pump.
What’s a Tolerable Noise Level for You?
While this may not seem like a huge issue at first, high HVAC sound levels can be damaging to your ears over time. Even when there are no technical problems, heat pumps are noisier than furnaces. Heat pumps frequently make clanking noises when the compressor powers up or down. On the other hand, furnaces are located away from the living space, usually in a basement, and you cannot hear them.
How Much Available Space Do You Have?
Though this isn’t a factor typically discussed, furnaces take up a lot of space. If you have a smaller house, you likely value every square inch you have. In addition, furnaces are typically installed indoors, and building codes require at least a 30-inch margin on all sides for safety purposes.
On the other hand, the largest part of a heat pump, the compressor, is located outdoors, and the heat pumps indoor unit is usually relatively small and can be mounted high up on the wall.
Do You Live in a Harsh Climate?
If you live in a moderate climate with mild winters, a heat pump is perfect for you. However, if you live in an area where winter temperatures are frequently below freezing point, a furnace is the best option for achieving your ideal temperature. Furnaces generally work better in colder climates because they don’t depend on the outdoor temperature to heat your home.
If you do not have a gas line near your home, you can look into an electric furnace or a geothermal heat pump. If winters are extremely unpredictable in your area, a dual fuel system is a good option because it switches between a heat pump and a furnace.
Heat pumps are significantly more energy-efficient than furnaces because they merely transfer heat from one place to another. Moreover, a heat pump can transfer 100% more energy than it consumes. Those are some impressive numbers indeed! On the other hand, most decent gas furnaces have an efficiency between 90-97%.
Carbon Monoxide Risk
Though gas furnaces have improved by miles in terms of efficiency in recent years, they release carbon monoxide into the air because they still use fuel to generate heat. If the exhaust flue is blocked, carbon monoxide can build up in your home. If you have a gas furnace, you should invest in a good carbon monoxide detector and regularly clean your exhaust flue to ensure it is unblocked.
Lifespan and Maintenance
Since furnaces only run less than half the year, they typically require less maintenance and have a longer lifespan. Furnaces, if well-maintained, can have a lifespan of 20 years or more. A heat pump has an average lifespan of 10-15 years. If you’re the type who forget routine maintenance work, a furnace is the best bet for you. If you have a gas furnace, you need to ensure that the exhaust flue is always clear. You don’t want carbon monoxide to be trapped in your home.
Do You Need Rapid Heating?
Furnaces raise the temperature quite rapidly and provide quite warm and toasty air. On the other hand, heat pumps warm up your home more gradually, and the atmosphere is less hot than that maintained by a furnace. As compared to heat pumps, furnaces take away humidity from the air, leading to drier skin in winters.
Are You Looking for an Environmentally Friendly Option?
Even highly efficient heat pumps expel some carbon monoxide into the outside air. Carbon monoxide is harmful to the environment, and you may not be comfortable with using an appliance that contributes to the degradation of our environment. In such a case, you can either use an electric furnace or a geothermal heat pump, neither of which releases carbon monoxide into the air.
Are You Willing to Invest in a Furnace-AC Combo?
Heat pumps have the edge to both heat and cool your home. If you get a furnace, you will likely have to buy a separate air conditioner for summers. A furnace-AC combo requires more work in terms of maintenance. If you aren’t willing to go through the hassle of dealing with two different systems, one for each season, you will be better off with a heat pump.
Heat Pumps Are Easier to Make Smart
When comparing a heat pump and furnace, heat pumps come with more smarter options. You can use a smart AC controller such as the Cielo Breez Eco or the Cielo Breez Plus to make your heat pump smart. Smart AC controllers offer you a range of features to keep track of air filter cleanliness, set advanced schedules, create temperature and humidity ranges, and control your heat pump from anywhere in the world!
When deciding between a heat pump and a furnace, the final decision is mostly impacted by the climate conditions of your area. In addition, your personal preferences, budget, and available space also come into play. Now that you know all there is about heat pumps vs. furnaces, you are ready to make an informed choice about which appliance is well-suited to your needs. Here’s to a cozy winter!