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Heat Pump vs Furnace: Which One Should You Choose?

Heat Pump vs Furnace: Which One Should You Choose?Photo from Pixabay

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Is there anything worse than being cold in your own home? The last thing you want in the dead of winter is to dread being at home because your indoor temperature is just not comfortable enough. If you have an old furnace that keeps playing up, it might be time to consider an upgrade.

But do you stick with a furnace or opt for a more modern heating version — the heat pump? While furnaces tend to have a longer lifespan, there are a number of advantages to installing a heat pump, most notably, the cost savings.

Check out this guide on choosing a heat pump vs furnace and make the right decision for your home.

The Basics of a Heat Pump

So, how do heat pumps work? Before you make your decision, you need to have a basic idea of how they warm your home. First things first, a heat pump is actually a dual system that can both heat and cool your home.

Essentially, a heat pump transfers heat. It looks for heat from the air outside your home and transfers it through the HVAC system which heats it across a coil or heat exchanger. It then travels through your ductwork and into your home.

What most homeowners don’t realize is that the air doesn’t need to be warm/hot in order for your heat pump to work efficiently. They’re made to operate in below-freezing temperatures, however, they might not work as efficiently.

Heat pumps can also remove heat from the air in your home during the summer, exchanging it for cool air.

The Basics of a Furnace

A furnace system uses forced hot air that runs through your ductwork, and into your home. You can get a number of different types of furnaces, but unlike a heat pump which uses a heating coil and electricity, a furnace needs a fuel source. Most of the time, this is oil, propane, or natural gas. However, you can choose a furnace that requires electricity to heat the burner.

The heat from the burner transfers across a heat exchanger, while a large fan blows the warm air across the heat exchanger and out into your home.

Now that you have a clearer idea of how these two systems work, here are some of the top things to think about before you make your decision:

1. Furnaces Suit Very Cold Climates 

There’s no getting around the fact that a furnace just works better in a cold climate. This is because it works on a heat-generating system, while a heat pump works on a heat transfer system.

No matter how cold the climate is, or how low the temperature drops, a furnace will work efficiently to warm your home because it does not rely on outside warmth to power the system.

As the temperature drops, the more a heat pump has to work to heat your home, making it less efficient. The one exception is a geothermal heat pump which uses buried refrigerant lines, below frost level. If you live in a very cold climate (zones 4-7 per the U.S. Department of Energy’s Climate Zone Map), you might want to consider this type of heat pump.

2. Noise Considerations 

While it’s no secret that furnaces and heat pumps make their own fair share of noise, heat pumps are a little noisier. What’s more, a furnace will only begin to make grinding, screeching, or clanking noises when it needs repair or replacement.

The reason why heat pumps are on the noisier side is because of the compressor. It’s notorious for its strange knocking, clicking, and ticking sounds. As the heat pump’s refrigerant circulates through the lines, this also makes noises. The actual body of your heat pump can also creak and produce sounds as warm air flows out of it.

The installation of heat pumps also tends to be in common living areas where the noises are more noticeable, too. Whereas furnaces are usually installed in a basement or utility room where you can’t hear them.

With all of this in mind, these noises don’t always mean there’s something wrong with your heat pump — it’s just the nature of the mechanisms and how they work.

3. Space Considerations 

The reality is that furnaces are far larger than heat pumps due to their design and how they work, mechanically. If space is an issue for you, then a heat pump might be more your style as they tend to take up far less space.

Furnaces are also installed indoors, in a utility area or basement, as mentioned. This tends to take up square footage, and if you live in a smaller home, you might not even have room in your basement to spare.

Heat pumps, on the other hand, are usually installed in two parts. The compressor lives outdoors, close to your house — no less than 24 inches from the building. While the actual heat pump mechanism lives indoors, attached to a wall. Due to the fact that a heat pump does not generate its own heat, it’s not combustible. This means it’s perfectly safe to have the air handler indoors.

Mounting the air handler on the wall means you don’t have to worry about a heat pump taking up floor space.

4. Heat Pumps Are Dual Systems 

If you live in a region that experiences both cold and warm weather (enough to warrant the use of an air conditioner in the summer months), then a heat pump is your best option.

Heat pumps are dual systems in that they have the ability to both warm and cool your home, as needed. During the summer months, your heat pump can double up as an air conditioner. This is a massive benefit for homeowners in terms of cost savings as you don’t need to invest in a separate air conditioner unit.

5. Furnace Operating Costs Are Higher 

One might think that running a heat pump with electricity generates a higher cost, but the reality is that you need a lot of fuel to generate heat. This means that the operating costs of a furnace are always going to be higher than that of a heat pump.

In other words, a heat pump requires far less energy to generate heat than a gas/oil, or even an electric-powered furnace. Depending on where you live and the climate, it’s important to do some research on the average cost of running a furnace vs a heat pump during the winter time.

Often, it’s these operating costs that can sway your decision.

6. Heat Pump Installation is Cheaper 

While we’re on the topic of costs, it’s also important to highlight the fact that it will cost you more to install a new furnace, versus a heat pump. On average, it could set you back about $4,500 to install a gas-powered furnace. While an electric furnace could set you back $4,000. If you’re looking for a modern, high-efficiency model for either type of furnace, you could pay up to $10,000.

On the other hand, installation of the most common type of heat pump comes in at an average of about $3,500. But this depends on the size of the heat pump and its energy efficiency. Another important thing to consider is that you get a two-for-one deal with a heat pump as you don’t have to invest in a separate air conditioner for summer.

7. Energy Efficiency Considerations

If you’re concerned about how much energy you’re consuming as a household, then your best bet is to go with a heat pump. They are the most energy-efficient home heating system on the market today.

Because heat pumps do not require fuel to generate heat, this instantly makes them far more energy efficient. In fact, they can reduce your electricity consumption for heating by up to 50 percent. Not only this, but a heat pump also reduces the need and use of fossil fuels, such as propane, oil, and gas, which is better for the environment, overall.

Today, many cold-climate heat pump models are far more energy-efficient than ever. However, if you live in an extremely cold climate, the heating power of a furnace is always unmatched.

Heat Pump vs Furnace: Need Professional Advice?

Whether you choose a heat pump vs furnace to warm your home, you need a professional to tackle the replacement and installation of your new HVAC system. And if you can’t come to a decision, a professional can help you there, too.

Heating and Air HVAC Services is your number one go-to in the San Francisco area. We are a one-stop-shop that’s dedicated to meeting all of your needs to ensure your home is a comfortable, inviting place, year-round.

Get in touch with our team for more!

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