Heat Pumps & Heating

Heat Pump vs Furnace - A Home Heating Debate

Heat Pump vs Furnace: A Home Heating Debate

With the exception of a couple of alternatives, there are generally two kinds of heating systems from which to choose: Furnaces or heat pumps.

No matter whether you reside in a mild or a frigid clime, deciding on the type of heating system for your home can nonetheless be challenging.  

To make it a bit smoother, this article will explore the pros and cons of both and, ideally, resolve the heat pump vs furnace dilemma.

Arguably, the first step in determining the answer to this question is by considering where in the country you live in.

For example, heat pumps are best designed for regions in which mild winters are the norm.

They are well suited for coastal areas, particularly in the Gulf States.

On the other hand, furnaces enable homeowners to endure even the most challenging of winter weather.

The Pros and Cons of a Heat Pump vs Furnace:

Heat Pump vs Furnace - pros and cons

Heat Pump Pros & Cons

Again, heat pumps are essentially air conditioners that work in reverse to provide warmth for the home.

Unlike a furnace that creates heat at the source via a flame, a heat pump moves heat from one location to another.

Simply put, during the warmer months, a heat pump will move heat from your home to the outside. In the colder months, the process is reversed and heat is transferred from the outdoors to your home’s interior.

Heat pumps are beneficial in that they function efficiently year-round, which means that a single outlay of one’s hard-earned funds takes care of all a home’s interior environmental comfort needs while assisting in the lowering of both heating and cooling bills.

They can also satisfy one’s desire to be €œgreen€ by putting out up to three times more heat than the energy consumed.

Conversely, heat pumps will set you back significantly more, financially, than furnaces will. (Again, the good news is that you can also use them for efficient cooling as well.)

As also previously mentioned, there is the issue with heat pumps of sometimes needing a backup heating source.

When one experiences extra cold nights, an additional heat source (such as a small furnace) may be needed.

Heat Pump vs Furnace

Gas Furnaces Pros & Cons

Arguably, the most common kind of home heating is that which is provided by natural gas furnaces, creating heat via the burning of the gas.

The heat produced from forced air furnaces is then pushed out through registers situated throughout the home.

The good news here is that a furnace is less costly than a heat pump, though one will still need to fork out the money for an air conditioner separately so as to enjoy interior cooling when the weather gets hot.

However, a furnace will always work, even on the chilliest of nights with no backup heat source being required.

And, in this day and age, even furnaces have attained high levels of energy efficiency.

Some gas furnaces are efficient enough to convert 97% of the gas used into heat

That being said, furnaces still use more energy than do heat pumps. (Gas is recommended in that it’s less costly than electricity.)

Keep in mind that buying the latest in furnace technology can save a homeowner serious money over older models.

At the end of the day, the decision of either a furnace or a heat pump boils down to the climate in which you reside, how expensive it is to use electricity and gas and the kind of heating method that you fancy.

What is a Heat Pump?

Prior to getting into the heat pump vs furnace debate directly, let’s first define what they each are and how they operate.

Essentially, a heat pump is like a reverse air conditioner that, as opposed to cooling, rather heats your home.

An air conditioner, by name, does not necessarily imply cooling but rather is the method in which one’s internal environment is €œconditioned.€

In the heat pump’s case, it utilizes the same methodology to increase the temperature (rather than decreasing it). In other words, a heat pump is an air conditioner, but an air conditioner is, obviously, not always a heat pump, despite the fact that mechanically they are the same.

Heat pumps actually move in the air from the outside, rather than boosting a home’s temperature utilizing a flame as a furnace does.

There’s an outdoor compressor, like all typical central A/C systems, that is comprised of copper tubing along with aluminium fins that work together in drawing in the air and compressing it.

Next, a chemical agent works to evaporate the compressed and now heated air and transforms it into a gas; it then moves it to a coil inside the home where it is condensed back into liquid form and distributed throughout the home.

Heat pumps can either draw heat from the air outside or, alternatively, from a ground source. (Note that the ground-sourced heating models are costlier.)

Heat Pump vs Furnace

Where Heat Pumps Work Best

Heat pumps are best used in more mild climates where one can be afforded the use of electricity at a lower cost- this can make a heat pump a viable alternative to a fuel-fired furnace.

Where temperatures regularly fall under 40 degrees (Fahrenheit), compressing heat from the exterior air, as heat pumps do, can be problematic.

Keep in mind, though, that there is an optional component that works in conjunction with either the electric or gas resistance coils that can help make the heat pump function better.

Simply put, it’s a miniature furnace that boosts the heat pump’s efficiency.

Now, what are Furnaces?

A furnace forces air into the home that is heated by a flame, normally (but not always) using a fan to push warmth through ducting and out a litany of vents that are strategically placed throughout the dwelling.

It is wise to consider replacing older model furnaces, regardless of the heat pump vs furnace debate, as they can be grossly inefficient.

Keep in mind that newer models can be vastly more environmentally and economically friendly, boasting an eye-popping efficiency of up to 98%.

(In a nutshell, this means that 98 percent of the energy used goes directly toward heating the home.)

This kind of home heating method depends on a fluid medium, normally air but sometimes steam or hot water, to distribute the warmth.

There is a myriad of types of furnaces, such as gas, oil, and electric, but they are distinguished from heat pumps in that they burn a fuel (or use electricity) to directly heat the air inside the home.

Additional Relevant Information

What is AFUE?

The Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) rating is used to determine the efficiency of furnaces and heat pumps.

All heaters, whether gas or oil-fueled, are measured using AFUE. It’s an objective method of comparison and is measured as a percentage.

For example, an AFUE of 70% would indicate that 70% of the fuel burned in a furnace is directly going to warm the home. (The other 30% is wasted via one’s exhaust ventilation.)

The higher the AFUE percentage, the more efficient is the furnace or heat pump.

What is SEER?

SEER is an acronym meaning Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio and is the way in which to measure the efficiency of air conditioners and heat pumps throughout the year.

(The higher the SEER value, the more efficient the appliance.) It’s not a perfect way to measure efficiency in the real world because it is determined in the laboratory where the environment is controlled.

Understand that, as the old EPA gas mileage standard, the efficiency claims can be overblown.

The scale is ranked currently between SEER 7 and SEER 21 to 25 (depending on the highest SEER rated air conditioner available on the market at any given time).

Generally speaking, most heat pumps you can buy will fall between 14 and 16 SEER. Remember, since heat pumps and air conditioners are essentially the same things mechanically, SEER values apply to both. (Since a heat pump is powered by electricity, it can’t be rated with AFUE.)

Heat Pump vs Furnace Conclusion

The heat pump vs. furnace dilemma can be tricky for those in the market for a good home heating system.

Now, armed with knowledge, you can make an informed decision.

Basically, if you brave frigid and snow-filled winters, perhaps decide upon a furnace.

If you’re living in a mild climate, like Southern California or Florida, then a heat pump might be the way to go.

Now, it’s in your hands. Good Luck!

Check out our other in-depth guides:
Infrared Heater Buyers Guide
Tower Fan Buyers Guide
The Ultimate Bathroom Fan Buyers Guide
Heat Pump vs AC

Heat Pump vs Air Conditioners - The Pros and Cons

Heat Pump vs Air Conditioners: The Pros and Cons 

When you own a home, there are a lot of decisions that go into making it the perfect place for you and your family.

Something that people may not always think about, but that can have a big impact, is the cooling system for their home. In addition to ceiling fans, you probably want to consider a heat pump or Air Conditioner unit.

Several different factors can determine whether you’d want to use a heat pump vs air conditioners, and there is no one answer for everyone.

Below, we’ve taken the time to discuss both options and the pros and cons of using a heat pump vs Air Conditioner, so that you can make an informed decision about which is right for your home.

Heat Pump vs Air Conditioners

Heat Pump Pros & Cons

There are a lot of benefits to using a heat pump vs air conditioners:

Pros❌ Cons
Because heat pumps remove heat from a cool area and transfer it to a warm area, they can be used to both heat and cool and so can be useful all year long. If your heat pump is not cooling, here might be the reasons why.Heat pumps are not suitable for every climate. Though heat pumps can be a good alternative to an ac unit, they can’t do the work of a furnace when it comes to heating your home.
In the summer, heat pumps will move the warm air outside, leaving your house cool. In the winter, the opposite will happen and your heat pump will warm your house instead.If you live somewhere that gets extremely cold, a heat pump will not be enough to keep you comfortable during the winter months. You will probably need another type of heater as well, so choosing to go with an ac unit and furnace may be a more practical option.
Heat pumps can save you money! Heat pumps don’t generate heat, they simply move it from one place to another, which can be a more cost-efficient way to cool your home.Installation costs of heat pumps can be high, and while they may save you money in the long-run, an expensive upfront cost is not possible for everyone. You should also consider that the larger your house, the more indoor units you’ll need for the air to move efficiently, and so the more expensive installation becomes.
Using a heat pump vs AC is a more environmentally-friendly way of heating and cooling your house. Geothermal heat pumps can be especially energy-efficient.Because heat pumps make use of both an indoor and an outdoor unit, the installation process can be difficult and time-consuming and may disrupt your house and daily life. The average lifespan of a heat pump is between 10-15 years. If you notice that your heating or cooling bills have become more expensive or if the unit becomes noisy and starts rattling, it is probably time to look into a replacement.

Heat Pump vs Air Conditioners pros

Air Conditioners Pros & Cons

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When choosing between a heat pump vs AC units, it’s good to know about the positives and downsides of air conditioning:

Pros❌ Cons
Central air conditioning units are the best way to keep your house at a consistently cool temperature. If you live in a climate that can get extremely hot, having central air can be the most reliable way to keep your home at a comfortable temperature during warmer months.Maintenance and upkeep can be a major hassle with air conditioning units.
AC units need ductwork to operate, and if your home does not already have it, installing ductwork is a major and expensive renovation.
You are also in control of just how cool your house will get. You can choose and adjust the temperature based on the weather outside and your own preference so that your house is cooled exactly how you like it.The filters and coils in AC units also need to be cleaned on a regular basis. Keeping up with this can be time-consuming, but if it isn’t done, your air conditioner will not work as well as it should.
It is possible that air conditioning can be better for your health. The process used by ac units to cool your home can also filter out pollen, grass, and other common allergies and keep them from getting inside.Being able to set one temperature for your whole house can be a good thing if you live alone or your whole family likes the air the same.
But the drawback to central AC is that you can’t change the temperature for each individual room, so someone may end up too hot or too cold.
If you only have a small space that you want to air condition, window units are an affordable option. They are not expensive to buy or maintain, and work very well for cooling any room where they’re installed.Besides the cost of your conditioner and its installation, you will probably need a separate heating unit to use in your home during the colder months.
This means that you should also consider the cost of installing and maintaining a furnace when you’re looking at your overall budget.

Heat PumpsHeat Pump vs Air Conditioners: The Pros and Cons 

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How They Work

Before you can decide on a heat pump vs AC, it’s important to understand what each is and how it works.

Heat pump systems move heat from a cool space to a warm space using electricity. In warm months this means that warm air is being moved outside, which leaves your house nice and cool.

Different Kinds

There are three different kinds of heat pumps that could be used in your home:

Air-source Systems:

  • The majority of heat pump systems found in homes are air-source systems.
  • These systems are made up of two different parts.
  • There’s an indoor unit called the air handler and an outdoor unit which is called the heat pump. Tubing connects the two units, and the heat is absorbed from one area (such as inside your house) and then released in another area (outside).

Split-ductless systems:

  • Split-ductless heat pumps also are made up of an indoor and an outdoor unit. A compressor or condenser is used outside, and anywhere between one and four air handlers are used inside.
  • The indoor units should be installed somewhere high, like up on a wall or on the ceiling. They are operated by remote control.
  • Then, just like with the air-source systems, the air is passed between the two units by the tubing that connects them.

Geothermal heat pumps:

  • The third type of heat pump is called a geothermal heat pump.
  • Geothermal heat pumps use pipes to move heat from inside your house to outside. These pipes have a water solution inside them that is always warmed to 50 or 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Heat Pump vs Air Conditioners how it works

AC Units

How They Work

Understanding air conditioning units will play a big role in helping you decide on a heat pump vs AC. Air conditioning units are common in many homes, but most people don’t understand how they actually work.

The air conditioning unit in your home works a lot like your refrigerator does to keep things cold.

The process can seem complicated, but the bottom line is that unwanted heat is removed from your house through a set of coils and fans. Your home is then left comfortably cool.


Different Kinds

There are several different options for air conditioners, and know more about each may help you in your decision to choose a heat pump vs AC units:

Window units:

  • For smaller apartments or single rooms, window units are the most common type of air conditioner.
  • With a window air conditioning unit, all of the components used to cool the room are held inside of a single box.

Split air conditioner:

  • To cool several rooms, a split air conditioner can be a good option because they typically do not take up as much room as a window unit.
  • These air conditioners have both an indoor and outdoor unit, which work together to cool the space.

Central air conditioning:

  • If you’re cooling a bigger building or entire home, central air conditioning makes the most sense.
  • These units are made up of large compressors that can produce lots of cool air at once to distribute throughout a space.

Making Your Decision: Heat Pump vs AC

Depending on where you live, how big your home is and what kind of budget you’re working with, you may have an easy decision to make when it comes to a heat pump vs AC.

If the choice is not clear, though, it is important to consider the pros and cons of both options.

If you have experience with either of these systems or an opinion you’d like to share, please feel free to leave us a comment below.

Check out our other in-depth guides: