Heat Pump vs Furnace

To make the right decision for your living space, you should consider several factors when comparing heat pumps vs furnaces. These include the energy source, energy efficiency, air quality, overall cost, location and climate. Your location and climate will determine their effectiveness in cold weather as well as the reliability of the unit in terms of lifespan and maintenance.

Heat pumps

A heat pump is an appliance that takes heat from one place and transfers it to another through electric or mechanical means. As an important part of a heating and cooling system, a heat pump extracts heat from your home and transfers it to the outdoor air during the warmer months. Even in colder weather, the air outdoors will still contain a certain level of heat energy, some of which the device will collect and move to your house. It is important to note that heat pumps do not generate heat but only move it from one place to another. This all-in-one heating and cooling device is designed to help keep your home comfortable all year round.

How heat pumps work

Heat pumps move heat from a cool space to a warm space and vice versa. It means the system works as an air conditioner during hotter climates to extract heat from indoor air and move it outside. And the unit reverses its cycle during winter months to remove heat from the outside air and supply it indoors. When there isn’t enough heat left to extract, the air gets heated through a heater to achieve the desired indoor temperature.

While modern heat pumps can heat homes even during extreme cold weather conditions, to achieve effective heating in such situations, these systems must work continuously. As such, the energy consumption will be more. Therefore, these units are best for heating homes situated in milder climates.

Types of heat pumps

There are three main types of heat pumps: air-to-air, water source and geothermal. While air-to-air heat pumps use air as the medium for heat exchange, water source heat pumps dissipate heat through the water. Geothermal heat pumps, on the other hand, transfer heat between your home and the ground. While air-source heat pumps are the most common type, water source and geothermal heat pumps work well in areas with more extreme climates.

Heat pump energy efficiency

To determine the most efficient heat pumps, you need to know how efficiently the units perform in both heating and cooling mode. Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) is a rating that measures how well a unit performs in the cooling mode, while the Heating Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF) is the measure of efficiency in heating mode. There is also the Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER), which represents the amount of heat or cooling that a unit puts out compared to the amount of energy consumed. Generally, an efficient score is at least 15 SEER and 8.5 HSPF.

It is important to consider the type of fuel a heat pump uses before buying one. While compression heat pumps operate on mechanical energy that’s usually driven by electricity, absorption heat pumps rely on electricity or burnable fuels as their energy source. As such, they can be fueled by natural or liquefied petroleum (LP) gas.

Benefits of a heat pump

Heat pumps are associated with both financial and environmental benefits. Since they provide both heating and cooling, you only need one system vs. two. They require less maintenance, have a long lifespan and help lower your carbon footprint. Heat pumps are also energy-efficient, which keeps operational costs low. The fact that you don’t have to store different types of fuels like propane and oil also makes the systems safer.

Cost

How much you pay for a heat pump will depend on the type of heat pump you choose. The price will also be influenced by the brand and model as well as the size and features of the unit. When looking at the cost of a heat pump, you should also take installation costs into account. The average price range of a heat pump, including installation, is between $5,000 and a little over $9,000.

Furnaces

A furnace is an appliance used to generate heated air in residential and commercial buildings. When your unit is on and you have preset your comfort level, the thermostat will detect that the temperature is below the comfort level and signal the furnace to activate. Fuel is then sent to the burners, with the lit burners heating a device called a heat exchanger. Once the heat exchanger reaches its operating temperature, the blower motor circulates cool air over the heat exchanger. The air is warmed before it is distributed throughout the home via a network of ducts. This process is repeated until the desired indoor temperature is achieved, at which point the thermostat will signal the furnace to turn off.

How furnaces work

A furnace burns fuel to heat air and distribute it across the home. It uses a burner to ignite the fuel and a heat exchanger, where the air picks up heat resulting from fuel burning. This hot air flows through ducts and into your home through indoor air registers. Flue gases resulting from fuel combustion exit into the atmosphere through a separate vent pipe.

Types of furnaces

There are many different types of furnaces in the market today, so it pays off to familiarize yourself with the options. In terms of the mode of operation, there are single-stage, two-stage and modulating furnaces. Where a certain furnace falls will depend on how it adjusts the amount of fuel required to heat your space. When it comes to the fuel source, furnaces are categorized into natural gas, oil electric and propane furnaces.

Furnace energy efficiency

The energy efficiency of a furnace is measured by the Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) standard, which is the ratio of the annual heat output of the unit to the total amount of energy consumed, expressed as a percentage. The higher the percentage, the more efficient a furnace is. A furnace with an AFUE rating of between 80 and 85 percent is considered a mid-efficiency unit, with high-efficiency furnaces rated between 90 and 97 percent.

Furnaces are also classified according to the type of fuel they use to generate heat. Gas furnaces use natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas, butane, propane or a mixture of propane and butane. Oil furnaces have a specialized burner that converts the oil into mist, while electric furnaces use wire coils to heat the air in your home. Gas and electric furnaces are more cost-effective to run than oil furnaces, given the steady increase in the price of oil over the years.

Benefits of a furnace

There are several benefits of using a furnace to heat your home. Most modern furnaces are equipped with dehumidification that helps to remove indoor air contaminants, effectively improving air quality and ensuring optimal comfort during the cold months. They heat living spaces quickly and come with advanced safety features. Furnaces with programmable thermostats help you save money. Another advantage of furnaces is that they are commonly used and widely available, so it’s easy to find parts for repair and replacement.

Cost

How much you pay for a new furnace will depend on the brand, model and size of the furnace you select. Its efficiency and features will also affect the price. On average, expect to pay around $4,000 for a new gas furnace, including installation. The overall price range for a new gas furnace before installation is around $1,000 to $2,500.

Choosing the right unit for your home

The decision to choose a heat pump or furnace depends on multiple factors. Generally, heat pumps are better suited for areas with a temperate climate. Furnaces, on the other hand, are right if you live in a cold climate. 

FAQ’s

What is better, a heat pump or gas furnace?

In the heat pump versus gas furnace debate, climate is the biggest deciding factor. You can also consider the overall cost, air quality and reliability.

At what temperature is a heat pump not effective?

A conventional air source heat pump will operate effectively between 25-30°F. When outdoor temperatures fall below this range, a heat pump will no longer be an efficient heating option.

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