If you’re building a new home or your existing home is due for a new heating system, there are many options on the market to choose from. Two of the most popular include a home furnace and a heat pump. Knowing the difference between the two will help you to better understand which one is best suited to fit the needs of your household.

What Is a Furnace?

Furnaces are the most widely used heating systems throughout the entire United States. A furnace can run on electricity, natural gas, oil, or propane. An electric furnace uses electricity to heat up a coil inside of the unit. Then, its blower motor will force air over the heating element to be warmed. Next, your ducting will deliver all that warm air throughout the various rooms of your home.

If you want a furnace that is powered by natural gas, oil, or propane, it works via the combustion process. The actual fuel itself will be ignited by an internal system igniter. This combustion process creates heat which is forced through the ductwork in your home to deliver warm air to all of the different rooms.

What Is a Heat Pump?

A heat pump works much differently than a furnace. It actually transfers heat from one location to another. In the wintertime, it will transport heat from the outdoors to the inside of your home. In the summertime, a heat pump will transport heat from inside your home to the outdoors. This whole transfer process works via a substance known as refrigerant.

Refrigerant starts out in your heat pump as a low-pressure liquid. As it absorbs heat, it will turn into a high-pressure gas substance. Once it reaches its destination, heat will be removed from the refrigerant, and it will turn back into a liquid state. This process recycles over and over again until your home reaches your desired temperature setting.

Heat Pumps in Freezing Temperatures

When speaking about heat pumps, it’s important to address the problem that they have with below-freezing temperatures. When temperatures dip too low, your heat pump is going to struggle to bring heat from the outdoors into your home. When this happens, your heat pump will switch over to auxiliary mode.

This mode works very similarly to an electric furnace in the sense that it heats up an internal coil. Air is forced over the coil to help disperse that warm air to the various rooms throughout your home. It’s very important to note that the efficiency of a heat pump would drastically change when it switches from normal operation to auxiliary heating mode. This is simply due to the fact that it relies solely on electricity to generate heat instead of using electricity simply to transport heat.

Your Climate Matters

One of the biggest deciding factors of whether you invest in a furnace or a heat pump is going to depend on the climate that you live in. Heat pumps are much more energy efficient than traditional furnaces when they’re operating in their normal mode. This can make them a true advantage when it comes to both wintertime heating bills and summertime cooling bills.

However, if you live in a region of the country where temperatures regularly dip below freezing during the winter months, that efficiency is no longer going to be there. In fact, running a furnace in below-freezing temperatures is going to be more energy efficient than relying on a heat pump’s auxiliary heating mode.

Some homeowners love the idea of having an energy-efficient heat pump that they can rely on for both wintertime heating and summertime cooling. However, they don’t want to deal with the high heating bills for the auxiliary mode. One of the best ways to combat this is to invest in a dual heating system.

This simply means having both a heat pump and furnace installed in your home. You can run your heat pump throughout the year to take advantage of its high energy efficiency. Whenever the temperatures dip down below freezing, you can switch over to your furnace to help maximize efficiency and reduce your wintertime heating bills.

A Note About Upfront Cost

If you compare heat pumps to furnaces as far as installation and upfront purchase costs, you’re going to quickly realize that heat pumps are much more expensive. However, when you have a heat pump installed, it’s going to provide you with both heating and cooling, whereas a furnace will only be able to adequately heat your home.

Before making any sort of investment in the heating system for your home, you should also consider the lifespan of a potential system. Your typical furnace will last anywhere between 15 and 20 years. On the other hand, a heat pump will typically only last between 10 and 15 years due to its combined heating and cooling demands.

Fuel Availability in Your Area Plays a Role

When determining the best sort of heating system for your home, you also need to take into account what fuel sources are widely available in your area. Not all areas of the country have access to fuels like natural gas or even propane. You want to ensure that you have a source of fuel for whatever system you want to utilize.

If you live in a region of the country that regularly experiences temperatures below freezing, it can be beneficial to see if there are fuel sources other than electricity available in your area. It will be cheaper to run a furnace on heating oil or even propane during bouts of below-freezing temperatures than it would be to run a heat pump.

Do You Need a Cooling System?

When making your decision, you also need to look at your summertime cooling needs. A heat pump can provide you with both heating in the wintertime and cooling in the summertime. Think of it as one system that can meet all of your needs throughout the entire year. If you don’t have a centralized air conditioning system already installed in your home or it’s getting up there in age, you may want to consider investing in a heat pump so that you can take care of both your heating and cooling needs. However, if you have a fairly new centralized air conditioning system, you may want to save money and invest in a new furnace to meet your heating needs.

Heat Pumps Provide Versatility

One aspect of heat pumps that we must cover is their versatility as compared to a furnace. With a furnace, you’re going to have to have a forced air heating system that requires ductwork to be installed throughout your entire home. This may not be a big deal if you already have existing ductwork. However, it can be quite expensive if you’re upgrading to a furnace for the first time.

A heat pump is very versatile in the fact that it can be connected to existing ductwork or can be installed without any ducting at all. When you’re not going to be using ducting, these are called ductless mini-split systems, and they are small units that get placed on the interior walls of your home. Each unit is outfitted with its own blower fan and will produce adequate heating or cooling for a specific zone of your house.

Expert Heating Service

Honest Air Conditioning provides expert heating and cooling services for Mesa, AZ, and the surrounding communities. We can perform maintenance, installations, and repairs as well as handle indoor air quality needs. We always aim to provide the highest level of professional service. Contact us today!