Heat Pump Vs. Furnace. What Heating System Is Right For You?

Heat pumps and furnaces heat your home – but in very different ways. Find out how and what’s right for you.

When it comes to heating your home – you’ve got options. And unless you’re a seasoned pro (not likely) understanding how to choose between a heat pump or a furnace can feel overwhelming. Not to worry, here’s what you need to know to make the right choice.

Map of United States
Northern US shaded grey for Furnaces. Southern and southwest states shaded red for Heat Pump

What is a heat pump?

A heat pump, as part of a central heating and cooling system, uses the outside air to both heat a home in winter and cool it in summer. Basically, that means your heat pump will act as an air conditioner when things get hot and a heater when it’s cold outside – making heat pumps one versatile product. In addition to its flexibility, heat pumps are also energy-efficient. Think of a heat pump as a heat transporter constantly moving warm air from one place to another, to where it’s needed or not needed, depending on the season. In the winter, the pump extracts heat from the outdoor air or ground and distributes it to your home. In the summer, hot air from inside your home is removed – creating a cooler indoor environment.

What we like about heat pumps

  • Energy Efficient – Heat pumps save energy because transferring heat is easier than making it. Surprisingly, even when it feels cold outside, there is still a decent amount of heat waiting to be pumped. Under ideal conditions, a heat pump can transfer 300 percent more energy than it consumes. In contrast, a high-efficiency gas furnace is about 90 percent efficient. Heat pumps are powered by electricity, so you can save substantially on fuel consumption. It’s over 100% efficient in temperate climates and can serve as both a heater and air conditioner.
  • Air Quality – Since heat pumps don’t use combustion, they don’t produce CO. It’s just one fewer source of carbon monoxide leakage to worry about. In contrast to the hot and dry air of a furnace, heat pumps circulate air that’s naturally humid –  so they won’t dry out your skin as much as the scorching heat of a furnace.
  • Installation cost – Installation of a heat pump system usually costs less than the installation of a furnace. Furnaces require an extensive ventilation system, which can increase the cost in a home not already outfitted for this need.

Heat pump concerns

  • Cooler warm air – In general, the air from a heat pump isn’t as hot as what you get from a gas furnace. It’s still warming your home, but it “blows cooler.” Some people don’t care for that.
  • Not ideal for freezing temperatures – If the outside air temperature routinely falls below freezing, a heat pump will have a hard time generating enough heat to keep your home warm. Supplemental systems are available to work in tandem with your heat pump and kick in on the coldest days. Unfortunately, these systems use a lot of energy – cancelling out the energy efficient benefits if used too often.

What is a furnace?

A furnace, as part of a central heating and cooling system, burns fuel and distributes it throughout the house. All furnaces consist of four main components: 1) burners that deliver and burn fuel, 2) heat exchangers, 3) a blower and 4) a flue that acts as an exhaust for gaseous by-products. Depending on your situation, region and needs, you can choose from heating systems running on either gas or oil as fuel, or a hybrid packaged system that can use both fuel types.

What we like about furnaces

  • Cost – Generally, the price for a gas furnace is cheaper than a heat pump. Unit cost will vary depending on the size and amount of features.
  • Cozy heat – The heat produced by gas furnaces just feels hot and toasty compared to the alternatives.
  • Lifespan – A gas-fired furnace usually has a longer lifespan than a heat pump.
  • Less maintenance – Since a gas operated furnace is only used for a few months out of each year, the maintenance requirements are less than those for a heat pump.
  • Dependability – A gas-fired furnace has fewer mechanical parts than a heat pump, meaning fewer things that can break down or malfunction.

Furnace concerns

  • Dry Air – Heat generated from a furnace in winter tends to be dry – and can dry out the overall air in your home. Installing a home humidifier can solve this.
  • Energy cost – Today’s energy efficient furnaces are a vast improvement over the furnaces of ten years ago. Upgrading to a new furnace can lower your energy bills – but compared to heat pumps, they use considerably more energy

Where you live matters

Understanding that every home and homeowner need is different, there are some general recommendations that can help you decide what heating source is right for you.

A heat pump is right for you
If your winters average around 30-40 degrees F, heat pumps are the perfect fit for your home. A climate like the Southeast that has milder winters works well for a heat pump. In addition, locations with low electric rates are prime candidates for heat pumps.

A furnace is right for you
If your winters are bitterly cold and have temperatures consistently below freezing. Furnaces fare better in cold-weather climates because they don’t depend on the outdoor temperatures to convert to heat.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Your best resource for choosing the ideal heating solution for your home is your local Trane Comfort Specialist. You’ll get a customized recommendation based on your preferences and the specific needs of your home.