Heat Pump vs Furnace – Which is Better?

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heat pump vs furnace

Heat Pump vs Furnace – Which is Better?

Category:General,Tips

There are 2 main heating systems that are used for residential and commercial applications. In the blue corner we have heat pumps and in the red corner we have furnaces. But which one is the better choice? Each system has pros and cons and that’s why I’ve titled this post Heat Pump vs Furnace.

Around here in the Jackson TN area, both heat pumps and furnaces are pretty common. Let’s get into the pros and cons of each and the differences that set them apart from each other.

The Source of the Heating System

The first attribute to be identified is the source of the heating system. A heat pump and an electric furnace produce their heat via electricity. They are completely electric. A gas or oil furnace, on the other hand, produces it’s heat via a fuel or gas source such as propane, natural gas or oil. So, when it comes to the heat pump vs furnace debate, the source that you prefer for your heating system is going to make a difference.

As far as furnaces go, the cost to operate a furnace using natural gas can be cheaper than the cost of the electricity that it takes to run an electric furnace. The same goes for a oil furnace. But, propane can cost almost twice as much as natural gas in some places. It’d be wise to find out what gases/fuels you have available in your area. Natural gas would be the best option.

A heat pump, in the proper climate, is the cheapest system to operate. The climate is the key though. As we will discuss later, a heat pump is the most efficient and cheapest heating system to operate if the climate doesn’t get too cold. If the climate does get below freezing on a regular basis in the colder months, then an auxiliary heat source will be needed. This can cause the cost to operate to increase significantly. In this case, a furnace would probably be the better option since it can produce heat at it’s normal operating level without needing an auxiliary heat source.

The Heating System’s Efficiency

As we just observed, in some cases a gas or oil furnace costs less money to operate when compared to an electric furnace. But, a heat pump is the most cost effective when it comes to operation (in the right climate). But which system is more energy efficient? Or, in other words, which heating system uses the heat that is produced more efficiently? Which heating system retains more of the produced heat through the heating process?

The heat pump is the answer.  It’s 100%+ efficient! Since heat pumps are literally air conditioners that produce cooling for the warmer months and also produce heat for the colder months, they are going to be the more efficient system.

A heat pump simply takes heat from the outside area where it is located and transfers it to the inside of the home or business that is to be heated. A gas furnace, on the other hand, has to generate the heat itself and some of the heat is lost during the transfer process. For example, a furnace that has an AFUE rating of 80% loses 20% of the produced heat during the process. But, do note, that a  high efficiency furnace can retain up to 98% of it’s produced heat.

Now, let’s get into one of the biggest factors in the heat pump vs furnace debate.

The Heating System’s Climate

The heating system’s climate is going to be a giant factor in the furnace vs heat pump debate. Furnaces are made to operate at their peak level in all temperatures and climates. Whether it’s 45 degrees outside in Tennessee or -20 degrees outside in North Dakota, a furnace can handle both situations.

A heat pump does not have the same ability. Since a heat pump only transfers heat from the outside to the inside, rather than producing it’s own heat, it’s limited by the climate and temperature outside. This can be remedied by using an auxiliary heat source such as heat strips. But, this mode of heating is much less efficient than the normal mode of the heat pump. This causes an increase in your energy bill when the auxiliary heat is used regularly.

This is why furnaces are going to be the cheaper system to operate if the climate averages a temperature of under freezing (32 F) in the colder months.

Check out this zoning chart from ASM-Air.com

heat pump vs furnace

I don’t necessarily agree with how far North the Zone 1 area extends, but it’s pretty accurate.

Now, let’s get into the cost comparison in the heat pump vs furnace debate.

Heat Pump vs Furnace Cost

In most cases, a heat pump is going to cost a little more than a furnace when it comes to the initial purchase and installation costs. A heat pump generally costs more than a furnace. On the other hand, furnace installation costs are usually higher than the cost to install a heat pump.

It’s also important to remember that with a heat pump you are getting both the cooling and heating system that you need for year-round comfort. With a furnace, you are only purchasing the heating system. The separate air conditioner will be the cooling source.

One More Option: Dual Fuel

Towards the end here I want to mention one more option. A dual fuel system. If you like the idea of a heat pump but the increase in energy costs and the decrease in efficiency that comes from the auxiliary heating source in colder temperatures bothers you, then a dual fuel system might be the best option.

A dual fuel system is pretty much a heat pump furnace combo. A dual fuel system uses the heat pump to produce heat in moderately cold temperatures (40 degrees and above). Once the temperature drops into the 30’s and below, the gas/fuel portion of the heating system kicks in and provides sufficient heating for your home or business. It’s the best of both worlds – a heat pump and a furnace all in one.

Wrapping Up the Heat Pump vs Furnace Topic

I hope this post has helped you gain some information and insight concerning the heat pump vs furnace debate. The biggest factor is the climate of the area that you live in. If your climate regularly has temperatures below freezing in the colder months, a furnace or a dual fuel system is probably the best option. Living in the deep southern (Florida) and coastal (California) climates are probably fine with just a heat pump.

If you have any questions or if you have interest in a new heating system, feel free to give us a call at 731-300-1030. We can give you a free estimate on a new heating system. We serve Jackson TN and the surrounding areas and cities.


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