Choosing Between a Heat Pump or a Furnace?


Heat Pump
Heat pump v. furnace El dorado Hills CA

A heating system replacement or upgrade used to involve just deciding which furnace one would have in a home or with an HVAC package. Today, however, there are more choices thanks to improving technology. And that brings up the comparison of a heat pump versus a traditional furnace for home heating.

There’s a good amount of discussion going on, and lots of incentives are being offered for heat pumps. The concept works well in many parts of the country that have distinct differences between the temperature outside and that underneath the soil. Add in the fact that what one homeowner wants in a home temperature can be different from another, and the mix of options becomes unique.

What to Consider When Comparing

The big factors of a heat pump vs. furnace that come into play for any home include the following:

  • Local climate patterns
  • Personal temperature desires
  • Frequency of use
  • Dual purpose or single purpose needs
  • Efficiency
  • Cost and operational savings over time

A heat pump provides the option of two temperature benefits, depending on the time of year. By drawing on the temperature underground, it can heat up or cool down a home opposite of what the conditions are outside. Both naturally save money and reduce demand on other home utilities to do the same. A furnace, in comparison, provides an on-demand resource for home heating. It’s fueled by natural gas or heating oil, and the system pushes out warm air into the home when it cools down or as the owner requires. A furnace has more temperature control for specific values, but it becomes useless when the local climate outside gets hot.

The Advantages & Disadvantages of the Heat Pump

Efficiency-wise, the heat pump is a big winner. Because it uses what is already provided by the Earth naturally, there’s no need to pay for additional fuel costs like what happens with a furnace. The system essentially takes the air of a home and moves it through a series of pipes buried underground. Doing so, the air draws the temperature from the surrounding ground and heats up or cools down accordingly. When it exits, the air is then pumped back into the home, affecting the same temperature change. The difference between outside and inside the home can be significant at a cost of pennies to run the pump system.

As noted earlier, heat pumps have a dual benefit. They can provide both heating and cooling, depending on the time of year and what the temperature is outside. This is particularly useful for homes that have noticeable seasonal swings in temperature, from very hot to very cold. Because the temperature underground stays stable year round, the benefit for a home is the same as well.

On the disadvantages side, heat pumps are not as strong a contender when the temperature swings are significantly colder outside. While the underground temperature works very well, fending off the heat of summer, during the very cold winter a heat pump will not produce sufficient heat in terms of comfortable conditions, and it needs to be bolstered by space heaters or a secondary heat source in the home.

The Advantages & Disadvantages of a Furnace

The strongest advantage of a furnace is the on-demand heat and the speed at which it is produced. Hands down, a furnace produces a warmer house faster. There is a cost to that in the form of increased charges for natural gas or heating oil used, but the convenience is definitely the strongest aside from a space heater directly next to a user.

Furnaces are far safer than other forms of direct heat. Fireplaces and space heaters both have high risks of starting home fires and other related damage. Because the heat is contained in a protected system, furnace heating has far less problems than the former, but it is still riskier than a heat pump simple because of the combustion factor involved.

Finally, furnaces have a strong track record of reliability during the expected performance phase of their lifecycle. On average, most furnaces will run dependably for at least a decade, and higher capacity units can run longer. The big factors in longevity come with maintenance, regular cleaning and early identification of problems that can be handled with small repairs. Over-use and poor maintenance will shorten the life of a furnace considerably.

The above said, furnaces can be a considerable expense to install, and become very costly when they break down in the middle of winter.


Purity Muriuki
I'm a passionate full-time blogger. I love writing about startups, technology, health, lifestyle, fitness, electronics, social media marketing and much more. Continue reading my articles for more insight.

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