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HVAC Education, Buying Tips, Furnaces, Heat Pumps, Technology

Heat Pump vs Furnace - Pros & Cons of Both Heating Types

While furnaces and heat pumps both warm up indoor air, they differ in heating capabilities, energy efficiency, maintenance requirements, use of space, and cost. That’s what makes the age-old heat pump vs furnace debate so engaging.

heat pump vs furnace

The area of the country in which you live is perhaps the biggest factor in your heat pump vs furnace debate. Traditionally, heat pumps are best in areas where winters are mild - think southern and coastal states. Furnaces offer greater ability to heat your home during harsher, colder winter conditions and are therefore better suited in northern locations. Most furnaces in the U.S. use natural gas for combustion, but propane, oil and electric furnaces are used as well. By selecting a heating system suited to your climate, you can enjoy better comfort and probably lower operating costs as well.

GAS FURNACE VS HEAT PUMP

When making your gas furnace vs. heat pump comparison, you’ll want to take a number of factors into consideration, including how they work, efficiency, maintenance requirements, and size/space requirements.

HOW THEY WORK

To generate heat, furnaces burn oil or gas, while heat pumps run on electricity, drawing heat from outside air—even cold air—and transferring it indoors. Because of how they work, heat pumps produce less heat than furnaces and work best in warmer climates (zones 1-3 on the U.S. Department of Energy climate zone map).

U.S. Department of Energy Climate Zone Map
Map source: https://basc.pnnl.gov/images/iecc-climate-zone-map

Heat pumps are more versatile in creating indoor comfort—they provide heat in winter and can also act as air conditioners in summer. This means people in warmer climates can heat and cool their home using just a heat pump system. On the other hand, furnaces only provide heat, so a separate air conditioning unit is required to cool your home in warmer months. While both products have different purposes, some climates allow for a furnace to be installed with a heat pump, known as a dual fuel system for heating and cooling. A dual fuel heating system can offer greater savings. One example would be to pair a gas furnace with an air-source heat pump. With two heat sources, the system will gauge the outdoor temperature to determine the most efficient option to heat your home.

Energy Efficiency

Comparing energy efficiency between gas furnaces and heat pump systems is complicated. From a strictly scientific basis, heat pumps are technically more energy efficient in that they can transfer more energy than they use. By contrast, a high efficiency natural gas furnace like the Carrier Infinity 98 with Greenspeed® Intelligence can provide up to 98.5% efficiency (AFUE).

Here’s where it gets complicated. High efficiency heat pumps in warmer climates typically use less source energy on average compared to gas furnaces. In colder climates, 95% efficient gas furnaces fare better than ENERGY STAR® heat pumps. And, due to the relatively lower cost of natural gas versus electricity, lifetime operating costs should be considered as well.

Your local Carrier expert can help you navigate the energy efficiency comparisons for your home.

Maintenance

Both heat pumps and furnaces will last longer and operate more efficiently with preventative maintenance. Both systems include air filters that most homeowners can easily replace. Typical residential heat pump systems include an outdoor unit and an indoor unit that are recommended to be cleaned and inspected annually. A gas furnace does not require an outdoor unit, but is often paired with a central air conditioner unit. Your Carrier expert can recommend the proper service schedule based on your unique system.

Space

Furnaces typically require at least 30 inches of clearance on all sides and are installed indoors. A heat pump requires only 24 inches of clearance and is installed outdoors. However, a traditional air-source heat pump system also requires an indoor air handler unit called a fan coil.

Regardless of which option is best for you, Carrier offers a complete line of furnaces, including gas furnaces that can be converted to propane furnaces and heat pumps designed to provide options for virtually every home.

OIL FURNACE VS HEAT PUMP

If you live in an area where oil furnaces are common, the oil furnace vs heat pump debate is similar to the gas furnace/heat pump comparison.

With oil furnaces, you’ll need to take into consideration the cost of installation – a heat pump requires both an outdoor unit and an air handler. You’ll also want to consider the cost of heating oil versus the cost of electricity. In milder climates, high efficiency heat pumps can be a very good and effective option. In colder climates, and oil furnace may be able to provide reliable comfort even when temperatures drop well below freezing.

With an oil furnace, you’ll need to be sure you don’t run out of oil, while a heat pump will continue to operate as long as you are not experiencing a power outage.

When all considerations still leave you sitting on the fence, your decision may just come down to what type of heating you are most comfortable with.

Carrier offers a number of oil furnaces to choose from in addition to our complete family of high-efficiency heat pump options.

ELECTRIC FURNACE VS HEAT PUMP

Making the electric furnace vs heat pump comparison, the biggest similarity between the two is they both use electricity to heat your home. And, both are more prevalent in southern states where winters are milder and heating needs take a back seat to cooling.

Electric furnaces use electric coils to generate heat, while heat pumps use electricity to move heating energy from outside to inside. Heat pump systems, especially in colder climates, often will often have a backup heat source for more extreme weather – ironically, electric resistance heating coils in the air handler unit (fan coil) are common.

Electric furnaces are considered to be 100% energy efficient, but bear in mind they can actually cost almost 2.5 times more than a typical heat pump to output the same amount of heat.1

And, a heat pump system provides cooling as well as heating. An electric furnace will need help during the summer months with central air conditioning or other sources of cooling comfort.

Keep in mind, most of our discussion points about heat pumps are targeted towards air-source, split-system, forced-air heat pumps, the most common type of heat pump used in the U.S. If you are interested in geothermal or ground-source heat pumps, you’ll find many of the same benefits. They can achieve much higher energy efficiencies than air-source models, but also typically come with a higher initial cost for a first-time installation. Ductless split-system heat pumps are yet another option, but are more commonly used in commercial buildings in the U.S., or for home additions or adding comfort to older homes with no ductwork.

CONTACT A PROFESSIONAL

When it’s time to make a choice, your local Carrier dealer can help. Carrier experts offer a wide range of heating system options, including air source heat pumps, gas furnaces, oil furnaces and more. They can assess your needs, discuss the pros and cons of each and make recommendations on options that can work for your home, including equipment and installation cost estimates.

Contact a Carrier Dealer to get an estimate for your home

1https://www.nhec.com/new-heat-pump-calculator/
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