Heat Pump vs. Furnace: Which Is Best for Your Home?

published Nov 23, 2022
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Winter is coming, and finding the right heating system for your homes is quickly becoming a top priority as you switch off the air conditioning and fire up the furnace… or heat pump. But which one is best for your home?

If you’re deciding between a heat pump and a furnace to heat your home, it’s important to consider a number of factors, like your climate, the overall cost, and other systems you may need before you make the final decision. 

All About Heat Pumps

A heat pump is a more energy-efficient alternative to a furnace or air conditioner that transfer heat to and from cooler rooms, versus generating heat. There are a few different types of heat pumps to consider when installing one in your home: 

  • Air-source heat pump: Heats the home by drawing heat from the outdoor air, even if the air is cold, and transfers that heat indoors rather than generating its own heat. 
  • Geothermal heat pumps: Able to draw heat from water or from the ground, and while they are more expensive than an air-source heat pump, they have lower operating costs and can be used in colder climates because their refrigerant lines are buried below the frost level. 
  • Absorption heat pumps: Relatively new and use heat or thermal energy to create heat rather than electricity. 

All About Furnaces

A furnace generates its own heat by using fuel, typically gas or propane, and burning it to create heat that is then released into the home. In rural areas, homes often store their own fuel in propane tanks. In cities, furnaces are linked to a gas supply and tracked by the meter outside the home. 

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Heat Pump vs. Furnace: How to Choose the Right One

Though they both serve the same purpose — keeping your home nice and toasty — heat pumps and furnaces come with their own pros and cons and ideal applications.

Consider your climate.

Because heat pumps draw heat from outdoor air, they work better and use less energy in warmer climates with mild winters. In extremely cold climates, heat pumps have to work harder to extract heat and will cost more to run. As technology advances, however, heat pumps are becoming better able to perform and becoming a more viable option in colder climates.

Furnaces are used in areas with colder climates, where a system that can generate its own heat is preferable to one that relies on exterior air that can get extremely cold.

Estimate the cost.

Both heat pumps and furnaces have a lifespan of about 15 years, so the time from purchase until replacement is roughly the same. Both require regular maintenance throughout the years but the cost to run them differs.

A furnace uses fuel to create hot air and then pumps it through the home. This means that you will need to purchase fuel for the life of the furnace, and the cost of that fuel should be considered in the overall cost of heating the home. 

A heat pump, on the other hand, uses heat to draw from the air to heat the home. While it doesn’t require fuel, it does require electricity. According to the Department of Energy, air-source heat pumps can reduce electricity use by around 50 percent compared to other methods like furnaces or baseboard heaters. 

Determine year-round needs.

Heat pumps heat the home by drawing warm air into the home, but they can also cool the home by moving warm air out. This means you’ll only have to install one system to maintain the ideal indoor temperature year-round. 

A furnace can only produce heat, so in order to cool the home in the summer, you’ll have to have a separate air conditioning unit. The cost of installing one system vs. two should be considered when you’re deciding between a heat pump and furnace.

Overall, heat pumps tend to be more electricity-efficient and do the function of both furnaces and air conditioners, but what you choose should ultimately come down to your lifestyle and environment.