What’s the Difference Between a Heat Pump and a Furnace?

by Chris Long - August 3, 2017

Cold weather is coming fast, is it time to replace your furnace or heat pump?

There’s still quite a few weeks of warm weather left, but it’s not too early to think about how you’ll be heating your home this winter.

Maybe you’re thinking about switching from a heat pump to a furnace, or vice versa. In this week’s blog post, we’ll look at the difference between the two systems.

iStock-459617609_RT2.jpgHow they generate heat

The question “how do they work” illustrates the key differences between each system.

Furnaces use a flame to heat air, which is then pushed – via a fan – through air ducts and out of vents into your home.

A heat pump does what it says: pumps heat from the outside, relying on what’s called a refrigeration cycle, essentially a reverse of the process that cools a refrigerator.

With a heat pump, an outdoor compressor draws in heat from the air – or the ground, depending on the type of pump you have – and compresses it. The heat is turned into a gas, then back into a liquid and distributed throughout the home.

How they are powered

Furnaces are fueld by oil, electricity, and natural gas.Furnaces are fueled by oil, electricity and natural gas. Of the three, electric and gas systems are the most common options in modern homes. Without proper ventilation and service, oil and gas systems can send carbon monoxide into your home, which poses a serious, if not fatal, risk.

Heat pumps run on electricity.Heat pumps run on electricity, and can be used for heating in the winter and cooling in the summer. They don’t pose the same carbon monoxide risk, although these systems can perform poorly when not installed the right way. It’s a job best left to a professional.

How efficient are they?

There was a time when furnaces were one of the least effective ways to heat your home, but newer models are as much as 98 percent efficient. They have what’s called an Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency number, which keeps track of the percentage of fuel that the system transforms into heat. Systems that are older – let’s say two decades or more – typically carry a 70 percent AFUE, while today’s minimum AFUE is 80 percent. That means meaning that you’d cut 10 percent off your heating bill if you made the switch from a 70 percent unit to a newer unit.

That greater efficiency will, of course, cost you more in the short term. However, you’ll save money over time on your home heating costs, and may also be eligible for tax credits and manufacturer’s rebates for installing an efficient heating system.

Heat pumps use electricity, meaning they can be as much as 300 percent efficient: it takes one unit of electricity to move three units of heat. However, the pump will have to do more work as the weather outside begins to get colder.

Which system is best?

There’s not a simple answer. Furnaces have a definite edge in winter time. Once the temperatures outside drop past a certain point, it becomes hard for heat pumps to work with the outside air. But in the summertime, the pump can turn warm air cool, which is a job furnaces aren't able to tackle without the addition of an air conditioner.

If you’re wondering which system is right for your home, or would like more information on the difference between these two systems, contact All Seasons Comfort Control.

Our expert technicians will be happy to guide you through what it will take to keep your home warm this winter, no matter which system you choose.

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