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

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.

And maybe you’re thinking about a change when the wintry weather comes, switching from a heat pump to a furnace, or vice versa.

In this week’s blog post, we’ll look at the difference between a heat pump and a furnace.

How they generate heat

The question “how do they work” illustrates the key difference between a heat pump and a furnace.

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

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 heat pumps 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.

Furnaces have what’s called an Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency number, which keeps track of the percentage of fuel that the furnace 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 furnace.

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. A furnace has a definite edge in winter time. Once the temperatures outside drop past a certain point, it becomes hard for the heat pump to work with the outside air.

But in the summertime, a heat pump can turn warm air cool, which is a job your furnace isn’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 a heat pump and a furnace, 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.