Have you ever wondered if you should use a heat pump or furnace to heat your home? Heat pumps and furnaces can both keep you warm in the winter, but they function in very different ways. The pros and cons of each system depend on where you live, the design of your home, and your individual needs.
Here are some key considerations when you’re deciding on the best option for you. Get privy on how heat pumps and furnaces compare and make an informed choice about how to stay cozy in the cold winter months.
The most significant difference between a furnace and a heat pump is that furnaces burn fuel to generate heat, and heat pumps move existing heat from elsewhere to warm up your space. Furnaces switch on and go full blast until they reach a set temperature, while heat pumps consistently measure and respond to existing temperatures using electricity to move heat from one place to another.
What is a Furnace?
A furnace is a tried, tested, and true heating solution, especially if you live in a colder climate. On the days when it’s coldest outside and you need heating the most, a furnace is a reliable system because it burns fuel, allowing it to function in any climate or weather.
All furnaces consist of four main components:
- Burners that burn fuel.
- A system for heat exchange.
- A blower.
- An exhaust system for gaseous by-products.
Furnace products have evolved with energy efficiency in mind, and you can choose between a furnace that runs on electricity, oil, or gas. To learn more about furnace maintenance and costs, check out our furnace FAQs.
What is a Heat Pump?
Heat pumps are known as versatile and energy efficient, as they use the outside air to cool your home in the summer and heat it in the winter. In the winter months, a heat pump acts as a heat transporter, moving warm air from one place to another. It extracts heat from the outdoor air or ground, compresses the air, and distributes the heat to warm your home.
The major components of a heat pump system are:
- An outdoor unit that condenses air in cooling mode and allows evaporation in heating mode.
- An indoor unit with a coil and a fan to move the air through your home.
- Refrigerant that absorbs and releases heat.
- A compressor that pressurizes the refrigerant.
- A reversing valve to enable the shift between heating and cooling.
- A valve that regulates the flow of refrigerant.
A heat pump is a safe and effective way to heat your home without burning fossil fuels or worrying about carbon monoxide poisoning and is ideal for milder winters.
When you’re deciding between a heat pump and a furnace, the biggest consideration is where you live. If your home is exposed to harsh temperatures, you may want the reliability of a furnace, so you can always crank up the heat as high as you need to get through the cold winter nights. If the air temperature outside consistently falls below freezing, a heat pump may have a hard time generating enough heat to keep you warm.
If you’re lucky enough to live where the winters are mild (like Vancouver), here are some other elements that may affect your decision:
Energy Efficiency & Cost – Heat pumps are powered by electricity, so you can save substantially on fuel consumption. Even if your electricity comes from a fossil fuel source, the carbon emissions and energy costs will be noticeably lower. To know exactly how this applies to you, consider the estimated cost of gas required to run a furnace and compare it to the electricity you would use to run a heat pump. As a bonus, a heat pump can also double as a cooling system in the summer and help you avoid running air conditioning.
Lifespan & Maintenance – A furnace generally has a longer lifespan and less maintenance requirements than a heat pump because the heating elements of a furnace are only used for a few months out of each year and it has fewer mechanical parts.
Installation Costs – Sometimes the initial installation cost of a heat pump can be higher than a furnace. Often, you’ll still come out ahead in the long run because the cost of running a heat pump is less. The overall installation cost of your furnace or heat pump depends on your home’s compatibility and current system setup.
Every home is different, and when you’re deciding on a quality heating system, the right choice for you depends on your unique needs and the framework of your home. Still not sure? Call the experts at Ashton Plumbing, Heating and Air for a customized assessment and recommendation!