Gas Furnace vs. Heat Pump: Which Is Right for You?
When it comes to heating your home, there are lots of choices available. Two of the most popular options are gas furnaces and heat pumps. Both of these heating systems have benefits, and it’s important to look at all the considerations before making your choice. If you’re ready to implement a new heating system for your home, here’s everything you need to know to find the right option for you.
Things to Consider When Choosing a Means of Heating
Choosing a heating system for your home is a big decision. You want to pick a system that is a good fit for your home and the climate you live in while optimizing efficiency and cost. Here are the top considerations when choosing a method of heating for your home:
- Installation cost: The upfront costs to purchase and install a heating system can be a deciding factor in many cases.
- Benefits: Each heating method has its own advantages, so it’s important to understand these factors and know which are most important in your case.
- Climate: Take note of the climate where you are located because some heating systems may be better suited for your area.
- Energy efficiency: Look at the overall furnace or heat pump efficiency so you can estimate annual energy costs.
- Air quality: Look at the heating systems’ air filtration capabilities and consider the options for the best home air quality.
- Comfort: Furnaces blow warm air, while the air from heat pump systems feel cooler. Furnaces also tend to dry out the air, while heat pumps maintain a more constant humidity. The choice for comfort here is more of a personal preference, so think about your own priorities for indoor comfort.
- Life span: A gas-powered furnace generally has a slightly longer life span than a heat pump, but both have similar average life spans. Consider how often you will need to purchase a complete replacement unit.
- Maintenance: Consider the recommended maintenance for your heating system and the costs for this maintenance. Take into account filter changes, annual maintenance checks and other regular maintenance costs.
What Is a Heat Pump?
A heat pump is a type of heating and cooling system that utilizes an outdoor unit and works similarly to an air conditioning system to provide heat for a home. Heat pumps are ideal for homes in milder climates and can provide both heating and cooling with high efficiency.
How Does a Heat Pump Work?
A heat pump works mainly by transferring heat from one place to another. It’s important to note that a heat pump does not generate heat on its own, it simply moves heat efficiently from outside the home to the indoors, or vice versa, to match the desired temperature of the home.
What differentiates a heat pump from other heating systems is that a typical heat pump generally has both an outdoor and indoor unit. This is why heat pumps are sometimes called dual or split systems. Both the indoor and outdoor units have a coil and a fan, which are used to move air and transfer heat.
When the heat pump system is used in heating mode, the outdoor unit absorbs heat from the air even when the temperatures are low. The outside coil functions as an evaporator and the inside coil is the condenser in heating mode, releasing the heat inside the home. Heat pumps use the natural properties of heat energy to move the heat where it is needed. When used for cooling, the basic flow of heat is reversed and the coils switch roles in the process, absorbing heat from indoors and releasing it outside, thereby cooling the house.
Heat Pump Benefits
When compared to other heating systems, heat pumps have a few notable advantages:
- Energy efficiency: Heat pump systems are highly efficient to operate, which means much lower operation costs than other types of heating systems. With a heat pump, you’ll enjoy lower energy bills. Less energy also means it’s more eco-friendly and produces a smaller carbon footprint for the homeowner.
- Total HVAC system: With a furnace, the homeowner would need to install a separate air conditioning unit, but a heat pump serves both purposes, eliminating the need for an additional unit.
- Comfortable indoor environment: Heat pumps offer the best in indoor comfort and precise climate control, especially if the system is a two-stage heat pump or variable speed unit.
Cost to Install Heat Pump
While a heat pump can help save on energy costs and lower the power bills, it is generally more expensive than a furnace for the initial purchase and installation price. The exact cost of heat pumps can vary considerably depending on the model you choose. Geothermal heat pumps are a very eco-friendly choice, but are more expensive to install.
Heat Pump Air Quality
Another advantage of heat pump systems is the improved air quality you’ll experience. This is because heat pumps do not utilize a combustion system to heat the air, and without this process, there is no risk of carbon monoxide poisoning from the heating unit. Heat pumps also do not dry out the air like other types of furnaces, maintaining a more comfortable indoor humidity level.
Heat Pump Cold Climate Effectiveness
Heat pumps are incredibly effective when used in mild and warmer climate areas. However, heat pumps do lose effectiveness in colder climates. When the outdoor temperatures dip too low, the heat pump may not be able to absorb enough heat from the air to be effective and warm the house adequately.
When winter temperatures are below about 25 degrees to 30 degrees Fahrenheit, the heat pump will not be able to extract enough heat from outside. For many of the Southern and coastal states, this isn’t a problem and a heat pump is a very effective heating system. But for many of the states farther north, the average winter temperatures are often much colder than this recommended minimum, and a heat pump is not an effective choice.
Heat Pump Life Spans
The average life span for a heat pump unit is very similar to other types of furnaces and heating systems, although some furnaces may have a slight advantage over heat pumps. A heat pump system is expected to last on average, around 16 years. This means that well-maintained units will likely need a full replacement every 16 years.
Heat Pump Maintenance
As with any heating and cooling system, proper maintenance is important to keep your heat pump running efficiently and enjoy a longer life span. Heat pump maintenance costs are relatively low, and maintenance is easy to complete. For best results, install a programmable thermostat with your heat pump, and use the “auto” function as much as possible. This can give the greatest efficiency and prevent the need for extra maintenance on the system.
Heat pump air filters should be checked often, as recommended by your manufacturer, and cleaned or changed as necessary. Check your outdoor coils occasionally, and clean them of dirt and debris when needed — just remember to turn off the unit first. You should also consider a professional maintenance checkup about once a year to ensure your heat pump is operating optimally and to find any issues before they become bigger problems. These steps can ensure your heat pump lasts longer and that it keeps your home comfortable year round.
What Is a Furnace?
A furnace is a heating system that uses a fuel source to generate its own heat to provide warmth and comfort for a building. There are many different types of furnaces, and they are generally categorized by the type of fuel they use for heat. The most common furnaces are oil, natural gas and electric. Furnaces provide the most efficient heat source for homes in colder climates.
How a Furnace Works
Any type of forced-air furnace has the same basic functioning. A furnace heating cycle follows these steps:
- Oil or natural gas flows into the ignitor to light the burner. Either an electric ignitor or a pilot light is used to start the process.
- The ignition warms the heat exchanger. Any excess exhaust leaves the home through the flue. A heat exchanger then transfers heat to incoming air in the chamber.
- A furnace blower then pushes the newly heated air through the home’s ductwork to be distributed through all the rooms.
- As this warm air is distributed room to room, cooler air is drawn back to the furnace through the return ducts. The process restarts as the cool air is heated again in the furnace.
Benefits of Furnaces
Furnaces have some clear benefits over other types of heating systems, including:
- Good overall value: Furnaces provide a good overall value for your money in terms of installation, purchase price, and operating and maintenance costs.
- Dependability: Furnaces generally work reliably, and they usually have lower maintenance and repair costs than heat pumps.
- Low installation costs: A furnace alone has a much lower installation cost than a heat pump system or other HVAC system with both heating and air conditioning components.
- Great for cold climates: Furnaces are much better for homes in cold climates, as they generate their own heat regardless of the temperatures outside.
Furnaces boast a low to moderate operating cost, as well as a low installation cost. A stand-alone furnace is easier and lower-cost to install than a heat pump or dual HVAC system with air conditioning. In terms of operating costs, you may see a higher bill for electricity or fuel than you would with a heat pump system, but for colder climates, it’s the more efficient choice. Natural gas furnaces generally have a much lower operating cost than electric furnaces. And a newer furnace will outperform any older model, providing a higher level of energy efficiency and cost savings.
Furnace Air Quality
Your furnace protects the climate and comfort of your home, and to have the best indoor air quality, you need to follow a few extra steps. Furnaces have air filters that must be checked regularly. The recommendations may vary depending on the furnace model you have, but most furnaces should have the air filters changed every three months. Regular air filter cleaning and changing ensures the highest indoor air quality for your home. Upgrading to higher-quality air filters can give your home even cleaner air. Just check with your furnace manufacturer to make sure the filters are compatible.
With gas furnaces, or any furnace that uses combustion as a means of heating, carbon monoxide can be a concern. This colorless and odorless gas is a byproduct of the combustion process and can be harmful to human health. Installing carbon monoxide detectors can mitigate this risk. If the alarm goes off, make sure everyone leaves the building and you have your furnace serviced as soon as possible to solve the problem.
Natural gas is one of the most common furnace fuel sources and is also one of the most efficient, especially in cold climate areas. Over the past few decades, gas furnaces have greatly improved and many new models have nearly perfect efficiency ratings. Installing a programmable thermostat and keeping your furnace well maintained can help keep it running efficiently for years to come.
Furnace Life Spans
The life spans of different types of heating systems are all very similar, but gas furnaces have a longer life span than other types. Furnaces generally last about 15 years to 20 years before needing a replacement, and with proper care and maintenance, it’s more likely your furnace will have a longer life span. After about 15 years, you can expect to need a replacement furnace within the next few years.
Proper maintenance is key to keeping your furnace in good working order for the long term. One of the most important things you can do for your furnace is to clean and change the filters when needed. This helps your furnace efficiency and helps maintain healthy indoor air quality. You should also periodically check on your furnace’s components, cleaning or repairing anything as necessary. A professional maintenance check-in is recommended annually for furnaces.
You can also check your duct vents for dust and debris to keep air flowing and keep efficiency up. Reducing the workload on your furnace can keep it in good shape. This can be accomplished with more efficient doors and windows, weather stripping and other measures that prevent heat loss in the home.
Contact Us to Learn More About Which Heating System Is Right for You
Choosing a heating system for your home is a big decision. If you’re not sure which type is right for you, contact the experts at MRCOOL for advice. We know HVAC systems and can help guide you to the right products. Give us a call at 270-366-0457, or fill out our online form to email us your questions today.