Heat Pump vs. Furnace

A definitive guide on whether a heat pump or a furnace is right for your home. Read on to learn which of the two heating systems may be best for your home.

Arlington, Texas – During the winter, it is every homeowner’s prerogative to ensure that the indoor temperature is cozy and warm. If you are looking to replace or upgrade your heating system, then it could save you thousands to read this. Traditional gas or electric furnaces are very popular choices among homeowners. However, heat pumps are becoming more popular. Read this guide – furnaces vs. heat pumps – to learn more about the two and which may be best for you.

What is a Heat Pump?

Before we get started let’s briefly go over what a heat pump and a furnace are to the uninitiated. A heat pump’s main function is to utilize the outside air to both heat and cool a home as needed. Despite its name, a heat pump can produce cool air during the summer and heat during the winter. This makes a heat pump convenient since a separate air conditioner and furnace are not needed. However, a heat pump operates rather differently than a furnace and air conditioner.

Whereas a furnace generates heat, a heat pump transports it. The same effect is produced when cool air is needed also. When it is cold outside, a heat pump will extract heat from the outdoor air and distribute it indoors. When it is hot outside, a heat pump will extract the heat from the indoor air and transport it outside.  As you can imagine this process is much more energy-efficient than generating heat.

What is a Furnace?

The main purpose of a furnace is to convert fuel or electricity into heat and then distribute that heat indoors. Unlike a heat pump, a furnace generates heat to warm the indoor temperature of a home. There are different types of furnaces, however, all furnaces have four main components. Those four components are:

  1. Heat Exchanger
  2. Burner
  3. Blower Motor
  4. Flue

The Largest Difference Between a Heat Pump and a Furnace

As briefly explained above, a fuel-consumption furnace generates heat by burning combustible fuel. An electric furnace generates heat by blowing air over a hot element. Both fuel-burning furnaces and electric furnaces will then distribute that heat via ductwork throughout the home.

However, the thermodynamic criteria for a heat pump are completely disparate. As explained above, a heat pump draws heat from the outdoor air and transfers that heat to the indoors.  Therefore, a heat pump does not generate heat. Instead, pressurized refrigerant lines will absorb the heat which is then released and distributed into the home.

Is a Furnace of Heat Pump better for Cold Climates?

Drawing from the information we have already discussed. The warmer the outside temperature is, the more heat a heat pump will be able to distribute. Surprisingly, even if it is below freezing outside, a heat pump is still able to absorb heat from the outdoor air. However, the lower the temperature outside, the less efficient a heat pump becomes. Therefore, heat pumps are best for warmer climates such as in the southern part of the United States.  Additionally, if you live in climate zones 1 – 3, a heat pump will be a good choice. However, if you live in zones 4 – 7, a furnace will most likely be the better choice between the two. With that in mind, this makes heat pumps ideal for homeowners in Arlington, Texas, and surrounding areas.

Does a Heat Pump or Furnace Cost More?

Now things get a bit more complicated. Typically, if you want to take my word for it a heat pump will end up costing less. However, there are so many possibilities it can get rather confusing. That being, what brand of furnace, energy-type, efficiency, location, size of the house, ducting, climate, and more.  If you meet the right criteria, a heat pump can net you operational savings up to 300% in energy costs. For a more specific break down on costs I suggest reading this article from Home Advisor. You can find it here.

Which is cheaper? A Heat Pump Installation or Furnace Install

Once again, this depends on the situation.  Climate, the size of the house, and more come into play determining the heat pump installation costs. However, once again typically a heat pump will be the best bang for the buck when you factor in the energy efficiency. Additionally, a heat pump can also be used for air conditioning which can further save you money. If you would like further details on installation costs for a furnace and a heat pump, then click here.

Heat Pumps not only Heat but Cool also

As we mentioned above, a heat pump not only can heat a home, but it can also cool your home. If you have a furnace, you will also need a separate air conditioning system. Since it can provide both heating and cooling, your best bet may be a heat pump. During the summer, a heat pump will work in the same manner as an air conditioner. However, even though a heat pump could save you quite a bit during the winter this may not be the case for cooling. When it comes to heat pump cooling, its energy efficiency should be based upon its brand. We will go more into this later in the guide.

Heat Pumps do not Take up Much Space

Any homeowner who has had or has a furnace knows that they can take up quite a bit of space. One of the major reasons behind this is due to building codes.  Building codes require at least a 30-inch clearance on all sides for fire safety reasons. However, a heat pump is split into two separate parts. The compressor for the heat pump will be located outdoors. This is like a central air conditioning system, as the heat pump compressor will require a 24-inch clearance.  The second part, the air handler, depending on its type, can be mounted even high on the wall. Since it does not use combustible fuel to generate heat, there are no safety clearance requirements.

Does a Heat Pump or Furnace Last Longer?

With proper and frequent maintenance, a fuel-type furnace will generally last longer than a heat pump. If the furnace is maintained consistently it can last up to 20 years or more. A heat pump if it is properly maintained will last around 15 years or a bit more.  However, you should factor in the fact that you only use a furnace a few months out of the year. Whereas a heat pump can be used year-round. When all the initial costs, maintenance and energy costs are factored together, the heat pump still wins out.

Which makes more Noise? A Heat Pump or Furnace

Since the indoor unit for a heat pump is usually located in the room someone will be occupying it wins out at being the loudest. Furnaces are typically installed in basements or utility rooms, therefore, the noises they make are typically not heard or muffled. However, both heating systems will make atypical noises.  One of the most common complaints with heat pumps is when the compressor kicks in and they make clicking noises.  A lot of times, the homeowner may mistake these noises as there is a problem.  However, keep in mind that both heating systems will make noises sometimes that are not normal which could imply that there is a problem aloof.

Professional Measurement and Installation

Since heat pumps require much less space that does not mean you can forego having a professional technician size your unit. Just as with a furnace, always have a heating and air technician measure the air space in your living quarters, factor in climate, budget, and more. If you have an improperly sized unit that is too small, it will not be able to keep the zone warm enough when temperatures are low. It will also work harder to try and meet the indoor temperature requirements. This ultimately will drastically decrease the lifespan of the unit. If the unit is oversized, it will cycle on and off too often. This will cause temperature fluctuations and wear out the condenser quicker.

When it comes to both furnaces and heat pumps, it is not as simple as just plugging it in like most consumer appliances. Both heating systems require professional installation, working directly with electricity which can be dangerous. Additionally, most local building codes and manufacturers will require professional technicians.

Are Heat Pumps Good in All Climates?

Heat pumps are best for homeowners who live in mild climates like in the south. Heat pumps really shine when the outdoor temperatures are 40 degrees on average. If temperatures are below 40 degrees, their efficiency begins to steadily drop. However, if temperatures are even 0 degrees, a heat pump will still be able to keep your home warm, just not as efficiently.

Heat pumps work out well for homeowners in the Southeast United States. This is especially true for homeowners who have low electric rates also.  A heat pump system is definitely recommended for homeowners in Arlington, TX, and surrounding areas.

However, if you live in the north where there are severely cold temperatures throughout the winter then a furnace may be the best option for your home.  Furnaces tend to work better in colder climates such as in the Northern part of the United States.

What about a Heat Pump’s ability to Cool?

As we stated earlier in the guide, we would dwell deeper into the cooling process of a heat pump. The cooling functionality of a heat pump works the same way as an air conditioner. Switching from central cooling to a heat pump for air conditioning will not save you money. What will save you money is finding a heat pump, by brand, that offers high-efficiency standards.  As you probably know all air conditioners basically work the same by principle, but not all air conditioners are equal in performance. Just as you may shop for the best efficiency from an air conditioner that you can afford the same applies to heat pumps.

If you are interested in replacing your existing furnace with a heat pump or need heat pump repair, give us a call. Metro Express Service is one of the leading heating and air service companies throughout Dallas – Fort Worth, and Arlington, TX. We are a family-owned and operated small business that has been helping homeowners in the DFW metroplex for over 30 years. When you hire us for all your heating and ac needs you know you have made THE RIGHT CHOICE.


Randy Murphy

Randy Murphy has been building his knowledge of the air conditioning and heating business for several years now. He first started applying his knowledge while working for his father’s HVAC company. Later, in 1987, Randy started his own business: Metro Express Service. He has been a top 10 Trane & Amana dealer for over eight years. When it comes to heating and cooling, Randy knows the business better than anyone.
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