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Difference between a Heat Pump and a Furnace

We know this thought has crossed every homeowner’s mind at one point. Which is better? Which is more efficient? Which is more reliable?

While both a heat pump and a furnace installation make fine home heating systems, the former has the upper hand in overall efficiency. A furnace installation in homes is tales as old as time, and it’s traditional to have at least one powering your air and water heating needs.

Environmental factors play the most significant role in the Heat Pump VS Furnace debate. Yes, it boils down to environmental impact, but in a way that affects how much you spend on monthly bills. However, as decades pass and climate change worsens, it’s only ideal to opt for more energy efficiency and sustainability. Here’s how.

The Difference Between A Heat Pump and a Furnace

We can answer the Heat Pump VS Furnace debate in very few words.

  1. Heat pumps work without the process of combustion in facilitating natural heat in and out of your home.
  2. Furnaces generate heat and produce greenhouse gas emissions to produce heat.

Based on these two statements, you can already tell their most significant difference lies in their heat sources. Furnaces generate heat by burning natural gas, oil, or coal. They can also generate heat through electricity. However, heat pump systems transfer heat instead of generating their own through combustion.

Heat Pumps Don’t Generate Heat

A heat pump works by absorbing heat from natural elements, transferring their heat energy into transfer fluids transmitted through heat exchangers before compression to provide your indoor handlers with sufficient heat for distribution.

The Heat Pump Heating System:

There are different heat pumps, but none burn any resources to provide your home with heat. A heat pump system does three main things:

  1. Absorb heat through an outdoor unit. (Compressor unit)
  2. Transmit heat energy through a series of heat exchangers.
  3. Distribute heat into your home’s air or water supply.

However, there is an internal debacle within the Heat Pump VS Furnace argument. Let’s call it the Heat Pump Debate.

The Three Types of Heat Pumps

Which of the three heat pumps is the most energy efficient and reliable? The answer may depend on your climate, environment, and other factors. However, they are proven more energy-efficient than furnaces and air conditioning systems.

Air-to-Air Source Heat Pumps

Residential homes and commercial buildings should opt for air-to-air heat pumps for ambient heating. The air source heat pumps transfer heat directly into your home’s air handler or air conditioner after traveling through ductwork for indoor distribution.

Most air conditioning systems have an air source heat pump to manage temperatures. This heat pump is utilized within other HVAC systems because of its versatile and efficient functions. Heat transfer isn’t typically stored anywhere in air-to-air source pumps and can handle heat management better even during cold climates.

Air-to-Water Source Heat Pumps

An air-to-water source heat pump works nearly the same as an air-to-air. However, this heat pump system transfers heat into an indoor unit filled with water and other liquid utilized for heat distribution.

Air-to-water source heat pumps such as radiators, centralized underfloor heating systems, and boilers are better suited for areas with a mild climate. The system’s functions are most efficient in mild climates because both warmer climates and colder climates can affect the temperature of the liquid storage storing heat energy.

Ground Source Heat Pumps

A ground source heat pump, also known as Geothermal, derives heat from the moisture in the soil. It reduces waste by recycling the abundant amounts of heat it collects during summer and reuses them in winter when heat particles are more scarce.

It surprisingly does well against a cold climate. It currently sets the gold standard for heating systems that provide heat efficiently sans carbon utilization and emission.

Dual fuel system

A dual fuel system combines a gas furnace and an electric heat pump. If it sounds overkill, maybe you have never lived in colder climates where the temperature drops below zero regularly. However, you don’t need to live in the North Pole to have a duel fuel system. Some homes and establishments use them for multi-purpose heating or in case of emergency needs. A dual fuel system has a gas furnace for supplementary or auxiliary heating.

Heat pumps provide better Indoor Air Quality (IAQ), but traditional furnaces are more useful for areas with unreliable electricity. As most heat pumps are electric, during a power outage, they won’t be able to sustain higher temperatures unless the gas furnace kicks in as your home’s backup heat source. By deploying heat-generating functions through its gas supply, combustion chamber, and either a pilot light or electronic ignition, the whole shebang!

Furnaces Generate Own Heat

Opting for these heating devices can help you save money on unit and installation costs. Still, the resources they use to provide your home with hot air during the cold weather can be detrimental to the environment and your home’s air quality.

The Furnace Heating System:

Furnaces are less reliant on your home’s outdoor temperature by creating their own heat source. Typically, all furnaces work by burning natural gas, coal, wood, and oil. There are electric furnaces you can opt for, and while they are more efficient than more classic installations, they still trail behind heat pumps in terms of energy efficiency.

Natural Gas furnace

With gas furnaces, energy costs may come lower. However, gas furnaces have an installation cost nearly twice as much as other furnace types. Traditional gas furnaces have a natural gas supply with a pilot light ignition. Its more modern counter-parts come with flame sensors (Thermocouple) which control gas and ignition valves as an added safety measure. One of its many cons includes how well it can hold up against cold air blowing through your basement or crawl space your furnace is installed. Cold air can clog thermocouples with debris and residual gas, preventing the ignition of the pilot flame.

Electric furnace

Unlike gas and oil furnaces, an electric furnace can draw in outside air to aid its heating composition. It uses electricity to produce heat and outside air to supplement its production. Like most heating and cooling systems, electric furnaces distribute warm air with a blower fan and air ducts for ambient heating. Electric furnaces generate less heat or energy loss, making them the most energy-efficient furnace out of the three. However, an electric furnace can’t double serve as your home’s cooling system.

Heat Pumps VS Air Conditioners

A heat pump is typically installed within an air conditioner. It’s a heating device, but its faculty can double as a cooling system. An air conditioner cannot extract heat indoors, but one with a heat pump built into it can. Air conditioning systems keep you cool during hot weather by extracting heat through an indoor air handler and transmitting it outdoors. An inverse heating process no other HVAC system can execute or do as efficiently as a heat pump could.

How Do Air Conditioners Work?

There are different kinds of air conditioning systems. Some have ductwork, while others have more direct links via copper coils. Air conditioning devices without a heat pump are more like ventilation systems by their utility of outside air, except they may come with temperature-altering functions if attached to a furnace.

A centralized air conditioner also uses a blower fan to distribute air through ductwork. Units with more energy efficiency are called ductless mini-split systems and operate temperatures based on different thermostat settings per indoor air handler. Ductless systems are more sustainable than others. Still, a home heating system can falter when we don’t meet different maintenance requirements.

The Routine Maintenace of All HVAC Systems

A furnace, heat pump, and air conditioning system require regular cleaning and tune-up. Nearly all HVAC systems have air filters. If they aren’t cleaned routinely, they may overflow with contaminants resulting in your system stalling or malfunctioning. Annual routine maintenance can save you from costly repairs in the future.

A heat pump with a dirty filter deploys safety techniques to diffuse airflow and preserve air quality. A heat pump that suddenly stops working may need an air filter replacement, refrigerant replenishment, or coil restoration. A leak from filters and refrigerant storage can freeze coils, hindering heat pump functions. You must schedule regular maintenance and tune-ups to ensure your systems work properly through different seasons.

One-Stop Heating and Air Conditioning

Please don’t settle for unreliable contractors if you are tired of the outdoor air determining your internal temperatures. You can find an affordable and reliable contractor in Utah. Check out our list of services for one that suits your needs best.

Our professional services include furnace repair and furnace maintenance for both furnaces and heat pumps. We can also help you integrate a heat pump with our heating system installation if you are tired of your old gas furnace and want an upgrade!

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