If you’re reading this article during the winter months where you are, then it’s a good time to truly assess if you’re getting maximum value and performance out of the heating system you have.
Gas furnaces and heat pumps can both heat a home’s interior and have an average lifespan of 15 years. Additionally, they are both commonly used in homes today, however, where you live, the size of your home, the frequency of use, and energy costs over time will all factor in to the best choice for your home.
Take a moment to run through our 8 gas furnace vs. heat pump pros and cons to evaluate what may work for you.
Generating vs transferring heat
It’s an important distinction and one that will set the tone for the rest of this discussion. A gas furnace will generate heat itself using a combustible fuel source such as gas or propane, while an electric furnace generates heat by running air over a heating element, much like an everyday hair dryer. In both cases, the furnaces are the source of the heat they send out into the living space. Heat pumps work on a thermodynamic principle, transferring heat from the outside and absorbing the heat from that air using pressurized refrigerant lines before releasing the heat into your home.
“Baby, it’s cold outside”
In the “best performance in cold climates” category, gas furnaces are the way to go. As we’ve touched on already, heat pumps operate by drawing in warmth from the outside. If the air outside is warmer, heat pumps can more easily bring that warmth inside. If the temperature outside drops below freezing, a heat pump can still draw in that air and convert it to warm air, however, it uses much more energy to do that and, consequently, becomes less efficient in colder months. One way to gauge if a heat pump will be effective for you year-round (or mostly year round) is by finding your “climate zone”. You can do that using the U.S. Department of Energy’s Climate Zone Map. Warmer year-round climates, like those in Climate Zones 1 through 3 are good candidates for a heat pump. Climate Zones 4 through 7 are better suited for a gas furnace heating solution.
In these colder zones, you can have a heat pump that works more effectively if it’s a geothermal heat pump, which means the refrigerant lines are buried and run below the frost level, where the ground temperature remains a stable 40 to 50 degrees all winter, even though above-ground temperatures may be much colder. Consider a geothermal option if you decide to buy a heat pump and you live in CZ 4-7.
“Do you hear that?”
You might, if you’re using a heat pump. That’s because heat pumps are known to be noisier during operation than a furnace. In all fairness, both heat pumps and furnaces can make noise, especially grinding and clanking if they are in need of repair. However, a heat pump tends to make more noise when it’s operating “normally”. Most heat pump owners say they hear a steady clicking or knocking as the compressor that circulates the refrigerant through the lines powers up or shuts down. This power fluctuation can cause the air handler, which is the part of the system that emits the warm air inside the home, to make noise. People new to heat pump ownership often mistake this noise as a potential problem until they learn it’s inherent in normal heat pump operation. Furnaces are usually located away from living spaces, such as in a basement or utility room, and the light rush of air passing through the vents is the only sound they make.
Sizing up your options
On the plus side for heat pumps, they take up less space. Furnaces are, for the most part, installed indoors and require a sizable amount of square footage, both in unit size and the clearance mandated by manufacturers and local building codes for fire prevention (usually 30 inches on all sides). With a heat pump, the compressor is located outside near the house (think of your A/C unit placement, for example) and usually requires a 24-inch clearance. A heat pump doesn’t require fuel, so the indoor portion of a heat pump system, the air handler, is much smaller and doesn’t require additional fire prevention clearance. Some heat pump air handlers can be mounted on interior walls, completely freeing up floor space.
Price tag advantage goes to….
We’ll start with the bottom line; heat pumps are usually less expensive to install. The most common model of heat pump, called an air-to-air model, costs on average between $3,500 and $4,500 to install, depending on size and efficiency. A geothermal heat pump is pricier, as high as $25,000 due to the need for buried refrigerant lines. However, when you consider the fact that a heat pump can both heat and cool a home, removing the need for a separate air conditioning system, the overall savings assessment falls in favor of a heat pump over a traditional furnace.
Costs savings over time advantage goes to….
Once again, this point goes to the heat pump side of the scorecard. Here, too, the heat pump’s design of drawing in outside air versus generating its own heat with fuel or a heating element means it uses less energy and, by extension, is less expensive to run. Exact operating costs vary based on the climate in which the heat pump is located (climate zone) and the local utility rates. Some average costs compiled with national variances show that a propane furnace costs about $1,550 to run each winter, with an electric furnace next at $900, followed by $850 for a natural gas furnace and only $500 for a heat pump.
A DIY “don’t”
One Hour Heating and Air can provide a free consultation on the best heat pump or furnace solution for your home’s size and usage demands. We can also provide financing options that will make heating and cooling your home more affordable. Our professionals are your go-to HVAC team in Charlotte and the surrounding area, including Indian Trail, Concord, and Mooresville.
Visit www.onehourac.com for our weekly and monthly specials.
Call our 24/7 customer service line today (704) 703-4220.
Side note: The above costs are national averages and may differ based on many factors such as system size, code changes and overall project details within the home.