The Great Debate: Heat Pump or Furnace?

The Great Debate: Heat Pump or Furnace?

A heat pump and furnace take different approaches toward the same goal -- heating your home -- but each deserves careful consideration before choosing your next system.

What is a Heat Pump?

An air-source heat pump extracts heat from the air outside to warm your home -- yes, even during winter. This may sound confounding. Extract heat from cold air?! But it’s a fairly straightforward process when you consider the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. (Stick with us with here!) It states that heat energy flows from hot to cold. When the refrigerant in the heat pump’s closed-loop system loses pressure, it becomes vapor. This vapor becomes extremely cold. It then absorbs heat from the outside air. (Again, because heat energy flows from hot to cold.) The outdoor compressor converts this heat into a hot liquid. The now-hot refrigerant travels to the indoor coils. Then the blower distributes this heat through the duct network.

What is a Furnace?

A furnace generates heat energy from a fuel source, typically gas or oil. Burners do what the name implies -- burn fuel. This takes place in the combustion chamber. The heat exchanger is in between the combustion chamber and the blower. The heat exchanger gets hot, and the blower blows the heat through ducts to deliver warm air throughout your home.

Which is More Efficient, a Furnace or a Heat Pump?

Because a heat pump doesn’t need a fuel source to create warmth, it’s more efficient. It taps into a free and everlasting heat source: the air. However, it has limitations. In regions where winter temperatures drop below 30 degrees, a heat pump might not cut it. In Virginia, you could get by with a heat pump until an unusually cold spell. In that case, you may have to combine it with a supplemental heat source, which would obviously cancel out any energy savings.

Which is Cheaper?

Furnaces are cheaper to buy and install. However, heat pumps are more efficient to operate during milder temperatures, so you could realize longterm savings with a heat pump. Heat pumps also double as an air conditioning system. (In cooling mode, a heat pump reverses course -- transferring heat inside to the outside.) A furnace, contrast, will have to be paired with a cooling system, increasing the cost.

Which Will Last Longer Lifespan?

A furnace will last around 20 years with routine maintenance. A heat pump, on the other hand, will need to be replaced in about 15 years. That’s because you’d be relying on one unit -- a heat pump -- to supply both your heating and cooling. A heat pump also has more mechanical parts, which means more opportunities for things to breakdown.

Bottom line: In choosing between a heat pump and furnace, it really boils down what you prioritize. If efficiency is more important, the heat pump is the clear winner. But comfort is your top concern, a gas furnace will keep you toasty through our frigid Virginia winters. Air Treatment Company is happy to walk you through your options. To schedule an appointment, call (703) 270-0881 today!

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