A question that is often asked is whether to purchase a heat pump or go with a high-efficiency furnace. The fundamental difference between the two is that a gas furnace blows warm heated air throughout your home, while a heat pump uses a special refrigerant to take existing heat and move it around – from inside to outside during the summer (to provide cooling), and from outside to inside in the winter (to provide heating). If you live in a cold climate, a furnace may be your better option. However, if you live in an area with a relatively warm climate, such as Maryland, Virginia or DC (even though it sometimes doesn’t feel like it), going with a heat pump may be the more cost effective choice. The decision is ultimately yours, but here is some information to help you decide.
Efficiency of Heat Pumps vs. Furnaces
Heat pumps can be 30-40 percent more efficient than gas furnaces, which will save you electricity costs in the winter months. Because heat pumps move heat rather than generate it, they can provide up to four times more energy than they consume. This efficiency, however, is severely decreased in climates where temperatures greatly vary between the winter and summer months or, in particular, where there are really cold winters. One way to increase your heat pump’s efficiency is to size it appropriately to your home so that it can run continuously, as opposed to cyclically as many furnaces do.
You can also find high efficiency furnaces that will help save you money month-to-month. Your furnace should be labeled with an Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) rating that comes in the form of a percentage and represents the amount of energy it takes to heat your home relative to the total value of the energy the furnace uses. So for example, an AFUE rating of 78 percent (the government regulated minimum) means that 78 percent of the total energy consumed by the furnace goes to actually heating your home. With both heat pumps and furnaces, it is important to size them correctly to your house and make sure you have clean and well-insulated duct work to maximize your unit’s efficiency.
Cost of Heat Pumps vs. Furnaces
There are several determining price factors you should take into consideration when deciding between an electric heat pump and gas furnace. The first is the difference in electricity prices (for a heat pump) and gas prices (for a furnace) in your area. The second is the cost of the units themselves. Depending on the climate in which you live, a heat pump can provide your home with year-round heating and cooling. If you choose to go with the gas furnace, you will need some kind of air conditioner to keep your house cool during the warmer months. This can mean the difference between buying one unit (the heat pump) or buying two large appliances (the gas furnace and the air conditioner.)
Convenience of Heat Pumps vs. Furnaces
Heat pumps, despite their name, can also serve to cool your home in the summer or warmer months. This eliminates the need for an entirely separate air conditioning system. These systems use outdoor ambient heat to warm your home, meaning if you live in a very cold climate it will not be as effective as a gas furnace. If you live in a relatively moderate climate, as we do here in the mid-Atlantic, you may want to consider installing a heat pump. The benefit of heat pumps in moderate climates is that they do not have to operate in extremes and can help you efficiently maintain a constant temperature inside your home despite what the weather is outside.
Safety of Heat Pumps vs. Furnaces
There is always a risk running a gas furnace in your home, as it requires a continuous flow of gas through the pilot light. This could be potentially combustible in unsafe conditions and runs the risk of emitting carbon monoxide gas. Electric heat pumps on the other hand are safer and do not run these risks.
At Climatic we work with both systems throughout the winter months in Maryland (MD), Virginia (VA) and Washington, DC. Give us a call and we will help you pick the right system for your home.