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Heat Pump vs. Furnace… Which One is Right for Your Home?

small_6460660699Nighttime low temperatures are beginning to drop into the 30’s here in Saint Charles. For many of you with older furnaces, now is the time of year that you’re probably thinking about investing in a new system before winter hits. As heat pumps continue to grow in popularity, many homeowners who need a new heating system are wondering how heat pumps differ from gas furnaces. Today we’re going to talk about the differences between heat pumps and furnaces and how to figure out which one is right for you!

Heat pump vs. furnace: How they work

Whereas heat pumps and air conditioners operate virtually identically, heat pumps and furnaces work quite differently from one another.

During the heating season, heat pumps reverse the flow of their refrigerant and use electricity to extract heat from the air outside (even when it’s cold out) and move it into your home. A fan blows air over a set of indoor coils that are warmed by that extracted heat and the warm air is delivered to your home. Essentially, they operate like an air conditioner in reverse.

Furnaces, on the other hand, use natural gas to ignite burners that heat up a heat exchanger inside the system. A fan blows air over the heat exchanger and the warm air is delivered to your home.

Heat pump vs. furnace: Differences in efficiency

The big factor that differentiates heat pumps and furnaces when it comes to efficiency is their heat sources. As we mentioned above, heat pumps use a small amount of electricity to move existing heat from the air outside into your home. Furnaces must create heat for your home by consuming natural gas.

Because heat pumps do not require the use of natural gas (except in hybrid systems as you’ll see below), they are much less expensive to operate than gas furnaces. In addition, heat pumps are very efficient at cooling your home during the warmer months, so they provide year-round energy savings.

Heat pump vs. furnace: How to decide between the two

The decision between installing a heat pump vs. a gas furnace often comes down to installation costs. Heat pumps generally cost more upfront, so gas furnaces tend to be more budget-friendly. However, remember that investing in a heat pump will save you money in the long run when you take into account energy savings throughout the lifetime of the unit!

It’s also important to note that although heat pumps can extract heat from the air outside even when it’s cold out, they begin to lose efficiency when the temperatures outside are extremely low. For this reason, many homeowners choose to install a “hybrid heating system,” which has a gas furnace as a backup heating source that is used when it’s extremely cold out.

If you have any questions about a heat pump vs. a furnace, or if you’d like a heating system serviced or installed in your home, contact Jerry Kelly, your St. Louis area heating and cooling contractor. We service the St. Louis area, including towns like Weldon Spring, Wentzville and Winghaven.

photo credit: hang_in_there via photopin cc