As a homeowner, you face many decisions. One of the biggest is how you’re going to heat your home during the cold winter months. Two of the most popular options on the market today include the heat pump and the furnace.
How Do They Work?
With around 45% of your home’s total energy cost going towards wintertime heating, you need to be highly informed before you make a large decision of which type of heating system to get. Both furnaces and heat pumps can utilize ductwork to distribute heat throughout your living space. However, one of their biggest differences is in how heat is obtained.
Furnaces essentially burn fuel to generate heat. They can utilize propane, heating oil, electricity, or natural gas. For furnaces that utilize heating oil, propane, and natural gas, harmful carbon dioxide fumes must be safely vented to the outside of your home. Heat pumps, on the other hand, utilize heat that is found outside and transfer it into the inside of your home. They do not burn any type of fuel to create heat.
Air-Source vs. Geothermal Heat Pumps
Most heat pumps that homeowners have installed are air-source heat pumps. These systems transfer heat from the air outdoors to the inside of your home. Geothermal heat pumps are less common due to their high upfront cost. These heat pumps are placed below the frost line and transfer heat from the ground to the indoors via refrigerant lines.
Your Climate Matters!
When you’re comparing furnaces to heat pumps, you need to consider the climate that they’ll be used in. Air-source heat pumps drastically reduce their ability to heat your home when the temperature dips down below freezing. However, a furnace’s capability to heat your home is only affected by whether you have adequate fuel or not.
Those who live in the southern portion of the country can better benefit from heat pumps. This is because their wintertime temperatures rarely dip below freezing. Those who live in the northern parts of the country, including Maryland, are better off investing in a furnace. This is because temperatures in the north regularly get down below freezing for long periods at a time.
It’s important to note that geothermal heat pumps can be the sole source of a household’s heat regardless of where the home is positioned in the country. Since the ground below the frost line stays between 40 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit all year round, these heat pumps can consistently transfer heat from the ground to the inside of your home.
Lifespan of Heating Systems
Another essential factor that you’ll want to consider in your decision of which heating system to buy is its estimated lifespan. While furnace lifespans will vary depending on the specific fuel that they utilize, their average lifespan is between 20 and 25 years. Air-source heat pumps, the most popularly used, have an average lifespan between 10 and 12 years. Ground-source heat pumps, the more expensive of the two options, have a lifespan of about 25 years.
When you’re having a new heating system installed, you also need to consider the space requirements of the system and how much space you have available in your home. Furnaces tend to take up a good bit of space indoors. You’ll need an area for the furnace, its air exchanger, and safety clearance around the unit.
Conversely, heat pumps tend to require much less indoor space. Rather, their main component, the compressor, is situated outdoors. The only component of a heat pump that will need to be indoors is the air exchanger. This is a small unit that can be positioned out of the way in a corner or high up on a wall.
Comfortability for Your Family
While both furnaces and heat pumps provide adequate heated air for your home, the amount of comfort that they can offer your family varies greatly. Furnaces tend to produce hotter air that is much drier. Heat pumps will circulate warm air with natural humidity in it from outdoors to the inside of your home. The air transferred by a heat pump can feel more comfortable and not overly hot.
A Note on Ductwork
If your home doesn’t have any existing ductwork, you’ll need to factor in the additional cost of adding it to your furnace. While a heat pump can utilize ducting to circulate warm air, it doesn’t have to. With heat pumps, you have the option of installing ductless mini-split units.
These units are simply mounted on the wall, each with its own internal blower fan. Instead of ducting, you’ll simply need to have two-inch diameter holes drilled through your external wall so that small piping can run from the indoor unit to your outdoor compressor unit. Ductless mini-split units can be much cheaper to have installed as compared to installing ducting in an already constructed home.
Heat Pumps Offer Air Conditioning Too
One added benefit of heat pumps is that they can also produce air conditioning for your home in the summer months. This is done by simply operating these systems in a reverse fashion. Instead of the pressurized refrigerant lines transferring heat from outdoors into your home, it can transfer the heat from inside of your home to the outdoors. There is no additional equipment required in order to have air conditioning when it comes to heat pumps. Furnaces, on the other hand, only produce heat.
Assessing Air Quality
Air quality is another crucial factor that you’ll want to consider when determining which heating system will best meet your needs. With adequate maintenance, your furnace can produce a fair indoor air quality level. However, as your furnace warms up the air, it can drastically reduce its moisture content. This can lead to uncomfortable, dry skin and can irritate some respiratory conditions. Since heat pumps use natural heat from the outdoors, it naturally produces a higher humidity level that keeps your skin happy and healthy.
You simply can’t choose a superior heating system without taking a look at its energy efficiency. Gas furnaces tend to have the highest energy efficiency of all furnace types, operating at about 95% efficiency. This means that they produce 95% more energy than they consume, assuming optimal working conditions.
Heat pumps, on the other hand, can reach efficiency levels of around 300%. That means that they can adequately produce 300 times more energy than they consume. When you compare the two, it’s clear that heat pumps are much more energy-efficient than furnaces.
A Note on Dual Fuel Systems
As you’ve discovered, both furnaces and heat pumps come with many of their own positives. Instead of having to choose between the two, if your budget allows, you can invest in a dual fuel system. This is where an electric heat pump is combined with a gas furnace. You can get the best aspects of both heating systems with a dual fuel system.
Outstanding Heating Services
Beltway Air Conditioning & Heating offers outstanding heating services for the Hanover, MD, area. We’re also here for all of your cooling, ductwork, indoor air quality, and commercial HVAC needs. Simply pick up your phone and give us a call today!