In the Hampton Roads areas most residents have either a Gas Furnace or Heat Pump in their home. We are often asked which one is better to heat your home. While there is no real right or wrong, we can break down the basic functions of both to help you decide.
How heat is generated-
Forced air furnaces use flame to heat air and a fan to push that heated air through ducts and out of floor vents in your home. Older model furnaces were notoriously inefficient, but newer models can be up to 98 percent energy efficient, meaning 98 percent of the energy taken is used to produce or distribute heat. Forced air heating uses what’s known as intermediary fluid — usually air, steam or hot water — to provide heat.
Heat pumps, meanwhile, actually pump heat from outside air, rather than increasing its temperature using a flame. These pumps rely on what’s known as a refrigeration cycle — the same process that cools your refrigerator, only in reverse. They use an outdoor compressor made of copper tubing and aluminum fins to draw in heat from the air and compress it. Then, a refrigerant evaporates the heat into a gas, transfers it to a coil inside the house, condenses the heat back into a liquid and distributes it around your home. It’s important to note that heat pumps can be air source (drawing heat from the air outside your home) or ground source (drawing heat directly from the ground). Ground-source models are more expensive, you can check out our blog on Geothermal systems here.
Furnaces can be powered by oil, natural gas or electricity. Oil is the least efficient method, although some providers have developed alternatives known as bio-diesel, which cause less pollution than standard heating oil. Natural gas and electric furnaces are both common options in modern homes, though both pose the risk of fire, either from the burning natural gas or an electrical arc needed to generate a flame. Carbon monoxide (CO), which is produced when natural gas or oil is burned, also poses a potential risk. If not vented properly, a furnace can pump CO into the air, which displaces oxygen and can cause permanent brain damage or death. City inspections are always required with the installation of a new furnace for these reasons and many others.
A heat pump, meanwhile, does not require fuel but instead runs on electricity. This doesn’t pose the same risk of fire or CO poisoning and can be used both for heating in winter and cooling in summer. While the same kinds of risks may not exist, the U.S. Department of Energy does note that many pumps can suffer from failed compressors or refrigerant levels with age. The compressors can also be noisy, meaning they should be located well away from a window or door. Installing a heat pump is not a task to undertake on your own; always hire an HVAC professional to ensure the work is correct and complete.
So… Heat Pump or Furnace?
When answering this question, it’s important to consider the outside climate. In temperatures under 20 degrees Fahrenheit, compressing heat from outside air becomes problematic, and a system of electric or gas-fired resistance coils (essentially a mini-furnace) kicks in to provide heating for your home. These are not as efficient as a traditional furnace. Furnaces, meanwhile, can’t effectively cool hot summer air and, without the addition of an air conditioner — which is actually a one-way heat pump — won’t be able to cool your home.
If you’re debating replacing your current system or need a complete install call R. A. Styron today to schedule your free estimate. All of our free estimates come with options and financing if requested.