What is the difference between heat pump and a furnace?

Q: When considering home HVAC systems, what is the main difference between a furnace and a heat pump, and what are the pros and cons of each?

A: For this question, the EHT staff turned to our friend Dave Miller at HeatTalk.com: Furnaces produce heat through the combustion of fuels including oil, wood or natural gas. While heat pumps, on the other hand, generate heat through the use of both electricity and a refrigerant. Unlike a furnace, they can also provide cooling, which is perhaps their biggest advantage as it means you don’t have to install two separate systems for both heating and cooling.

In terms of efficiency, heat pumps win hands down with many units now having efficiency ratings reaching as much as 300 percent. Unfortunately, they don’t perform very well in cold climates, especially below freezing and as a result, a backup heating system is often required. However, this combination can work well in more moderate climates and can potentially help people live greener and make substantial savings on their energy bills.

In general, furnaces are the best choice for those who have access to a natural gas line and who live in colder climates. It especially makes sense in circumstances where a brand new air conditioning system has just been installed.

However, heat pumps may be a good choice for those without access to a natural gas source. Although electricity does tend to be more expensive than gas, the efficiency of heat pumps often helps to offset this. It may also be a cheaper option than having a brand new air conditioning system installed, and for those that live in milder to warm climates it should provide adequate cooling and heating year round.

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