With fall and winter right around the corner, HVAC contractors are fielding calls from homeowners and businesses interested in upgrading their heating systems. When it comes to heating your home, you can choose between a furnace or a heat pump.
Here’s a brief rundown of the features of these systems that will help you make an informed decision as to which heating technology will work best for you and your family.
Understanding the Difference Between Furnaces & Heat Pumps
A furnace generates heat by burning a fuel source and then distributes that hot air throughout your living spaces via a ductwork system. Most commonly, the fuel source is gas (natural gas or propane), but there are also systems that burn oil (fuel oil and recycled oil) and, yes, even wood! The primary components of this type of furnace include a burner, heat exchanger, blower, ductwork and an exhaust flue to safely vent combustion gases outside.
Another type of furnace that does not burn any sort of “fuel” is the electric furnace. It uses “electric heat strips” that resemble giant versions of the heating elements in your … toaster … yes, really. Made of resistive wire, the heat strips produce heat when an electric current runs through them. Electric furnaces are the most expensive way to heat a home, so they are not very popular except as a backup heat source or in buildings that rarely require a heat source.
Furnaces are the most popular heating option for homeowners that live in areas with long, cold winters. In addition, if you like your home to be on the warmer and cozier side, a furnace can deliver warm air in a very timely and cost-efficient manner. With just a few key components, furnaces have a high degree of reliability and repairs are often completed quickly by a skilled HVAC contractor, thus limiting your downtime. This can be particularly helpful when you experience a breakdown on a cold winter night and immediate heat restoration is essential.
In recent years, furnace manufacturers have honed their system designs to maximize the amount of heat pulled out of the fuel burned by the furnace, and they have realized astonishing efficiency levels as high as 97%! Additionally, electrical engineers have designed blower motors that are dramatically more energy efficient than older technology, which resulted in significant monthly electricity savings. Overall, major improvements in energy efficiency have been made in furnace designs over the past two decades.
Lastly, keep in mind that a furnace only provides heat. If you also want to cool your home, then an air conditioner will need to be added to your furnace. The air conditioner will utilize the furnace’s blower system to circulate cool air throughout your home during the summer.
Instead of burning a fuel source in order to generate heat, a heat pump relies on the same highly efficient technology that an air conditioner uses. An air conditioner uses a refrigerant to collect heat from within the home and then expel it outdoors. In the summertime, a heat pump performs the exact same process as an air conditioner and efficiently cools your home.
Unlike an air conditioner, a heat pump is able to reverse that process in the wintertime and pull heat from the outside air or even the ground (geothermal) and transfer it into your home. The dual purpose capability of being able to both heat and cool your home makes a heat pump an attractive HVAC option. Additionally, heat pumps are extremely energy efficient and are an especially excellent option in homes that do not have access to a gas supply.
A heat pump system is comprised of an outdoor coil (condenser) or geothermal ground loop, an indoor coil (evaporator) and an air handler. An air handler looks similar to a furnace, but it only has a blower system inside it. The heat pump’s indoor coil is installed within the air handler, and the air handler is then connected to your home’s ductwork system. The heat pump then controls the blower system to move heated or cooled air throughout your home.
Heat pump technology has been advancing in recent years. “Standard” heat pumps require a backup heat source, such as a gas-fired furnace for when temperatures drop below freezing. Today, new compressor technology is enabling heat pumps to efficiently provide sufficient heat down to temperatures as low as -13F. These systems do not need a backup heat source and can provide for all the heating and cooling needs of your home.
One difference between furnaces and heat pumps is that furnaces produce a “hot” heat and heat pumps produce a “warm” heat. That means the air temperature coming from a gas fired furnace is hotter than the air coming from a heat pump in heat mode. So, if you have a “snow bunny” in your home that is always cold, they may find the “hot” heat of the furnace more appealing than the “warm” air of the heat pump.
Many homeowners appreciate the convenience of having one system that does both heating and cooling and with newer heat pump technology now available, this is a real possibility in colder climates. Heat pumps provide quiet operation, high energy efficiency, and reliability to homes and businesses.
If you’re looking for an HVAC contractor who specializes in both furnaces and heat pumps, count on Jon’s Plumbing & Heating. Based in Mount Vernon, our dedicated team has been serving residents and business owners across Knox County since 1998. To schedule an appointment, call us today at (740) 392-5667.