What Is the Difference Between a Heat Pump and a Furnace?

There are many different kinds of heating systems available for a home. Two of the most common systems are the furnace and the heat pump.

Most homeowners just want a quality system to keep their home warmer during the chilly months, and when the time comes for replacement, they don’t know the difference. What is the difference between a heat pump and a furnace?

A furnace is a heating system that is primarily powered by the use and burning of oil or gas. While there are models that use electricity instead, most systems require a gas line or oil. Heat pumps use electricity and refrigerants exclusively to pull heat into the home. While cold can affect efficiency, its use of electricity makes it more efficient.

With a heat pump being more efficient for a home, it sounds like the natural choice, right? After all, the better the efficiency and heating, the less energy usage and more consistent warmth.

However, this may not be the case. Before you know which is the right choice for you, it’s important to learn all you can about a system, including its disadvantages.

What Are the Disadvantages of A Heat Pump Compared to a Furnace

Knowing the disadvantages is just important as knowing the advantages when choosing a heating system. They can tell you if the system you select will be ideal for your environment. 

A heat pump has quality advantages, but there are equally valid concerns that may make it not perfect for your home:

  • Heat pumps can be larger than the average system.
  • More maintenance can be required.
  • Extreme weather can affect efficiency.
  • Installation costs can be quite expensive.

Heat Pumps Can Be Larger than the Average System

HVAC systems tend to be bulky as it is. When one says “HVAC system,” it calls to mind a huge box.

In most instances, if a homeowner cannot place it somewhere discrete within a home, it can be an interior or exterior eyesore.

Heat Pump units

The great thing is that there is only one large piece of equipment to worry about and work with.

However, heat pumps are a little different when it comes to their size. They have an interior and exterior component that will have to be placed somewhere.

Finding ways to place these parts can also be difficult for the homeowner. 

While not ideal, many homeowners find themselves sacrificing closet space or room in their basements to give the additional indoor portion of the heat pump a place to live. This way, it won’t obstruct their daily life, and they can still utilize the system. 

More Maintenance Can Be Required

All HVAC systems require maintenance. However, the heat pump system itself has many moving mechanical parts.

Each of these needs a particular lubricant or oil to keep them from rubbing during movement and wearing.

To keep these systems efficient and optimal, quality maintenance must ensure these systems move and function correctly. 

This can mean having a technician come out to look at your system more frequently than one might want.

Typical systems can get away with annual maintenance, but in order to make sure your heat pump is functioning at optimal capacity, some homeowners even consider quarterly service!

Extreme Weather Can Affect Efficiency

A key part of how a heat pump works is that it draws the heat from the air and pulls it into the home.

However, this can also be a downside. When extreme weather hits, it may have a harder time pulling in the heat if there is none ambient.

This can mean you need a backup system to keep warm if you live in a place where it can get super cold during wintertime. 

Installation Cost Can Be Quite Expensive

Installation of any HVAC system can be expensive. There is just no sugarcoating it. A heat pump is an investment in your home and can cost more than you may be willing to put upfront.

Man installing HVAC unit

While you may be able to find HVAC installers that will work with you on the pricing, it will still take a chunk out of your savings. This can be a major drawback for those looking at its benefits. 

What Are the Advantages of a Heat Pump Compared to a Furnace?

Now that we have completely delved into the cons, the pros should be addressed for you to make the best choice. With a heat pump, you can anticipate many different benefits for your home: 

  • The air quality of a home with a heat pump is better
  • A heat pump heats a home with quality efficiency
  • Heat pump systems are quiet!
  • With a heat pump, you won’t have to worry about the risk of using gas!

The Air Quality of a Home with a Heat Pump Is Better

No matter what your family is dealing with, indoor air quality can have a significant effect on a home’s occupants.

With poor indoor air quality, your family could suffer from allergens, dander, and colds.

This can be especially difficult for those dealing with respiratory issues. With a standard HVAC system, the best thing you can do is to add a humidifier or dehumidifier to protect your family.

Heat pumps take the extra system out of the equation. Instead, these systems offer humidity control, maintaining humid air in the winter and decreasing it during the summer.

Paired with a good air filter, your indoor air will be free of harmful particles and help you breathe easier.

This means you get consistent air quality year-round, no matter what the weather may be.

A Heat Pump Heats a Home with Quality Efficiency

Using electricity allows for the heat pump to pull in heat from the exterior air to keep your home warm more efficiently.

As soon as you need warm air, the system turns on, pulls in the air, runs it through its processes, and delivers it straight to you.

Other systems, such as a furnace, which rely upon burning gas or oil to create heat, can burn unevenly and heat poorly.

Unlike heat pumps, a furnace has to turn on, release its fuels, burn them, monitor the heat, adjust accordingly, send the air, and check to make sure that it’s the right temperature. This lengthy process is doubled by the fact air can lose heat as it travels. 

Heat Pump Systems Are Quiet!

There is no mistaking the sudden kick-on noise of a heating system. No matter how new your system is, the sudden clunk and whirr can be heard once it goes to work.

Heat pumps, on the other hand, are known for their quiet functionality on top of their efficiency. This means you can ensure you won’t hear any weird noises unless there is a problem. 

With a Heat Pump, You Won’t Have to Worry about the Risk of Using gas!

While many homeowners swear on using gas to power the heater and stove in their home, there is always an inherent risk factor that goes into choosing this option.

If a pilot light goes out, it increases the chance for explosion if there is a buildup of gas and a random spark within the home.

On top of that, gas can cause innumerable health issues, from migraines to death if a leak occurs.

It can require a professional to come out to repair a leak and even force you to stay elsewhere until the issue is fixed if severe enough.

A heat pump is a purely electrical system, which means it won’t have the same risks as a furnace. 

Is a Heat Pump Better than a Furnace?

With all these pros and cons, you may just want the bottom line. Is a heat pump better than a furnace?

Truth be told, what makes one system better than another is your own personal needs and concerns.

Before choosing one system or another, consider your location, your budget, and what needs your family may have when it comes to heating.

How do you put this into practice? Well, if you are in an area that has moderate heat and cold, but your family has health concerns or indoor air quality issues, a heat pump could be just what the doctor ordered!

However, if you live in an environment with more extreme weather, a furnace could be your best bet for consistent heating in your home. 

A heat pump can be a great investment in a home and plays an important role in keeping you and your family warm throughout the winter.

It will keep your indoor air quality level year-round, and on top of that, there is no loud noise. It will work efficiently and quietly to maintain your home without any concerns. 

You can also forgo the risk of using gas or oil to power your heating system. Despite its usage, gas can be extremely dangerous in a home to its occupants if its lines are not maintained properly.

With a heat pump, you never have to worry about this and can just rely on good old-fashioned electricity for your needs.