Buying a new system to heat your home can be a stressful process, especially when looking at heat pumps and furnaces. The price tag that comes with such a major project can be high, and the last thing you want is to select the wrong equipment for your circumstances. There seems to be a lot of confusion about a heat pump versus a furnace and whether you have to own both.
You do not need to install a heat pump and a furnace together, though dual systems incorporate the advantages of both systems in a single unit. A dual system takes up less space and requires a smaller initial investment compared to buying two separate systems. However, installation and maintenance can be harder.
Knowing the difference between the two and why you might benefit from a dual unit is important before making your choice. Plenty of factors are involved in that decision, such as ease of install, the climate of your region, and your budget. This article will answer those questions, so you can buy a system that you feel confident about.
What Is the Difference Between a Heat Pump and Furnace?
Some people will use the terms heat pump and furnace interchangeably, assuming one is part of another. But the two are completely different products and each has its pros and cons. A few differences include the cost of the system, their ideal environments, and how easy they are to implement.
Let’s look at each on their own to see what they have to offer:
A heat pump is a full-service system that operates without a dedicated fuel source. Rather than taking energy from something like natural gas, it uses electricity to pull (or “pump”) air from outside into the house. This not only makes it a single unit for both heating and cooling but a more efficient and eco-friendly option.
Your region is the most important factor to consider if choosing a heat pump. Some experts claim that a heat pump loses efficiency at under 32°F (0°C). But once it reaches 20°F (-6.7°C), it will officially have to switch to an emergency secondary source of heat. For this reason, it is not an appropriate option for a colder location.
If you are using it as your cooling option, it might not work at optimal levels once temperatures reach the 90’s. Other elements might be involved there, but the refrigeration still relies somewhat heavily on the outside air, so it may never cool to the extent of an actual air conditioner.
You can buy smaller units for individual rooms.
A furnace is a more traditional choice for single-family homes in particular. Running on natural gas, it burns that energy source to produce greater heat levels. You can set the maximum and minimum to kick in and keep things at a comfortable equilibrium.
It also has the benefit of distributing temperature more evenly. Heat pumps are good for small spaces but might maintain one area better than another, overheating small rooms while underheating big ones. Furnaces measure the temp in the entire house.
You will only have one furnace in a house, unlike pumps that can have small window units.
Why Would I Need a Furnace With a Heat Pump?
There will be some situations where a single unit isn’t enough, and you will want a dual system heat pump with a secondary energy source. Furnace-style gas running heat pumps are good for smaller houses or those in locations with harsher climates in winter.
Dual systems are popular for mobile and tiny houses. Combining both your heating and cooling is a huge benefit when you have fewer square feet to work with. But those houses are drafty, and if you live in a region that reaches low temperatures of less than 32°F (0°C), you will see diminishing returns. By 20°F (-6.7°C), you could be risking freezing pipes and a lot of discomfort.
The common question is whether it is worth getting a more expensive dual unit. Only you will know that, based on your circumstances. Keep in mind the associated long-term costs, including costly repairs if something goes wrong, such as temperatures dropping to a degree severe enough to cause pipe ruptures.
What Is Most Economical: Heat Pump, Furnace, or Dual System
The economic impact of installing each of these units differs and beyond just the initial price of the equipment itself. By estimating the unit price, the long-term operational costs, and the time it will take to install – and if you need to hire a professional to do it – can give you a good idea of what is within range for you.
No matter which of the three you go for, the price tag will be dictated by the size of the space you need to heat. The larger the square footage, the more power will be needed and the larger the equipment.
- Dual-system heat pump with a furnace: It will set you back less at first purchase than a single unit. On average, a system will run around $3,800 for a 2,000-square foot (186-square meter) dwelling. If the house is much bigger, you will see this price rise. But since it works in part on a natural gas conducting furnace, it requires less power for the pump itself.
- Single heat pump system: This will cost anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000, with $8,500 being the approximate median. That is because it is a more involved installation process and a rather large unit, needing to transfer electricity to operate. This puts people off at times, but there are other ways in which a heat pump might save you.
- Furnace: This is the cheapest initial purchase. It can start as low as $1,500, even for a larger space. More advanced, efficient models could go as high as $6,500. You have a lot of options that make the pricing vary pretty wildly. But that gives you more budget-friendly choices to look at.
Long Term Operation Cost
All three of these units are long-lasting and unlikely to need to be changed more than once every twenty years.
Most come with warranties and access to replacement parts from the manufacturer, even after that warranty has expired. Since so many brands standardize those parts, especially with furnaces, repairs shouldn’t be frequent or that expensive.
That leads us to how much running them sets you back. Depending on the energy costs in your area, you could end up paying more upfront and saving over time enough to make it worth something as expensive as a pump system, or it might never break even.
Heat pumps work on electricity, so low costs in that area will save you a ton as the years go by. But if natural gas is more heavily used in your area and cheaper, you might do better with a furnace.
The benefit of a dual system is that you can base it on the season. In most places, summers will see a rise in energy demand and winter in gas demand. If you can offset it depending on the time of year, the ability to switch is a terrific way to navigate those costs.
Of course, there is alternative energy, such as geothermal heat systems. While these cost a great deal more, they run at around 400% efficiency compared to furnaces. If you like in an area with good geothermal support, it is worth considering.
Difficulty of Install and Cost of Labor
Installing one of these units is probably not worth doing yourself. Remember that you are working directly with electricity and gas, and it doesn’t take much to split up. While making a minor mistake could lead to minor results, the chances of causing a major issue are too great. Without HVAC experience, hiring a professional is the better choice.
Furnaces require you to tap into the gas line. Putting it mildly, causing a gas leak is not desirable, nor is potentially breaking the main.
As for dual or single heat pumps, they can be complex, and the units themselves are heavy. Unless you are dealing with small window units, hire an installer. You could end up saving yourself thousands in repair costs if your DIY goes south.
That being said, you should always ensure your professional is licensed and insured before agreeing to a contract. Never find something working on one of these systems from a classified ad, for instance, unless they can show proof of their credentials. You may also want to look up that licensing in your state’s official database.
Once you have a good candidate, how harsh will it be on your wallet?
A dual system heat pump install costs on average $1,000, though this will depend on the hourly rate of the HVAC professional you hire. A single heat pump will start at around $1,500 and could be as much as $3,000. A furnace is the cheapest as it is the easiest, costing between $150 and $500.
You have your options when it comes to heating your home. Whether you choose a heat pump, a furnace, or a dual system furnace with a heat pump, they all get the job done. Just make sure you factor in all costs.