When the average homeowner thinks about heating their home, the furnace is probably the first product that comes to mind. But energy efficiency experts may think differently, because heat pumps– which operate on a totally different concept — can heat certain homes for a fraction of the energy expenditure. But which one will work best for you?
First, let’s take a look at the basic differences.
How Furnaces and Heat Pumps Work
Most North American homes are heated with some sort of furnace, usually powered by gas or electricity. Gas furnaces feature enclosed combustion chambers to generate heat, and electric resistance furnaces have electric heating elements similar to those in electric space heaters, only much more powerful. In both cases, a fan circulates air over the heating elements and through a network of ductwork and air vents to heat a home.
Forced air heat pumps don’t produce any heat at all– rather, they literally suck warmth out of the outside environment, even when the outside air is cool. The warm air is then compressed and injected into the house through a fan system. There’s another type of heat pump that works from geothermal energy: as opposed to salvaging heat from outside air, it gets heat from the typically stable underground temperatures using a system of buried pipes.
Which One is Best for Your Columbus-Area Home?
There are several factors to consider when trying to determine whether a heat pump or a furnace is better, but the major factor is climate and location. In temperate climates with milder winter seasons, heat pumps tend to be considerably more energy efficient than furnaces. But in freezing climates, heat pumps often struggle to maintain comfortable temperatures. Many systems have a secondary heat source that fires up in these situations, but it’s far less efficient than a conventional forced air furnace.
Geothermal heat pumps are tougher in cooler environments, but they are also markedly more expensive to install than most other heating option, and there are some spots where installation is challenging (to say the least). So the further north you reside, the more likely it is that a common gas or electric furnace is the most effective and efficient option.
Central Ohio’s climate can work particularly well with a heat pump, but we usually suggest also installing an electric furnace. However, there is another big positive aspect along with the efficiency gains: heat pumps can also cool your home simply by working in reverse– they pull warm air from inside your home and pump it outside the house. This allows you to heat and cool your household using a single device, which can save you a lot when buying and installing a new unit. It does, however, make maintenance intervals come around a little faster, since there’s just one unit doing the work all year long.
You can learn more about how heat pumps work on the Dept. of Energy’s website.
Review Your Alternatives With an HVAC Professional
If you’re not sure which system is right for you, a licensed HVAC specialist can help you work through the selection. It’s best to consult experienced professionals about whether your climate is appropriate for a heat pump, in addition to the difference between up-front costs and operating costs. Generally, the up-front costs of furnaces are less than forced air heat pumps and much lower than geothermal heat pumps, unless you also need a full duct network installed. But if you’re in a temperate climate, the low operating costs of a heat pump can more than catch up the difference in a short time.
Not exactly sure where to begin? Reach out to us for a no-obligation assessment today. Call one of our convenient locations or complete our online form and our customer service specialists will get back to you quickly to schedule an assessment of your heating and cooling needs.