American homeowners have many choices for heating their homes, including furnaces, fireplaces, heat pumps, radiant heat and baseboard heat. The most popular heating system is the forced air, combustion-powered furnace, but heat pumps are also growing in market share. So what’s the difference between a furnace and a heat pump?
Furnaces usually are combustion-powered heating systems fueled by gas or oil, but they may also be powered by electricity. Gas- and oil-powered furnaces use a heat exchanger and burners to produce heat, which is then fan forced through ductwork. An electric furnace heats radiant elements, over which air is circulated and after it is warmed, distributed through the home’s ductwork.
Heat pumps are generally electric or geothermal powered. They work similarly to a refrigerator: cold refrigerant absorbs heat either outdoors (an air source heat pump), or from the earth or from a water source (geothermal heat pump), and is conveyed indoors where the heated refrigerant runs through coils. Air is blown over the coils and as the air is heated, it is distributed through ductwork. Some heat pumps, known as ductless mini splits, distribute the heat through air handlers, without the ductwork.
Gas-powered heat pumps do exist, but they are less common. Known as absorption pumps, they are powered by natural gas, but use ammonia or water instead of refrigerants.
Cost and Efficiency
Furnaces generally cost less than heat pumps, but are more expensive to install than gas- or electric-powered heat pumps, particularly if ductwork must be added. However, geothermal heat pumps are relatively high in cost as well as installation.
Heat pumps of all types earn their keep by being more efficient than furnaces, particularly in warm climates like ours where they work well for heating. Heat pumps are also more environmentally friendly, in that electric-powered and geothermal units give off no combustion gases, while natural gas-powered units give off few emissions.
For more on the difference between a furnace and a heat pump, contact Bradbury Brothers Heating & Air Conditioning. We serve The Woodlands, Conroe and the surrounding area.