Should You Replace Your Furnace with a Heat Pump?

If your furnace is coming to the end of its lifespan, you may be looking at your heating options. Should you stick with a furnace for heat, or would a heat pump be a better option? Which is better depends on where you live and your preferences. Here are some of the basics about heat pumps and when they can be a better choice than furnaces for heat.

Efficient Source of Heat

Heat pumps are usually more energy efficient than most furnaces. They use electricity for energy, while many furnaces use oil or gas. Your monthly heating bills can be less.

Great for Mild Climates

Heat pumps are great for heating in mild climates but are not a good choice for areas that have cold winters. Since they rely on pulling heat from the air, they may not be able to maintain a comfortable temperature when the outside air drops below freezing consistently. Furnaces are a better choice for cold climates.

Cooling During the Summer

Heat pumps work as a heating and cooling system in one. You can replace a furnace and air conditioning unit with a heat pump for year-round climate control.

Quiet, Safe Heating

Heat pumps tend to run quieter and can be safer than a gas furnace. You do not need to worry about gas leaks that can cause carbon monoxide poisoning or explosions in your home.

If you live in a region that has mild winters, a heat pump may be a good choice for replacing your old furnace. Discuss the benefits with your local HVAC service company to determine whether a heat pump is right for your home.

Posted on behalf of:
Western Aire Heating & Cooling
264 Buchanan Highway
Dallas, GA 30157
(770) 505-7426

Disadvantages of Heat Pumps

Heat pumps are quickly becoming the residential heating and cooling system of choice for many homeowners due to their excellent efficiency and low cost of operation.  However, before you commit to the cost of a new heat pump system, be sure that a heat pump is right for you and your family.  Energy efficiency should not be the only criteria for choosing a home heating system and heat pumps have a few drawbacks that make them less appealing for some homeowners.

First, heat pumps are not very effective heating systems when temperatures drop below freezing.  If you live in a climate that regularly sees extended periods with temperatures below freezing, consider combining a heat pump with another heating source such as a traditional furnace.

Next, the warm air coming from your vents will not feel as warm as what you may be used to with a furnace.  Heat pumps are designed to run for longer periods of time while delivering warm air rather than delivering hot air for shorter periods of time like a traditional furnace.  Once you get used to the slightly cooler temperature of the warm air blowing from your registers, you will appreciate that this is actually a plus for heat pumps, not a negative.  With a heat pump, the temperature in your home will remain more constant and will not fluctuate as much as it does with a furnace.

Finally, some homeowners are concerned that since a heat pump handles both the heating and cooling function, it runs throughout the year and may wear out sooner than a traditional furnace.  There may be some truth to this notion, but a good quality, well maintained heat pump can be expected to give good service for about 15 to 20 years.  By the time the heat pump wears out, advancements in energy efficiency will probably warrant replacing the system in any event.

How Does A Heat Pump Work?

If it’s time to replace your furnace and central air conditioning system or if you are building a new home, consider installing an energy efficient heat pump.  Whether you choose an air source or ground source heat pump, you will enjoy years of energy efficient heating and cooling without sacrificing comfort.

A heat pump works just like a central air conditioning system in the summer.  It uses refrigerant to absorb indoor heat and move it outside your home.  A refrigerator works using the same principles.  Refrigerant is used to absorb heat inside the refrigerator and release the heat outside the refrigerator box leaving the inside of the refrigerator nice and cold.

Refrigerators and air conditioners are types of heat pumps that work in a single direction.  A heat pump used for home heating and cooling works in two directions.  The energy efficiency advantage of a heat pump comes into play in the winter months when the heat pump is used for heating.  The refrigerant flow is reversed and the refrigerant absorbs heat from outdoors and releases it inside the home.

A heat pump can extract heat from the outside air even in below freezing temperatures.  However, an air source heat pump’s efficiency declines as the outdoor temperatures decrease.  This is less of a problem for a ground source heat pump since the temperatures below ground remain relatively stable year round.

When operating in heating mode, a heat pump is far more efficient than an electric resistance type heater because it moves heat instead of creating heat.  It takes much more electricity to create heat than it does to move it using a heat pump.

Heat pumps are usually less expensive to operate than natural gas, propane, or oil fired home heating systems.  The cost savings with a heat pump depends on the cost of the fuel but the savings is usually significant.


Energy Savings With Heat Pumps

Modern heat pumps are an excellent, energy efficient heating and cooling system for most American homes.  A heat pump is an HVAC system that handles both the heating and cooling of your home.  Despite a slow start when they were first introduced, heat pumps are now considered to be one of the most cost effective, energy efficient heating and cooling alternatives.

Heat pumps are very efficient heating systems because they use electricity to move heat rather than creating it.  Since they don’t create heat, they are much more efficient than most other heating alternatives such as furnaces that burn fossil fuels or use electric heating elements to create heat.

Most homes with a traditional furnace and central air conditioning system can be easily retrofitted with a split system heat pump.  These look a lot like a traditional central air conditioner and operate like a traditional central air conditioner in the summer when they are in cooling mode. They absorb warmth inside the home and discharge it outside the home.

When switched to heating mode in the winter, the heat pump operates in reverse to absorb warmth outside the home and discharge it inside the home.

The first heat pumps that were mass produced in the 1970’s were poorly designed and installed in homes with inadequate weatherstripping and insulation.  The result was that heat pumps initially earned a reputation for needing frequent repairs and for poor heating performance, especially in colder climates.

Today, heat pump technology has improved to the point that the opposite is true.  Modern heat pumps have excellent reliability and do a great job of heating in all types of climates, even those with prolonged periods of below freezing temperatures.  They are very efficient in both heating and cooling modes and can save homeowners a bundle on energy costs.

Using a Programmable Thermostat With a Heat Pump

Heat pumps and programmable thermostats have become popular these days as people try to find ways to reduce their energy consumption.  Whether motived by decreasing their carbon footprint, lowering their energy bills, or both, heat pumps and programmable thermostats are excellent alternatives for lowering the amount of energy used to heat and cool homes.

However, if you are not careful when using a programmable thermostat with your new heat pump you may end up wasting energy by activating the auxiliary heat too often.  A heat pump is an energy efficient way to heat a home because it moves heat rather than creates heat.  As the name implies, a heat pump moves heat from outside the home to the inside to warm the home.

It is an efficient and economical system, but it is less effective at temperatures below freezing.  To compensate for this, most heat pumps have auxiliary electric heating strips installed to supplement the heat when the heat pump can’t keep up with the demand for heat.  Heat strips are an expensive way to heat, but if they are used sparingly a heat pump is still an efficient heating system.

The problem with programmable thermostats is that they are typically set to lower the temperature about 10 degrees at night and when the homeowner is away during the day.  When the program switches back to the more comfortable higher temperature setting, the heat pump tries to reach that temperature quickly and the electric auxiliary strips are activated.  Using the electric auxiliary heating strips to bring the temperature backup offsets the energy savings from lowering the temperature during the night and might even be counter productive.

If you use a programmable thermostat with a heat pump, program it so the temperature only drops two or three degrees at night to avoid activating the auxiliary heating strips.

Heat Pump Negatives

Heat Pumps are an energy efficient way to heat and cool your home.  Heat pumps operate just like a central air conditioning system to cool you home and work in reverse to heat your heat.  Because a heat pump uses electricity to move heat instead of creating heat, it can operate more efficiently and less expensively than most furnaces.

However, heat pumps do have a few drawbacks to consider before you make the investment in a new system.  The main concern about a heat pump is that its ability to heat efficiently is reduced at lower temperatures.  This used to be a bigger problem than it is today.  Advances in heat pump technology have made heat pumps effective and efficient in temperatures around freezing.

They can also heat your home in occasional periods of below freezing temperatures, but they lose some of their efficiency advantage. Supplemental electric heating elements can be added to a heat pump to help in these occasional low temperatures, but when operating in supplemental heat mode a heat pump loses most of its efficiency advantage.

If you live in an area that gets consistent and sustained temperatures below freezing, a heat pump may not be the best choice for winter home heating.  However, some homeowners use a heat pump for summer air conditioning and energy efficient spring and fall heating before turning on the furnace for heating during the coldest months.

Since heat pumps handle both heating and cooling, they run throughout the year which leads to concerns that they may wear out sooner than separate air conditioning and heating units.  This is probably true, however they last so long that the problem is negligible.  After 15 to 20 years of service, it is probably time to be shopping for a newer, more efficient system anyway.

A reputable local HVAC contractor who handles heat pump installation and repair can install a great new energy efficient heat pump in your home.

Cool Climate Heat Pumps

A heat pump is an energy efficient home heating and cooling alternative.  A heat pump is essentially a central air conditioning system that is equipped to operate in reverse during the winter.  A heat pump’s efficiency is based on the fact that it moves heat from place to place rather than creating heat.  In the summer, it moves heat from inside your home to the outside and in the winter, it takes heat from outside your home and moves it inside.

It may sound counterintuitive, but a heat pump can extract heat from cold air although its efficiency suffers at temperatures below freezing.  For this reason, heat pumps have generally been considered best suited for moderate climates.

However, if you are replacing your heating or cooling system, talk to your HVAC contractor about whether a heat pump would be a good alternative for you.  Recent technological advances have made heat pumps more efficient at lower temperatures so they are suitable for more areas than in the past.

Also, heat pumps can be equipped with supplemental heating strips that improve heating ability at lower temperatures.  In addition, a heat pump can be combined with other heating methods such as a radiant floor heating system, geothermal heating system, solar heating or other alternative heating system.

Some homeowners use a heat pump to heat in the fall and spring before switching to a conventional gas or oil furnace for the coldest months.  Whether a heat pump makes sense for you will depend on your unique situation and the relative cost of electricity in your area.  A reputable HVAC contractor that handles heat pump installation and repair can help you decide if a heat pump is right for you.

Heat Pumps

A heat pump is a heating and cooling system that uses refrigeration technology to heat and cool your home.  A heat pump takes the place of a traditional central air conditioner and furnace. In the summer, a heat pump operates much like a central air conditioning unit.  It uses Freon or other refrigerants to absorb heat inside your home and pump it outside.  In the winter, the process is reversed to heat your home.  There are advantages and disadvantages to consider before investing in a heat pump.

One of the primary selling points of heat pumps is that they are very efficient.  Because they transfer heat rather than create it (such as by burning oil or gas or electric heating elements), they are much more efficient at heating your home than a traditional furnace. 

Another advantage is that a heat pump uses a single piece of equipment to heat and cool rather than two separate pieces of equipment such as a furnace and central air conditioning unit.  This means that there is less maintenance and upkeep with a heat pump.  In addition, a heat pump generally produces more even heat with a higher level of humidity than a furnace. 

The main disadvantage of a heat pump is that it does not heat well in very cold weather.  When outside temperatures drop below 40 degrees, a supplemental heat source is necessary.  In addition, a heat pump is more expensive that a central air conditioning system and has a shorter lifespan because, unlike a central air conditioning system, a heat pump is used year round. 

Your local HVAC professional can help you decide if a heat pump is right for you and handle your heat pump installation and repair needs.