the differences between heat pumps and furnaces

December 28, 2023

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Many homeowners make the mistake of rushing into the purchase of a heating system without evaluating their options. The fact is that furnaces and heat pumps both come with pros and cons. A furnace might be the perfect fit for one household, whereas the house next door might prefer to go with a heat pump. If you’re in the market for a new heating appliance, you should first consider things like your budget, the space of your residence and even the climate you live in. These variables will all help determine whether a heat pump or a furnace will be the better investment for your home’s future.


Heat pumps and furnaces are fundamentally different when it comes to their method of heating. Heat pumps don’t generate heat; they take heat from outside of the home and then transfer it through your air ducts and out of your vents. They’re able to absorb heat using pressurized refrigerant coils that need to be set up outside the house.

Furnaces go about their business in a very different way. There are gas-burning furnaces, which use either propane or natural gas as fuel, and there are electric furnaces. Gas-burning furnaces heat your home by creating continuous combustion of fuel. Alternatively, electric furnaces do their job by blowing air over a hot element before distributing the heat around your household.


One unique thing about heat pumps is their ability to eliminate the need for an air conditioner. Unlike furnaces, these pumps have the ability to reverse their heating process and switch to providing cool air for your home. This comes in very handy when the weather heats up, and it saves you the money and extra space that a separate air conditioning unit would require. Heat pumps are able to do this by simply reversing the flow of refrigerant through their coils.


On average, homeowners who live in exceptionally cold climates find that furnaces are a better investment than heat pumps. This mostly comes down to the method that each appliance uses to provide heat. Due to the fact that heat pumps work by transferring heat from outdoors, it’s easier for them to do their job when there’s sufficient warmth available. When the temperature drops well below freezing, heat pumps have to strain themselves much more to keep your home warm. This makes breakdowns more likely, and it also causes your monthly heating bills to rise significantly. There are, however, special geothermal heat pumps that have their coils located underground instead of above ground. Because the temperature below ground is usually stable, colder weather outside doesn’t make things any more difficult for the pump. That being said, these geothermal heat pumps are extremely expensive to have installed.

Furnaces are a fine option in cold climates because their combustion process is unaffected by the weather outside. Granted, they will have to burn more fuel if you require more heat to stay comfortable, but the actual combustion process won’t be any more difficult regardless of your area’s climate. The region where we live in Alberta has winters that are usually quite cold and sometimes severe. Consequently, most people here opt for a furnace.


Provided you live in a moderate or warmer climate, heat pumps tend to require much lower monthly energy costs than furnaces. Things like your utility costs and how well you care for your heating system will always factor in, but transferring heat from outside does use much less energy than generating it with combustion. Over the course of one winter, on average, a propane-burning furnace cost around $1,500 to operate. For a natural gas or electric furnace, this number is closer to $900. However, the amount you’ll spend to keep your heat pump running should only be around $500.


If peace and quiet in your home are major priorities, a heat pump may not be the best option for you. Any heating system is capable of being noisy when something is wrong mechanically, but it’s normally only heat pumps that are loud when everything is working smoothly. Usually, this noise will come in the form of clicking or knocking sounds, which are caused by the unit’s compressor powering up and down as it circulates refrigerant. This results in the air handler, which would be located inside your home, producing consistent noise. Generally speaking, the only noise you’ll hear from a healthy furnace will be a soft whooshing of air. In most cases, the furnace will also be tucked away out of earshot in the basement or utility room.


When deciding between a heat pump and a furnace, you should also take into account how much space you have available in your home. When you set up a furnace in your house, it will require a 30-inch clearance on all sides for fire safety purposes. As a result, the appliance will take up significant square footage. Alternatively, a heat pump’s compressor does require a 24-inch clearance on all sides, but it will be set up outside of your home. The only component of a heat pump that will need to be inside your home is the air handler, which doesn’t require clearance and can sometimes be placed high up on a wall. For this reason, people with smaller or more compact homes tend to prefer heat pumps over furnaces.


On average, a standard gas furnace will cost about $4,500 to install, whereas an electric furnace will cost around $4,000. There are also certain high-efficiency models of these furnaces that will cost roughly twice as much for professional installation. Heat pumps, on the other hand, can sometimes cost as much as $4,500 to install, but in many cases, they will be closer to $3,500. The difference isn’t huge, but if you’re in a financially tight situation, that extra few hundred dollars can really factor into your decision. It’s worth noting that regardless of which type of heating system you decide to purchase, it’s going to require professional sizing and installation to have it implemented into your home.

Our team at Alberta Mountain Air Heating and Air Conditioning has been proudly serving the Greater Calgary area and all of Alberta since 2004. We provide quality heating and cooling services at an affordable cost to the residents of our region. For our efforts, we have received a Workplace Safety Certificate of Recognition, and we also maintain an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau for our excellent customer service. Contributing to our community is something we prioritize, which is why we proudly support local charity events and make an effort to stay active in the area we love. We know that the weather can get extreme in the Calgary vicinity, and we’re committed to helping you stay comfortable throughout every season.

Call us up today at Alberta Mountain Air Heating and Air Conditioning to schedule an appointment or to simply learn more about our services.

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Still have questions about your next air conditioner? Let us help you choose an air conditioner you’ll be excited for.

Need A Free Estimate?

Still have questions about your next air conditioner? Let us help you choose an air conditioner you’ll be excited for.

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