What’s Better – A Furnace Or A Heat Pump?

Heating and air technicians are often asked to recommend products to homeowners. A common question is whether a heat pump or a gas furnace is the best choice. Location, size of the home, the size of the property, the type of soil on the property, and fuel choice are factors that must be considered when recommending either a heat pump or a furnace.

Where Will The Heating Unit Be Installed?

Location matters when making the decision to install either a heat pump or a gas furnace. Heat pumps are more economical for climates that do not require extensive heating and cooling.

Technicians working in cold weather climates should recommend fossil fuel burning furnaces. Technicians in warmer climates have other factors to consider before recommending the environmentally friendly heat pump.

Technicians should know about the location of their potential customer’s home. An onsite visit is necessary before making a recommendation of either a heat pump or a furnace.

Types of Heat Pump

    1. Air-source heat pumps have been used in all regions of the United States, but until recently have been less efficient in heating homes located in the coldest climates.

    2. Areas with extensive subfreezing temperatures require a different source of heat, such as gas furnaces or ground-source heat pumps. For these colder areas, ground-source or water-source heat pumps are more effective. A geothermal heat pump reduces energy use by up to 60 percent.

    3. A geothermal heat pump can be used if the lot is large enough and the subsoil is not rocky. Technicians should check the lot size and test the soil before recommending a geothermal heat pump.

Best Heating Alternatives For Various Scenarios

Mobile Homes

Heat pumps are not suitable for use in manufactured mobile homes. Systems are specifically designed for use in mobile homes. They require special vents and a particular type of duct system.

Age of the Existing Gas Furnace

If the current gas furnace is older than a 1992 model, it is time to recommend an upgrade. Older furnaces are less energy efficient and are likely costing the homeowner extra on their heating energy bill. The initial outlay of money for an upgrade of a working unit may seem like a bad idea to the homeowner, but technicians should be able to explain the long.term savings that will result from the unit upgrade to an energy efficient gas furnace.

Gas furnaces manufactured before 1992 were less than 78 percent efficient. After regulations were changed, the 1992 to 2012 requirements stated that furnaces must be at least 78 percent efficient. In 2013, these standards were upgraded to an 80 percent minimum efficiency. Many newer models exceed the minimum standards and are up to 98.5 percent efficient.

Heat Pump

Electric-only Homes

Electric furnaces are not as economical as gas furnaces. These furnaces are highly efficient, but they are much more expensive to operate than gas furnaces because the electricity must generate the heat. If a homeowner prefers to heat with electricity, the heat pump is the choice that should be recommended. The heat pump is definitely the budget-friendly choice of the heating units that are powered by electricity.

Natural Gas, Propane, or Oil Furnaces

Furnaces fueled by natural gas are the cleanest burning of the fossil fuel-powered furnace options. Propane and oil prices fluctuate and can be more expensive to operate during peak use months. These options are less environmentally friendly than electric options, but should be recommended in cold weather climates because they are capable of heating the home efficiently.

Size of the Home

The size of the home determines the size of the heating unit that must be installed. Homes with larger living areas require more ductwork and larger units to supply the heat needed to maintain comfortable temperatures throughout the home. Smaller units must work harder and use more energy to heat a larger space. Larger units cost more when purchased, but they will provide savings in energy bills for years to come. If a homeowner complains that some rooms are colder than others, a larger unit with additional blowers should be recommended.


A well-informed heating and air technician is able to relieve consumer fears and concerns when replacing a heating unit. Technicians should be able to discuss the local climate, environmental factors, and the types of fuels that power both furnaces and heat pumps with homeowners when recommending either a heat pump or a furnace.

All of these factors should be discussed with the homeowner when recommending the replacement of an existing heating unit. Final recommendations should be based on the square footage of the home, the home’s location, and the homeowner’s preferences for heating fuel.

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