Heat Pump vs. Furnace: Which One is Right for You?

When it comes to heating, most homes have a choice between a heat pump or a furnace. Although they both accomplish the same goal of heating your home, they do so in different ways. For instance, furnaces generate heat by burning oil or natural gas while heat pumps use electricity. Here’s a quick breakdown of each type of heat system, and some of the factors you should consider when making your decision, like location, energy efficiency, cost and reliability. 


Heat Pumps


What is a heat pump?

A heat pump doesn’t burn fuel to generate heat. Instead, it uses electricity to pull air from the outside and transfer heat into your home. A heat pump basically acts as a reverse air conditioning unit and, for that reason, doubles as an air conditioner when in cooling mode. 


heat pump next to fence
Christian Delbert / Shutterstock


Heat pump benefits

Because heat pumps transfer air with electricity, they’re very energy-efficient. This allows you to enjoy a comfortably heated home knowing that your heat pump could contribute to a lower energy bill during the colder months.  In addition to being energy-efficient, heat pumps are typically easy to install and operate quietly. During the summer months, your heat pump can also act as an air conditioner, making this a more versatile product compared to a furnace.  In terms of air quality, heat pumps don’t produce CO, so you don’t have to worry about carbon monoxide leaks.  Plus, heat pumps circulate humid air so it won’t dry out your skin like heat from a furnace can.


Heat pump concerns

Heat pumps typically produce less heat compared to furnaces, and may not be the ideal depending on how warm you like to keep your home. In addition, heat pumps aren’t as efficient if temperatures reach below freezing. Since heat pumps use air from the outside, colder temperatures mean that your heat pump will struggle to generate warm air.  There are systems that work alongside heat pumps to generate warmth by moving the air over heating coils, but they typically use a lot of energy. 


Why should you choose a heat pump?

Where you live plays a large part in whether or not a heat pump vs. furnace is right for your home.  If you live in an area with mild winters, a heat pump is a great option. Southeastern climates are ideal for heat pump use. This is also a better option if you’re in the market to replace your existing air conditioner, since heat pumps can double as both. In short, if you live in a climate that doesn’t see long, cold winters, a heat pump is typically a better option.




What is a furnace?

Furnaces generate warm air and then distribute it throughout your home by burning fuel. Because furnaces use fuel to create heat, they blow much warmer air compared to heat pumps. There are four main components to a furnace: burners, heat exchangers, a blower and a flue that acts as the exhaust. Furnaces can run on natural gas or oil, and depending on where you live, there are hybrid options available that can use both.


White furnace on white background
Viacheslav Lopatin / Shutterstock


Furnace benefits

Furnaces are typically cheaper compared to heat pumps, but the price varies depending on unit size and features. If you prefer hot, toasty temperatures inside your home, a furnace might be the better option for you. While heat pumps are more energy efficient, furnaces have fewer moving parts, which means there’s less heating repair and maintenance involved and fewer pieces that could potentially malfunction. 


Furnace concerns

Heat that’s generated through a furnace could dry out the air in your entire home, which can cause skin and other health issues. While today’s furnaces are much more energy efficient compared to a decade ago, they still don’t compare to the efficiency of a heat pump. Homes with a furnace also require a separate unit for air conditioning, while heat pumps act as a two-in-one. 


Why should you choose a furnace?

Your climate is extremely important when choosing between a heat pump vs. furnace. If you experience incredibly cold winters with temperatures below freezing, a furnace is the best option for you. Because furnaces don’t depend on outdoor air to produce heat, they produce much warmer air for homes located in cold temperature climates compared to heat pumps. 


Frequently Asked Questions


What is the difference between a heat pump and furnace?

Heat pumps both heat and cool homes by moving warm air in or out, while furnaces burn fuel to create and distribute warm air throughout a home. Heat pumps operate most efficiently in warmer climates with mild winter months, while furnaces thrive in colder climates with temperatures that reach below freezing.

How much do furnaces typically cost to install new?

Furnace installation can range between $2,000 to upwards of $7,000, depending on the furnace and company you are using to install the unit. 

What does a furnace do?

A furnace burns fuel to create and distribute hot air throughout a house. It uses four main components: a burner, heat exchanger, blower and flue to produce hot and toasty temperatures inside the home during cold winter months.