Heat Pump Vs. Gas Furnace: 8 Major Myths

HVAC Logo IconBy HVAC.comJuly 31, 2023

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Heat pumps and gas furnaces are two popular options for heating a home. Since each system works in very different ways, understanding their differences and weighing their pros and cons is essential to make an informed buying decision.

Check out these eight myths about a heat pump vs gas furnace to gather the facts to decide which heating system is the best option for you.

What Is a Heat Pump?

Heat pumps are an energy-efficient and environmentally friendly alternative to traditional HVAC systems. They provide both heating and cooling for year-round comfort. During the warmer months, heat pumps operate similarly to air conditioners by removing warm air from indoors and transferring it outdoors through the compressor.

It’s how heat pumps operate during the winter that truly sets them apart from a traditional gas furnace. Instead of burning fuel such as natural gas to create heat, heat pumps use a refrigerant cycle to extract warmth from the outside to provide heating for homes.

What Is a Gas Furnace?

Gas furnaces, meanwhile, are a reliable and efficient heating solution used by millions of homeowners across the country. Gas furnaces use natural gas to generate heat, which is then distributed throughout homes via ductwork and vents. The combustion process occurs within a sealed chamber, where the gas is ignited and produces hot combustion gases. These gases transfer their heat energy to the surrounding air, which is then circulated throughout the home to provide warmth and comfort during colder months.

Myths of an Electric Heat Pump Vs Gas Furnace

Our goal is to deliver the facts on whether you should install a heat pump or a gas furnace. Here are the top eight myths – and the truth behind them – of installing a gas furnace vs heat pump so you can make the best investment for your home.

Myth #1 – A Gas Furnace Is Always the Best Way to Heat a Home

A gas furnace is not always the best way to heat a home. If you do not have gas lines leading to your home, then a gas furnace cannot be installed. Gas furnaces can also produce extremely hot heat, which means that the temperature in your home can quickly reach the setting on your thermostat. This can leave cold spots around your home and contribute to dry skin.

Gas furnaces may provide overpowering heat when the temperature outside is between 40 and 60 degrees. A gas furnace also produces carbon monoxide, which can be a threat if the unit isn’t installed properly and inspected annually.

Heat pumps can actually be a better choice in some areas of the country, like the South, where winters are milder. In areas that don’t experience temperatures below freezing, a heat pump consumes less energy and can be more efficient than a furnace.

Gas furnaces may be a better option in areas of the country that frequently experience below-zero temperatures. In these regions, you can pair a gas furnace with an air conditioner or a heat pump with gas furnace. The latter option, called a dual-fuel system, allows you to use your heat pump until the temperature becomes too cold for it to operate efficiently in. At that time, your gas furnace will kick on.

Myth #2 – A Heat Pump Is the Same as an Air Conditioner

An air conditioner’s refrigeration system absorbs heat from inside the home to the refrigerant, which carries the absorbed heat to the outside through the outdoor compressor unit. A heat pump works the same way as an air conditioner in cooling mode, but the two differ when heating.

During colder weather, the heat pump’s refrigeration system absorbs heat from outside the home and delivers it through your indoor coil. This process creates an energy-efficient way to keep your home warm in mild temperatures.

Gas furnaces, meanwhile, work by burning natural gas to produce heat, which is then distributed throughout the home via a network of ducts and vents.

Myth #3 – Heat pumps Don’t Heat Your Home As Well as Gas Furnaces

A heat pump is an effective way to heat homes in climates that experience mild winter temperatures, like the southern portions of the country. In warmer regions of the country, homeowners can often solely rely on a heat pump to provide heating and cooling.

In the past, heat pumps often struggled to heat homes efficiently once the temperature dipped below freezing. However, heat pump technology has advanced rapidly in recent years, and high-efficient heat pumps can now operate in temperatures as low as 0 degrees. However, homeowners in far northern states such as Minnesota, Michigan, and Alaska should consider investing in a dual-fuel heating system.

So the answer to this question largely depends on the climate in your region.

Myth #4 – Gas Furnaces Are Always More Efficient Than Heat Pumps

Natural gas is cheaper than electricity in most regions, which makes a furnace more cost-effective than an electric heat pump in areas that experience freezing temperatures. Gas furnaces are not always more efficient than heat pumps, however.

For states that experience cooler temperatures (40-60 degrees) but not extreme cold (below 40 degrees) during the winter, a heat pump can be more efficient and cost-effective.

Myth #5 – A Gas Furnace Is Cheaper Than a Heat Pump

The upfront cost of installing a gas furnace is usually cheaper than the cost to install a heat pump. However, if you don’t have natural gas lines running to your home, installation can be extremely expensive.

Available tax credits have also made heat pumps more enticing. Through the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, homeowners can claim a tax credit of up to 30%, with a maximum benefit of $2,000, toward the purchase and installation of a new heat pump system.

Myth #6 – There Is Only One Type of Heat Pump

There are three types of heat pumps: air-to-air, ductless mini-split, and geothermal. The air-to-air heat pump is the most common type of heat pump. During heating mode, it works by moving heat from the outside to the inside of your home through a refrigerant cycle.

A ductless mini-split heat pump is a smaller air-source unit with an outdoor compressor/condenser and an indoor air-handling unit. As their name suggests, they don’t require the use of ductwork to distribute conditioned air; instead, they use one or more indoor air handling units installed on ceilings or walls in the home. Ductless systems are commonly used to heat just one area of a home, although they can be installed throughout a home to create temperature zones.

Lastly, a geothermal heat pump, also referred to as a ground-source heat pump, uses the warmth stored in the earth (which is roughly 50 to 60 degrees) to heat your home. A geothermal heat pump is the most efficient type of HVAC system on the market.

The best heat pump for you will depend on your type of home and your heating needs.

Myth #7 – Carbon Monoxide Is a Risk With Both Gas Furnaces and Heat Pumps

Gas furnaces do produce carbon monoxide, which can be harmful if leaked into your home. As long as the gas furnace is installed correctly and regularly inspected, the furnace is safe. Heat pumps, however, do not use combustion to create heat as gas furnaces do, so they do not create CO. Heat pumps do need to be inspected seasonally for optimal performance.

Myth #8 – Gas Furnaces Produce More Heat

Technically, gas furnaces produce more heat than heat pumps. Extremely hot air is not always a good thing, though. The exceedingly hot air that gas furnaces produce isn’t necessary in regions that have mild winter temperatures. Utilizing a system that produces higher temperatures than you need wastes energy and money.

Frequently asked questions

Is it cheaper to heat with gas furnace or heat pump?
Overall, heat pumps are typically cheaper to provide heating than gas furnaces, as heat pumps are up to three times more efficient than gas furnaces. However, the climate you live in and the energy costs in your area will affect the costs.
What is the downside of a heat pump?
Although newer heat pumps come with advanced technology that makes them efficient, some models don’t operate as efficiently once the temperature drops below freezing during the winter. Heat pumps consume far more electricity in cold temperatures, and you may need to install a secondary heat source such as a gas furnace on those really cold days.
Can I replace my gas furnace with a heat pump?
Yes, you can replace a gas furnace with a heat pump system. The process is relatively straightforward for an experienced HVAC technician who can install the new heat pump to work with your home’s existing ductwork.
Can a heat pump heat a whole house?
An air-source heat pump is an energy-efficient and eco-friendly alternative to provide heating for your entire home. To provide supplemental heating to just one area of your home, consider a ductless mini-split heat pump. Ductless mini-splits are also commonly used to heat rooms without existing ductwork that were recently converted into workable or livable spaces such as a basement, attic, or garage.

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