A functional central heating system is essential to you and your family’s comfort during the winter. When the temperature begins to drop, you can crank up the thermostat to stay warm. There are several different types of central heating systems, however, two of the most common being furnaces and heat pumps. While both systems can create a warm home for you and your family, they operate in completely different ways.
What Is a Furnace?
A furnace is a central heating system that generates heat through the consumption of energy. There are gas furnaces and electric furnaces. Gas furnaces generate heat by burning propane or natural gas inside a combustion chamber. The generated heat is absorbed by a thin piece of thermally conductive metal, known as a heat exchanger, that’s connected to the blower. The blower pushes air over the top of the heat exchanger where it collects heat, resulting in hot air that’s distributed through the ductwork.
Electric furnaces generate heat by running electricity through a heating coil. They don’t have a combustion chamber, nor do they have a heat exchanger. Instead, electric furnaces have a metal coil that, when powered by electricity, heats the air pushed by the blower. The blower pushes air over the electrified coil, thus generating hot air that’s distributed through the ductwork.
What Is a Heat Pump?
A heat pump is a complete heating, ventilation, and cooling (HVAC) system that’s designed to transfer heat into and out of your home. Most heat pumps are electric, though some of them run on the same propane or natural gas as furnaces. Unlike furnaces, they don’t generate heat. Heat pumps simply transfer heat, which can either cool or warm your home.
During the winter, a heat pump can warm your warm by transferring heat from the outside of your home to the inside. There’s always at least some heat present outside. A heat pump will absorb heat from the ground or outside air and transfer it into your home. It will collect heat using refrigerant. The heat pump will send the hot refrigerant to an indoor unit, known as an Air Handling Unit (AHU), where a blower pushes air over it.
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During the summer, a heat pump can cool your home by operating in reverse. It will absorb heat from the air inside your home and transfer it outside.
Advantages of a Furnace
In terms of raw healing power, furnaces are superior to heat pumps. Whether gas or electric, a furnace will generate more heat due to its method of operation. It will consume energy while generating heat as a byproduct. A heat pump, on the other hand, will only transfer heat into your home from the outside.
Furnaces are typically quieter than heat pumps. Both systems produce some noise when running, but furnaces are the quietest. You may hear an initial “clicking” sound when it first starts, and you may hear the warm air flowing out the vents, but furnaces run relatively quiet when compared to heat pumps.
While neither of them lasts forever, most furnaces have a longer lifespan than heat pumps. A new furnace can last for 20 years, sometimes even longer. In comparison, the average lifespan of a heat pump is about 10 to 15 years. Furnaces last longer because they contain fewer parts. They only contain the equipment needed to warm your home, whereas heat pumps contain both heating and cooling equipment.
Advantages of a Heat Pump
Heat pumps are more efficient than furnaces. A heat pump will convert more energy into heat than a furnace. However, many furnaces are efficient as well. Some of the newer high-efficiency furnaces have an Annual Fuel Use Efficiency (AFUE) rating of 95 percent, meaning they convert 95 percent of the energy they consume into heat. Heat pumps are even more efficient, with some of them boasting an AFUE rating of 200 percent or 300 percent.
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Because they are more efficient, heat pumps often cost less to operate than furnaces. They’ll lower your home’s energy usage so that you pay less in monthly utilities. Many homeowners choose a heat pump specifically for its cost-savings benefits.
You won’t need a separate air conditioning system with a heat pump. A heat pump can warm your home during the winter and cool it during the summer. You can change a heat pump from heating to cooling or vise versa at the thermostat. A complete heat pump system contains both heating and cooling equipment.
Choosing the Right Central Heating System
When choosing between a furnace and a heat pump, you should consider the climate in which you live. Heat pumps are designed for use in warm and mild climates that don’t get excessively cold during the winter. The colder it is outside, the less heat they can transfer into your home.
A heat pump’s performance begins to decline when the outdoor temperature drops below 30 degrees Fahrenheit. It will still extract some heat from the ground or air, but it will struggle to create a warm living environment for you and your home. Furnaces don’t suffer from temperature-related performance problems. Regardless of the outdoor temperature, a furnace will generate a sufficient amount of heat during the winter.
You should also consider whether or not your home is connected to a gas line. Many homeowners prefer gas furnaces over electric furnaces. Gas furnaces provide faster and stronger heat, and in many regions, they are cheaper to operate than electric furnaces. Of course, your home must be connected to a gas line for it to use a gas furnace. If it’s not connected to a gas line, you’ll have to choose either an electric furnace or a heat pump.
You can warm your home using either a furnace or a heat pump. Most homes have a furnace. Available in electric and gas models, they are powerful, quiet, and long-lasting. Nonetheless, heat pumps have become more popular in recent years. With a heat pump, you’ll spend less money on utilities and you won’t need a separate air conditioning system.