Heat Pump vs. Furnace: Which Is Best for You?

When the time comes to upgrade your furnace, you may be tempted to simply purchase a new, more energy-efficient version of what you already have. Yet more and more homeowners are choosing heat pumps for their home comfort needs. Both systems serve the same purpose – keeping your home toasty warm all winter long. However, the way they go about accomplishing that task is entirely different.

When choosing between a furnace or heat pump, it’s important to understand the pros and cons of each and when one system might be a better choice than the other. Continue reading to learn more about these home heating options.

What Is a Heat Pump?

A heat pump is a heating (and cooling) system that transfers heat from one place to another. It draws heat from the air outside, transfers it to a liquid refrigerant, and pumps the refrigerant to a coil or heat exchanger inside the home’s ductwork. That air then blows across the coil, heats up, and is released into your home.  

It doesn’t have to be warm out for a heat pump to draw heat energy from the air. A heat pump system can work in temperatures below freezing, though not as efficiently. What’s more, it can also remove heat from within the home during the warmer months, exchanging it for cooled, conditioned air.

What Is a Furnace?

A furnace is a forced hot air heating system connected to ductwork throughout a home. It uses oil, propane, natural gas or electricity to heat a burner, then transfers that heat to a heat exchanger. A fan blows air over the heat exchanger, creating warm air that is then released into your home.

Furnace or Heat Pump?

When choosing between a furnace and heat pump, you’ll want to consider several factors, including cost, efficiency, and maintenance, among many more.


The cost to install either system will depend on whether ductwork already exists, the type and size of the unit, and overall complexity of the job.

Air source heat pumps, which draw heat from the air around them, cost less than ground source heat pumps, which require excavation to bury refrigerant lines. But because they draw heat from below the earth’s surface,  ground-source units perform better in colder temps.

A standard furnace may cost the same as an air source heat pump, or more than double for a high-efficiency model. Also, while gas furnaces tend to be more energy-efficient than electric models, you’ll have to factor in the cost of running a gas line to your house. This alone can make it cost prohibitive.


Heat pumps use small amounts of electricity to transfer heat from one area to another. This makes them very energy efficient during milder winters. In frigid winters, these systems have to work much harder to generate enough heat to warm a home. This makes them less energy-efficient than furnaces.

On the other hand, furnaces use energy sources like natural gas, propane, oil, or electricity to create their own heat. Natural gas is the most efficient of the options, however, it’s less efficient than a heat pump under normal conditions. But because a furnace creates its own heat, it’s a better option for colder winters.


With regular maintenance, a heat pump should last about 15 years. You may need to replace pumps, refrigerants, and other components along the way.

A well-maintained furnace can last up to 20 years before needing replacement.


A heat pump requires a bit more maintenance than a furnace. In general, homeowners should:

  • Keep heat pumps clear of ice, snow, leaves, plants and debris in order to promote airflow
  • Change air filters once a month
  • Clean the coils whenever they are dirty

Furnace maintenance is fairly minimal. Change filters regularly and have your furnace inspected and tuned-up by a licensed HVAC technician once a year in the fall.

Space Requirements

Heat pumps take up very little space. They typically require a large standalone unit on the outside of the home and ductless models will also require units on the walls inside the home.

Although furnaces are typically unobtrusive, they do require space in a basement, attic, or utility room with the proper amount of clearance. This can be a significant factor for homeowners who prefer to keep things clean and streamlined.

Heat Pump vs. Furnace: Which Is Best for You?

Choosing between a heat pump and furnace is not an easy task. When it’s time to make a choice, contact Air Professional Associates. We’ll assess your heating and cooling needs and recommend a solution that best fits your home and budget. Contact us today to get started.

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