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What Is the Difference Between Forced-Air Heating and a Heat Pump?

These days, it seems as if home and business owners face something of an embarrassment of riches with regard to home heating options. With so many different methods of generating heat and circulating it throughout the building, modern-day homeowners have the luxury of comparing all their choices carefully deciding which is the most cost-effective system for their building.

Two of the most common methods of home heating are forced-air heating, where a large fan distributes heated air through a system of ducts, and heat pumps, which transfer ambient heat from the outside environment to the inside of the home. Choosing between the two is a matter of understanding the differences between them – both in terms of how they operate and their efficiency.

How a Forced Air System Works

Forced air is the more traditional of the two heating methods. The majority of homes across the country utilize some version of a forced-air heating system. It begins with some type of method of generating heat. These methods can vary, but they usually involve burning some type of fossil fuel source. Propane, natural gas, wood, and oil are all popular fuel sources. Electricity can also be converted directly into heat through the use of a technology known as resistance heating.

The heat is generated by a furnace and warms the air around it. A fan then distributes the heated air throughout the building’s system of ductwork, where it then enters the various rooms in the building through vents installed in the walls.

How a Heat Pump Works

A heat pump is a much different method of providing heat to a building. In most cases, it’s only a two-part system, meaning no fans, ducts, or furnaces. Instead, it makes use of a small outdoor unit that is connected to an indoor compressor by way of a system of valves and pipes. Inside the unit are refrigerant coils, very similar to the ones used in a refrigerator.

As air travels across the refrigerant coils, they absorb heat energy. The refrigerant then expands and becomes gaseous. The refrigerant is then pumped into the compressor, where the heat energy is released into the air. The now-heated air is then vented into the room until the desired temperature is achieved.

Because heat pumps don’t utilize ducts or fans, they are generally only used to heat one area of a building at a time. Heating an entire home or business may require several heat pumps installed strategically at various points in the building.

Pros of Forced Air

Forced-air heating systems are fairly ubiquitous in buildings across the country. This means that if you move into a new home or rent a new commercial space, odds are it will already have a forced-air heating system in place. This means that if you decide to upgrade your heating system, you won’t have to opt for a major overhaul. You can simply take advantage of the ductwork that is already in place.

Forced-air systems are also capable of generating huge amounts of heat. The fuels that are used, such as propane, burn quite hot, meaning that even if it’s extremely cold outside, you’ll have no trouble getting the building to be warm and toasty.

Cons of Forced Air

Forced air does have a few drawbacks, however. As we’ve mentioned, they are designed for heating entire buildings. This can render them much less efficient than heat pumps since even rooms that are unoccupied will be heated to the full temperature. In essence, you’ll be paying to heat up rooms that no one is using.

Forced-air heating systems also tend to be somewhat inconsistent. If the ducts become clogged by dust and dirt, they may struggle to heat certain rooms until the problem is corrected. You may discover that an old or poorly maintained forced-air heating system results in cold spots in the home and other related problems.

Pros of Heat Pumps

The primary benefit of heat pumps is their energy efficiency. They require electricity to power them, but this electricity isn’t used to generate the heat: the heat source is actually existing heat from the environment, which is readily available and free. This means that they’re usually significantly less expensive to run than forced-air heating methods.

Unlike forced-air systems, heat pumps can be used to heat only one room or area at a time. You can have several heat pumps installed, one for each zone of a building, and only turn them on when they’re needed. This means that you won’t have to spend money heating rooms that are not in use.

Cons of Heat Pumps

Heat pumps don’t generate their own heat, meaning that if it’s especially cold outside, they may struggle to find enough heat energy to warm the building to a comfortable temperature. If it’s icy and frozen outside, it may be somewhat chilly inside as well. A forced-air heating system will not have this problem, as the fuel source it utilizes burns extremely hot.

Heat pumps tend to have a higher up-front cost to install than forced-air systems. However, their increased energy efficiency can do a lot to offset this cost, provided your heating system is well maintained. Over time, most home and business owners find themselves saving money by utilizing heat pumps in their buildings.

If You Have Further Questions

If you are unsure of whether a heat pump or forced air is best for you, or if you wish to get the ball rolling on the installation of one of these systems, contact the contractors at Entek today. We can advise you on which method of heating will be the most cost-effective for your needs, as well as perform the installation and any future maintenance you may require. Entek also offers 24/7 emergency services should you require repairs at any time.


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