Heat Pump vs. Electric Furnace Comparison
Recent trends in home heating systems have tended away from the use of fossil fuels, as more people seek environmentally friendly alternatives for their HVAC needs. There’s also the question of access: not every home has a natural gas main or propane tank connected to it, although, of course, the vast majority of homes do have access to electricity.
This need for alternative heating has led to the increased popularity of two unique methods of home heating: the electric furnace and the heat pump. Both utilize electricity for power, but their methods of heating are completely different. Is either of these methods right for your home? If so, which one? Here’s how to compare a heat pump vs. an electric furnace and decide which is best for your home.
How an Electric Furnace Works
Most furnaces use some type of fossil fuel to generate heat. For example, a propane furnace burns its fuel source, which superheats the air around the flame. A large fan then circulates the heated air throughout the home by way of a series of ducts that lead into each room of the house and terminate at a vent somewhere on one of the walls or the floor. For decades, this has been the most common method of home heating, with the only difference being the fuel source (sometimes propane, natural gas, oil, or wood). This method, however, has its downsides.
The first downside of fossil fuel heating is access to the fuel source. A home needs to have a propane or gas main in order to use one of these methods. While most do, some homes do not, and adding them if they are not already there is challenging and costly. The other major downside is safety. While a fossil fuel furnace is extremely safe if it is installed correctly and properly maintained, a failure on either of these fronts can lead to fire hazards and deadly carbon monoxide leaks.
An electric furnace avoids the need for a gas main or propane tank. It also avoids the need for a complex ventilation system. It does, however, still utilize the ducts and vents to circulate heat throughout the home. The main difference is in how the heat is generated. An electric furnace uses resistance heating, which is actually the same method for creating heat that appliances such as toasters use. An electric current is put through a medium such as ceramic, which “resists” the current and heats up as a result. This heat then warms the air around it, which can be circulated through the home by a fan and a series of ducts.
How a Heat Pump Works
Contrary to an electric furnace and, for that matter, any other type of furnace, a heat pump does not actually generate its own heat. Instead, it utilizes a refrigerator coil to transfer heat—hence the name, “heat pump”—from place to place. A heat pump consists of two parts: an outdoor unit, with a compressor, and an indoor unit, which contains a blower for circulating the heated air throughout a room.
The compressor keeps a coolant gas under pressure, which in turn causes it to turn into a liquid with a very low boiling point. This allows it to absorb ambient heat energy from the environment. This coolant can then be transferred from one element of the heat pump to the next and the heat released. This means that the heat pump can absorb heat energy from outside the home and then transfer it to the inside. The heat pump uses electricity to power its component parts but not to generate heat. All of the heat that is vented from this home heating method comes from the outside environment.
The fact that it utilizes refrigerant coils to transfer heat from place to place means that a heat pump has a unique ability that other home heating methods do not have: it can double as an air conditioner. By absorbing the heat that’s within the home and transferring it to the outside, it is just as effective for cooling buildings down as it is for heating them up.
Note also that heat pumps do not utilize vents and ducts in the way that other heating and cooling systems do. Instead, they vent heated air directly into a room, which means that you will need multiple heat pumps to heat multiple zones of a home.
Comparing and Contrasting the Two
When it comes to a heat pump vs. electric furnace comparison, it’s not hard to decide which one is more energy efficient. The heat pump wins hands down, as an electric furnace is actually one of the least efficient methods of home heating. Resistance heating is a safe and clean way of generating heat, but a lot of power is lost as waste in the process. A heat pump is incredibly efficient, by contrast.
Another major benefit of the heat pump is the fact that it can be used to heat individual zones. Other methods, including the electric furnace, heat the entire house by way of ductwork. This takes a good deal of energy, and it doesn’t matter if there are many people in the home or just one. On the other hand, having a few heat pumps means that you can heat (or cool) one zone at a time, saving energy.
Heat pumps have a few drawbacks compared to electric furnaces, though. They cost more up front to install, especially if you are getting more than one. They also struggle during very cold temperatures, as they may have a more difficult time getting enough heat from the environment when it is below freezing outside.After reading this article, if you are still uncertain as to which heating method is best for your home, or if you are interested in a quote regarding installation, you should contact the professionals at Entek HVAC. We will assist you with everything from helping to choose the right heating system for your home to installation, maintenance, and upkeep.