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Heat Pump vs. Furnace: Pros, Cons & Differences

Heat Pump vs Furnace

Furnaces and heat pumps are both utilized to heat houses. However, they both work differently and have different benefits. Therefore, they are not interchangeable. One is not necessarily better than the other, though. It depends mostly on what your situation is, as well as your climate. In fact, where you live is probably the biggest determining factor in what heating system you need.

For best results, you should choose the best heating system that works for your climate and situation. There are several different furnaces you could utilize, as well. Therefore, it isn’t always a choice between a heat pump and a furnace. Instead, you also have to pick on the type of furnace or heat pump you get, as well.

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Overview of a Heat Pump

heat pump outside the house
Image By: HarmvdB, Pixabay

How Does it Work?

Heat pumps run on electricity and draw heat from the outside air into the house. They do not generate their own heat. Instead, they only transfer heat from one location to another (from the outside air to the inside, for example). This works even when it is cold outside.

However, heat pumps do have a maximum efficiency depending on the outdoor temperature. They produce less heat than a furnace and are best for warmer areas. They are recommended for zones 1–3, in particular.

Heat pumps can also act as air conditioning units for this reason. They can transfer warm air from the inside to the outside, which works like air conditioning. In some cases, you may only need a heat pump system.

Are They Efficient?

Heat pumps are very efficient. They can transfer more energy than they can use in most situations. However, in colder climates, they are not necessarily very energy-efficient. It depends on the amount of warmer air that they can transfer.

Therefore, how effective these systems depend on where you are located.

How Much Maintenance Do They Need?

Heat pumps do need a small amount of maintenance. You will need to regularly change the air filter to ensure that they are properly removing the pollutants from the air. Furthermore, these filters ensure that none of these pollutants get into the system.

Usually, there is an indoor and an outdoor system that needs to be cleaned regularly. You’ll also need to inspect them regularly. We recommend contacting an expert for a full maintenance guideline.

man fixing the heat pump
Image Credit: Dziurek, Shutterstock

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Overview of a Furnace

How Does it Work?

Furnaces burn oil or gas that helps produce heat. They produce their own heat—not transfer it from the outdoor air. For this reason, furnaces work best in colder climates.

Furnaces only provide heat. They cannot work as a cooling unit and you’ll need a separate air conditioning unit if one is required in your area. In many cases, furnaces are most appropriate for areas that do not need a huge air conditioner.

furnace set up
Image Credit: oasisamuel, Shutterstock

Are They Efficient?

There are many different types of furnaces. Some are more efficient than others. For instance, natural gas furnaces can be extremely efficient, which helps them reduce energy costs.

However, in warmer climates, furnaces are not necessarily the most efficient option. They rely on fuel to create their own heat, even when it is somewhat warm outside.

How Much Maintenance Do They Need?

Furnaces do need a small amount of maintenance. They usually have an air filter that needs to be replaced regularly. These filters need to be replaced regularly to ensure that the system continues to operate efficiently. Otherwise, they can become clogged and use more energy than they need to.

Similarly, these systems also need regularly inspected. You should speak with local professionals to determine a schedule that works for your system.

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Space Requirements

There are some small space requirement differences that may determine which system makes the most sense in your situation. Generally, furnaces need a lot more space than a heat pump. Furnaces usually need clearance on all sides, and they need to be installed indoors. Therefore, they require quite a bit more space to be cleared indoors than a heat pump.

Heat pumps typically need about 24 inches of clearance, which is less than a furnace. However, they can be installed outdoors. Therefore, they do not require much indoor space. But many heat pump systems need a fan coil, which must be installed indoors and so they do need a little indoor space, but not as much as a furnace.

Image Credit: Peter Gudella, Shutterstock


Typically, those in colder areas will want a furnace. There will not be enough warm air outside for the heat pump to efficiently heat the house. Instead, you’ll want a furnace that can generate its own heat and isn’t necessarily reliant on the temperature outside.

However, if you are in a warmer area, you may want to get a heat pump instead. This can work as both an air conditioning unit and a heating unit. Because the winter doesn’t get terribly cold, there should always be enough heat for the heat pump to efficiently remove it from the air.

Energy Efficiency

It all depends on your area. Sometimes, heat pumps are more efficient. Other times, furnaces will be more efficient. In many cases, a heat pump is typically more efficient because it draws heat from the surrounding air and can transfer more energy than it uses. Therefore, you can transfer a lot of heat with a small amount of energy.

However, furnaces differ a lot. They use all sorts of different fuels and they vary in how efficient they are. There are some that are designed specifically for their efficiency and are a great option if you’re looking to be efficient. However, heat pumps may still beat them in some situations.

In colder climates, many furnaces will be more efficient than heat pumps. Heat pumps will have to use more energy to draw heat from the air because of the lower temperature. Therefore, you’ll need to keep your climate in mind when you’re deciding on what system to get.

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The main deciding factor you need to keep in mind is your geography. In colder climates, furnaces are almost always better. In warmer climates, heat pumps are almost always better. A heat pump somewhere warm is very efficient and effective. However, if you put it somewhere cold, it will not work very well because there will be less hot air to transfer inside.

On the other hand, a furnace will work just about anywhere. However, in warmer places, it may be more efficient to transfer the warm air from the outdoors with a heat pump—instead of creating your own heat with a furnace.

In many cases, you may need to speak with a professional in your area about what would work better where you are. They will have the best information on what system to pick for your location.


Featured Image Credit: (L) Carlos-Lindner, Unsplash | (R) oasisamuel, Shutterstock


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