Heat Pump vs Gas Furnace: Differences + Which to Choose

Looking to install a heating system in your house? Unsure which system is better between a heat pump and a gas furnace? In this blog, we delve into the major differences between these two types of heating systems, as well as which one you should choose for your home.

Heat pumps are cheaper to run than gas furnaces as they’re more energy-efficient. They’re also safer, more comfortable, and require less space than gas furnaces. However, they cost more to install, are noisier, need more maintenance, and have a shorter lifespan than both gas and electric furnaces.

Heat Pump vs Gas Furnace

Heat Pump vs Gas Furnace: Differences

When it comes to warming up your home, you can opt for either a heat pump or a gas furnace. While these two types of heating systems serve the same purpose, there are multiple differences between them, as highlighted in the table below:

Heat PumpGas Furnace
Cheaper to install in homes that aren’t wired to a natural gas source.Cheaper to install in homes with natural gas supply.
Electric heat pumps are highly energy efficient.Gas furnaces use up relatively more energy to eat up your home.
Electric heat pumps are relatively safer than gas furnaces – they don’t generate carbon monoxide.Gas furnaces present a significant safety risk – with the possibility of carbon monoxide leaks.
More comfortable since the air is naturally humid.Less comfortable since the air blown dries the skin and blows cooler.
Less effective in colder weather.Most effective in cold air as it generates its own heat.
Needs more maintenance.Needs less maintenance.
Average lifespan of 15 years.Average lifespan of 20 years.
Noisier than a gas furnace.Makes less noise.

Installation and Running Costs

It costs about $4,000 to install an electric furnace, $4,500 to install a gas furnace, and about $25,000 to install a geothermal heat pump. These costs can vary depending on the size and type of furnace or heat pump you’re installing.

Overall, heat pump installation costs significantly more than gas furnace installation. This is because, for homes that are already fitted with a natural gas line, homeowners spend less on gas furnace installation.

For typical winters in amedium-sized home, it costs $500 for a heat pump, $850 for a natural gas furnace, $900 for an electric furnace, and $1,550 for a propane furnace. A heat pump will cost about $300 to cool the home during the summer season which is very close to how a portable air conditioner works. These costs are true for both single stage and two stage furnaces.

Energy Efficiency

Heat pumps are more energy-efficient than gas furnaces. Heat pumps exhibit over 100% (up to 300%) efficiency in varying climates, while the best gas furnaces have an energy efficiency of just up to 95%. What’s more, heat pumps use electricity, which comes from renewable sources. Gas furnaces, on the other hand, use fuel which is a non-renewable source of energy.

Safety

Heat pumps are generally considered safer than gas furnaces. The latter generates carbon monoxide as a by-product of fuel combustion, with the possibility of this toxic gas leaking into the house. Heat pumps, meanwhile, don’t generate any carbon monoxide.

Level of comfort

Heat pumps are more comfortable to use in the home than gas furnaces since they don’t dry out your skin. The air blown into the house by a heat pump is naturally humid and thus harmless. On the other hand, air blown into the house by a gas furnace is dry thus drying the body. It also blows cooler which isn’t very comfortable.

Noise level

Heat pumps are noisier than gas furnaces since the compressor and air handler make some audible noises when working. They’re also usually located closer to the living areas where their noises are more audible. Gas furnaces have low noise levels with the flow of air the most notable sound from them. Besides that, they are often located away from the living areas thus less audible.

Space required

Heat pumps need less space compared to gas furnaces. Gas furnaces are often installed indoors and require at least 30 inches of clearance on all sides for safety purposes. On the other hand, heat pumps are installed outdoors and can be mounted don walls to save on floor space. Besides that, they require only 24 inches of clearance for safety.

Effectiveness in cold weather

Gas furnaces are more efficient in cold weather than heat pumps since they burn fuel to generate their own heat. Heat pumps rely on drawing in heat from the outside which may not be possible during very cold seasons.

Alternatively, you can have a dual fuel system that combines the benefits of gas furnaces with those of the heat pumps. This setup allows for heat generation during very cold seasons and heat regulation during both hot and cold seasons.

There is also the option of a geothermal heat pump which has its refrigerant lines buried below the frost line where the temperatures remain at a steady 40-50 degrees Farenheit throughout the winter no matter the surface temperatures. This helps the heat pump warm the house without the need for a furnace or other type of heater.

Maintenance and lifespan

Gas furnaces last longer than heat pumps since they’re used less than heat pumps. On average, a gas furnace lasts for 20 years while a heat pump lasts for 15 years. The fact that the gas furnace has fewer parts and is used in fewer seasons per year also means that it’ll require less maintenance than a heat pump.

At the end of their lifespan, both types of equipment will need to be replaced unlike window air conditioners which can be recharged to restore their working.

How does a heat pump work?

Heat pumps work to supply heat and cool the air indoors by circulating its refrigerant through an evaporation and condensation cycle. The electricity supply works to circulate the refrigerant, which then collects outdoor heat and releases it indoors. Heat pumps not only work to soak up heat from outdoor air but also inhibit the release of heat outside the house during the colder seasons.

Pros and Cons

Heat Pump ProsHeat Pump Cons
The heat pump cycle can be fully-reversed, thus ensuring year-round heating and cooling for your home. For instance, during the cooling cycle, the refrigerant will collect indoor heat and release it outside the house.Heat pump systems are more costly to purchase and install, compared to gas furnaces.
Heat pumps are typically combined with air handler systems to form the most popular and effective type of HVAC system available in the market right now.Some heat pumps are sold as packaged systems resulting in a significant loss in energy efficiency.
Due to its higher energy efficiency, a heat pump incurs lower operating expenses compared to a gas furnace.The total HVAC capabilities of a heat pump may be unnecessary for users living in cooler climates, making the cost additions for cooling capabilities totally unnecessary.
Comfortable to use since it doesn’t dry the skin.Has a shorter lifespan (15 years) and needs more maintenance due to continuous use compared to a gas furnace.
Takes little to no floor space as can be mounted on the wall.Noiser than a gas furnace.

How does a gas furnace work?

A simple gas furnace system comprises the following fundamental parts: the combustion chamber, the control board, the thermostat, the ignition switch, and the heat exchanger. Once you set off the furnace’s ignition switch by setting your preferred room temperature on the thermostat, the combustion of the natural gas inside your furnace begins.

The resultant flame heats up the heat exchanger coils, which then warm up air that’s circulating above them. This hot air is then transferred into the blower which blows it into your room’s AC vents to be released into the rooms. At the same time, the cold air inside your room is blown back into the heating system via the AC vents to be warmed by the heat exchanger coils as well.

This air heating process will continue until the pre-set room temperature on the thermostat is reached. At this point, the gas valve will be automatically turned off, preventing further combustion and air heating.

Pros and Cons

Gas Furnace ProsGas Furnace Cons
Value for money: while they may not be as efficient as heat pumps, gas furnaces are cheaper and boast a nice balance of affordability and efficiency.If your home isn’t already fitted with exhaust vents or a natural gas line, it’ll cost you a lot to install a gas furnace.
Gas furnaces incur lower maintenance and repair expenses, compared to heat pumps.Gas furnaces present the possibility of carbon monoxide leaks, which is a significant safety concern.
A gas furnace is much cheaper to install than a heat pump if your home is already fitted with a natural gas supply.Due to their lower energy efficiency, gas furnaces incur relatively higher operating costs compared to heat pumps.
Has a long lifespan of about 20 years.The dry and hot air blown into the home dries up the skin thus uncomfortable to use.
Produces little noise.Takes up a lot of floor space (30-inch clearance on all sides).

Which is better gas furnace or heat pump?

There is no definite answer to this question, as the best option for you depends on a number of factors, including energy costs and regional climate. For instance, if you live in a region where the cost of electricity is higher than the cost of gas, you may end up saving more in the long run with a gas furnace.

Meanwhile, if your cooling needs are higher than your heating needs, you’re better off with a heat pump instead of a gas furnace. This is especially true for residents of southern states where it’s typically warm all year round.