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When it comes to choosing a new home furnace, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the many options that are now available. But in all honesty, the marketplace for new furnaces really isn’t as complicated as it might seem once you know a few things about the types of furnaces commonly available for purchase, and how to choose the right one for your home.

While there are many different ways to heat an indoor space—boilers, radiators, pellet stoves, etc.—when it comes to homes and apartments, the vast majority of people choose either a traditional furnace or a heat pump.

How Electric Furnaces and Gas Furnaces Work

gas furnacePhoto by Wtshymanski, [CC BY-SA 4.0], from wikimedia commons 

Furnaces can vary widely in design and scale—anything from the old wall-mounted units you often see in older homes, to the furnace in your garage or basement that is the heart of your central heating system. No matter what, furnaces all work based on the same key concept: create heat, suck air out of your home, heat it up, and pump the air back into your home.

Furnaces can be powered by either electricity or natural gas. An electric furnace relies on electricity to heat up electric coils, while a fan pushes air past or through the coils, heating the air, which is then blown into your home.

Natural gas furnaces work a little differently. In these, gas is burned in a combustion chamber, creating heat. A heat exchanger then absorbs this heat and transmits it to air which is blown through it and into your home.

While the details of gas and electric furnaces differ, they all rely on that simple concept we mentioned above: use energy to create heat, and heat up air with it.

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How Heat Pumps Work

On the other hand, heat pumps rely on an entirely different principle. Heat pumps are rather complex, but they essentially work the same as an air conditioner, absorbing heat energy from one area and releasing it elsewhere.

Heat PumpPhoto by Kristoferb [CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons

The trick is, a heat pump is a two-way air conditioner. In the summer when a heat-pump is run in air conditioning mode, it absorbs heat from inside the home and expels it outside. But it’s when it gets cold outside that a heat pump shows how impressive it can be. Despite the fact that wintertime air is cold, a heat pump can still extract what little heat energy there is in the air and transfer it to the air being circulated inside your home. Essentially, it makes the cold air outside even colder in order to make the inside air warmer.

In short, a traditional furnace uses energy to create heat, while a heat pump moves heat from one place to another.

Want further info in your furnace installation? Take a look at our Complete Guide on Furnace Replacement and Its Cost Factors!

Choosing Between a Furnace and a Heat Pump

There are a number of factors to consider when choosing between a heat pump and a furnace to heat your home. For starters, how much does electricity cost in your area, versus natural gas? If natural gas is cheap, a natural gas-powered furnace may be your best choice. However, the process of generating heat requires a lot of energy, and if you’re going to rely on electrical power, then a heat pump might be your best bet. This is because moving heat requires much less energy than generating heat.

Then again, another critical factor to consider is your local weather. Heat pumps work best when the outside temperature is above 50 degrees or so. Once it gets down to about 37 to 40 degrees, a heat pump will have to work almost constantly to keep your home warm, and will use a lot of electricity. There are heat pump models that feature supplemental heat coils that activate in low temperatures. But these use a lot of energy, mitigating the cost benefits of a heat pump. If temperatures below 40 degrees are very common in your area, then a gas or electricity powered furnace is likely the right choice for you.

Pros and cons to consider when choosing your furnace or heat pump

  • Furnace Installation cost: Cost to replace furnace is typically more expensive as they require ventilation systems that heat pumps do not.
  • Maintenance and dependability: Furnaces (especially gas furnaces) generally have fewer parts than heat pumps, and thus require less maintenance and usually have longer lifespans.
  • Safety: Gas furnaces pose the risk of gas and carbon monoxide leaks.
  • Size and convenience: A furnace relies on a single central unit to generate heat, while heat pumps require both indoor and outdoor units.

Choosing the right heating solution for your home can be challenging, but don’t let it overwhelm you. With a little research and by consulting with experienced furnace installers—you’ll be able to find the furnace or heat pump that’s right for your home.

How to Choose the Right Furnace For Your Home? was last modified: May 11th, 2020 by Gilmore Heating Air & Solar
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Sutton TurnerKenneth GladmanCaden DahlTim Yaotomegarypuntman Recent comment authors
Jordan
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Jordan

My wife and I have been wanting to find some heat pumps, and I think that being able to get some tips would be good. I’m glad you mentioned being able to consider local weather when looking for a heat pump. I’m going to have to look into some different options and see what would be our best choice!

Tiffany Locke
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Tiffany Locke

I like that you mention how a furnace relies on a single central unit to generate heat and your advice to do research and consult an installation expert in order to determine what’s best for your home. Working with a professional could also help you know who to install it so that it’s done correctly. When choosing a professional, you’d probably want to choose someone who can both install and repair your furnace so that you can keep it working for as long as possible.

Hannah Schroeder
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Hannah Schroeder

It’s good that you talked about how you should get a natural gas furnace if natural gas is inexpensive in your area. My husband and I are trying to decide which type of heating system we want for our new custom house, and we don’t want it to be too expensive. My neighbor said that gas is cheap, so we should have a heating contractor put in a furnace.

Deb Pearl
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Deb Pearl

My husband and I need to get a new furnace, but we don’t know what kind of furnace to get. That is cool that there are electric furnaces and natural gas furnaces. I didn’t know that electric furnaces just heat up coils and pushes the air through your home that way. I wouldn’t mind trying one of those.

Elsa
Guest
Elsa

I do agree that it can be overwhelming to choose residential heating once you are out in the market which is why I am glad to have learned that it’s not as complicated as it looks. That is why I would be sure to keep your tips in mind so that I can get the best heating unit I could for my home. Having just the right heating unit should prove useful once the rainy season starts again as the cold air by then can almost rival winter. Thanks!

Vanessa Blair
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Vanessa Blair

My dad wants to make sure that we’ll have a stable source of heat at home. It was explained here that gas furnaces work when the gas is burned in a combustion chamber and blown through at home. Moreover, it’s advisable to go to trusted suppliers for residential gas delivery services.

Jordan Stones
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Jordan Stones

I’ve been thinking about what kind of heating unit installation we want for our home we’re building. I like that you talked about natural gas furnaces that burn fuel in a combustion chamber. I’m going to have to look for a few good heating unit installation options and see if that would be the best option for us!

garypuntman
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garypuntman

It’s good to know that heat pumps work best when the outside temperature is above 50 degrees, like you said. It sounds like that might not be the most effective option for me then. I live in an area where the winters get really cold.

Tim Yaotome
Guest
Tim Yaotome

My favorite part of the article is the fact that furnaces are different from heat pumps as heat bumps are like two ACs that resemble airplane turbines. Differences aside, I believe that it will be best that hiring a professional contractor can help find the right heating equipment for a home or office. They can even be of greater help if they can also provide services wherein they can also either fix or replace either a part or the whole furnace or heat pump.

Caden Dahl
Guest
Caden Dahl

So at my home, I’ve been wanting to get a new furnace for some time now. Now I know that it will be gas powered but I’m not too sure if I need a furnace or a heat pump. Granted, you did say that if it gets below 40 degrees, then a furnace would work better. The coldest I’ve seen so far is about 50 so maybe a heat pump would be my best bet.

Kenneth Gladman
Guest
Kenneth Gladman

With the temperature dropping as low as the 20’s where I live it is key to have a well functioning heater. You mention it will probably have to work constantly during the winter and this is true. A good idea is to have services performed before then.

Sutton Turner
Guest
Sutton Turner

I like how you said that furnaces usually need less maintenance than heat pumps. I am getting a furnace installed this week. Thanks for the information on choosing the right furnace.