The decision to heat and cool your home is significant, requiring much consideration as to what your most energy-efficient options are. Upgrading your current heating system presents you with two powerful options: heat pumps and furnaces.

Which Is Better?

Choosing the right type of heating system for your home involves some considerations. The climate in which you live, the age of your house, and your energy preferences all play a part in your choice of a heating system. Which is the clear winner? Let’s take a look at the basics of heat pumps and furnaces, as well as some pros and cons that will ultimately point you in the right direction for heating system success.

Heat Pumps

Think of a heat pump as an air conditioner that works in reverse. As it moves heat from one place to another, it makes your home warmer and cooler depending on your personal preferences. A heat pump pulls warm air from outside to the inside of your home in the winter months, and it can efficiently cool down your home in warmer months of the year.

Heat pumps use electricity and transfer heat rather than produce it, so they tend to be more energy-efficient than traditional natural gas systems. Heat pumps are steadily growing in popularity across the United States, even when a majority of American homes still utilize gas-powered furnaces.

Heat Pump Designs

Several different types of heat pumps exist for your consideration, with each one being suited for various home types, layouts, and construction materials, as well as your local climate.

Duct Heated Pumps

Duct-heated pumps are also called air-source heat pumps. They need ductwork installed throughout your home to efficiently heat your house.

Ductless Heat Pumps

Ductless Heat Pumps, otherwise known as ductless mini-splits, are great for older construction and homes that do not have existing ductwork. Wall-mounted units deliver heat efficiently to rooms throughout your house.

Geothermal Heat Pumps

A geothermal heat pump uses heat from under the Earth to heat your home. While a bit more costly to install, this type of pump works well for those living in climates with extreme heat and cold temperatures.

Heat Pump Pros

Heat pumps have several advantages to installation and use, including the following.

Electric Power

Heat pumps are electric, meaning the hassle and uncertainty of running gas appliances are eliminated. Leaking, accidents, and explosions are highly unlikely to occur with an electric device.

Energy Efficiency

Heat pumps are capable of producing more warm air than your standard furnace. Even with all of that output, heat pumps use about half the energy of standard furnaces and other natural gas systems, helping you save significantly on energy costs.

Warm and Cold Options

Heat pumps are actually able to pull warm or cool air from outside your home to regulate temperatures indoors. As a homeowner, you have all your heating and cooling needs in one convenient package.

Efficient Temperature Regulation

Furnace systems can leave you with cold, drafty spots around your home, depending on your climate and weather conditions. Ductless heat pumps installed in each room can keep you toasty warm or nice and cool, depending on the season and your preferences.

Quiet Function

Heat pumps are electric, which means they are able to run much quieter than furnaces. Sleep soundly or go about your daily business without the bothersome background noise of a furnace or air conditioner.

Easy Installation

The average cost to install a gas or electric furnace ranges from $5,000-$10,000, depending on the size of your unit. A ductless system ranges from $3,500-$5,000 for top brands.

Heat Pump Cons

There are some drawbacks to using heat pumps to regulate your home. Careful consideration of both pros and cons will allow you to make the right decision for you and your home.

Powered by Electricity

While this is also listed as a positive, it can be a detriment if you live in an area of the country prone to experiencing power outages. If you choose a heat pump while living in an area like this, have a backup generator on hand to prevent discomfort.

Carbon Emissions

As heat pumps run on electricity, they do produce moderate amounts of carbon emissions. If you combine the use of solar panels with a heat pump, you can reduce or even eliminate inefficient energy usage.

Less Effective With Temperature Extremes

Heat pumps must go into “emergency power mode” to keep working when temperatures regularly drop below freezing. In some cases, it may be necessary to have a backup heat source to continue efficiently regulating your home. For those who live in northern states or the Midwest, a natural gas system may still be more effective in heating your home.


Furnaces use natural gas or electricity to move heated air through ductwork installed throughout a home. Using feedback from a thermostat, the central unit will kick on and off as it delivers heated air to rooms in your home, regulating indoor temperatures.

Furnace Types

There are four primary furnace designs used in homes across the globe. These furnaces are covered below.

Electric Furnaces

An electric furnace uses current to heat the air and cycle it through your home. They tend to be smaller units, so they are easier to install.

Oil Furnaces

Oil furnaces create a flame to provide heated air. Though efficient, this type of oil is steadily rising in cost, so the price to operate an oil furnace may be out of what a family can comfortably pay for heat.

Natural Gas Furnaces

The natural gas furnace is one of the most popular units used in the United States. Heated gas jets move through a burner, heating the surrounding air that is circulated throughout your home through ductwork. They are an energy-efficient option for heating most homes.

Propane Furnaces

Propane furnaces are not as popular, but they are extremely useful in areas where oil and gas are not easy to come by.

Furnace Pros

Using a furnace can be advantageous in several ways. Furnace benefits include the following.

Reliable Service

Regardless of what is happening outside, your furnace will be able to generate heat for you, even on subzero days. Gas, oil, and propane furnaces will also continue working during a power outage.

Fewer Maintenance Issues

Furnaces are not used year-round like some heat pump systems. The seasonal nature of this appliance requires less maintenance than a pump that could potentially run year-round.

Less Space Needed

While heat pumps require indoor and outdoor components to function, a furnace has a central unit and some hidden ductwork that comprise the whole system. Furnace central units do require a 30-inch clearance around the central unit, so be mindful of placement when installing a new one.


Furnaces are less prone to damage than a standard heat pump. With proper care and maintenance, a furnace can last anywhere from 15-30 years.

Furnace Cons

There are some drawbacks to running a furnace to heat your home. Some of these cons include:

Expensive Installation

Furnaces are generally more expensive to install unless you’re attempting to connect a heat pump to a central air unit, in which case you could spend even more for the job. Electric furnaces are the most economical to install, with oil and gas coming in a bit higher because of the price of these fuels.

Less Efficient

Heat pumps produce more heat than is required to heat your home; when compared to these super-efficient devices, the furnace does not stack up. It requires more energy to heat your home, and it will cost more over time due to your increased consumption of energy.

Dangers of Gas and Oil

As with any gas appliance, you run the risk of experiencing carbon monoxide leaks and even explosions, not to mention reduced indoor air quality. Regularly inspect and maintain your appliances to make sure they are installed properly and in good working order. Scheduling this maintenance is the first step toward ensuring that your system works safely.

Which Will You Choose?

Ultimately, the choice to install a heat pump vs. a furnace is yours to make. Taking your budget, your aesthetic desires, and your wishes for energy efficiency into account, you’ll gain a clearer picture of which unit is best for you and your family.

Family owned and operated since the 90s, Oak Island Heating and Air Conditioning, has professionals who can provide you with heating and cooling solutions. With services related to installation, repair, and maintenance of all types of heating, cooling, and indoor air quality units, we work with you to provide a comfortable home with solutions that fit your home, your style, and your budget. Contact us today to see how we can improve your energy efficiency while staying comfortable year-round.

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