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What’s the Difference Between a Furnace and a Heat Pump?

Many novice homeowners may not know the difference between a furnace and a heat pump. Although they accomplish the same goal of heating your home, each uses a totally different method to do so.

The biggest difference between a furnace and a heat pump is that a furnace heats your home through combustion, while a heat pump extracts heat from the outside air (even if it’s cold) to move warm air through your home. Your need or preference for either system may be based on several factors, such as energy efficiency or heat output, but one of the biggest deciding factors is usually climate.

If you live in Florida or south Georgia, there’s a good chance you have a heat pump, but you sometimes may find a furnace in an older home or one that has access to natural gas. However, it typically doesn’t get as cold or stay cold long enough in this region for homeowners to invest in furnaces.

Here’s a quick breakdown of furnaces and heat pumps, and an explanation of how each might work best for your situation.

What’s a Furnace?

A furnace relies on a fuel source and fan to heat your home. The fuel source, often oil or natural gas, burns in a combustion chamber and the hot air is then forced through your ductwork and into your home with a fan. Because a furnace uses flames to create heat, it blows much warmer air than a heat pump.

Furnaces are the most popular residential heating choice in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. However, due to mild winters, heat pumps are a more popular choice in much of the southeastern region of the country.

A furnace has fewer mechanical parts than a heat pump, meaning it’s at less risk of breaking down, requires less maintenance and has a longer lifespan on average. Furnaces are less energy efficient than heat pumps, but ideal for homeowners who use natural gas or want warmer air. Furnaces have become more energy efficient over the years, but homes with a furnace also require a separate air conditioning unit to cool the house.

What’s a Heat Pump?

Unlike a furnace, a heat pump does not use fuel to generate heat. In fact, a heat pump doesn’t generate much heat at all. Instead, it pulls heat from the outside air, and warms your home more slowly. A heat pump also has the ability to work as an air conditioning unit to cool your home.

To understand how a heat pump works, consider that your air conditioning is not purely about blowing cold air into your home, but rather about removing the warm air from your home and replacing it with cooler air. In essence, a heat pump is an air conditioning unit that reverses its refrigeration cycle to fill your home with heat, instead of removing it.

Heat pumps are best for homeowners who live in climates that don’t see long, cold winters, but still experience short periods of cold weather. Other advantages heat pumps have over furnaces, aside from their versatility and energy efficiency, are that they typically cost less to install and operate more quietly.

If you need help finding the best heating and air solution for your needs, the home comfort specialists at Barineau Heating and Air Conditioning can help. Contact us by calling 850.580.4029 in Florida or 229.495.6599 in south Georgia.

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