Heat pumps and furnaces are two common methods of heating homes and commercial buildings here in Colorado. They each have their own pros and cons, and each of them uses different technology to accomplish the goal of maintaining a comfortable indoor air temperature. 

In this blog post, Front Range HVAC is going to explain the fundamental differences between heat pumps and furnaces, and we’re going to give you some food for thought if you’re considering one against the other. 

[Keep in mind that there’s no fitting substitute for a discussion with a highly trained HVAC professional. If you have questions about outfitting your home or business with a new furnace or heat pump, contact Front Range HVAC today by calling (303) 857-5605.]

Heat Pumps, Explained

Think about how a building is typically cooled. 

You might think first about an air conditioning unit, which is one of the most effective and efficient methods of lowering indoor air temperatures. 

However, did you know that an air conditioner is actually a heat pump in disguise?

It’s true—air conditioners and air-source heat pumps operate using the same basic principle. That is, moving heat from one location to another. 

So, how is this accomplished? There are three basic steps:

  • The heat pump forces warm air from either indoors or outdoors through a series of coils. These coils are filled with a refrigerant, typically pressurized ammonia gas.
  • Depending on the direction of airflow, the heat pump transfers the heat from the air source (outside or inside air) to the desired destination. To do this, there is no requirement to burn any fossil fuels. This is the reason why heat pumps work best in moderate climates where there aren’t wide swings in outdoor temperatures.
  • The refrigerant either warms back up or cools back down, depending on the valve setting of the air pump. In this way, heat pumps are often able to heat and cool, eliminating the need for separate heating and cooling systems. Not only is this much less expensive; it’s also very energy-efficient.

The refrigerator in your kitchen is another example of a heat pump, though you probably wouldn’t think of it in that way. Instead of heating the inside of the fridge, the appliance transfers the heat in the freezer and refrigerated areas to the exterior of the unit (through coils that are typically located on the back). 

At this point, you might be wondering: why not just use heat pumps, and forget about furnaces altogether? The answer to this question is because, compared with furnaces, heat pumps are only marginally effective at distributing heat. Remember that heat pumps do not generate heat. Rather, they simply transfer it. 

And, because heat pumps do not combust a fossil fuel like natural gas, they have to rely on existing heat in the environment in order to do their job. This makes them largely ineffective in very cold climates. 

The Infernal Power of the Furnace

Where heat pumps fall short in the generation of heat, furnaces deliver in spades. 

heat pump vs furnace 2Instead of using environmental heat to raise indoor temperatures, furnaces simply make their own heat, instead. Using natural gas or an electric heating element, furnaces blow outside air through a heated chamber, then through the network of ducts that run throughout the home or commercial building. 

Cooler air that is displaced by the furnaces air pressure is typically sent through return vents, and the cycle repeats until the desired temperature is reached. 

In many locations, furnaces are a necessity. While they may be costlier to operate, they are incredibly effective at serving up the heat we need to stay warm in the harsh winter months, especially here in Colorado. 

For Colorado homes that rely on heat pumps for heating and cooling, it can be a challenge to keep warm when the mercury drops outside. For this reason, ancillary heating appliances like space heaters or radiators are often used. 

In the Market for a New Furnace or Heat Pump? Call Us! 

We realize HVAC systems can be confusing. That’s why we’re here to help!

Our team of heat pump and furnace service professionals is available to answer all of your questions. If you’re trying to decide which is better for you—a heat pump or a furnace—why not reach out to our staff for some guidance? 

Contact us today to discuss your home or commercial heating needs. We’re always happy to educate our customers so they make the best decision. 

Call us right now at (303) 857-5605.