There are a number of things to consider when trying to determine which is better, a gas furnace or heat pump. Both can provide heating to your home and when looking for a new home, you might encounter one home with a gas furnace and another with a heat pump within a short distance of each other.
Benefits of Gas Furnaces
Gas Heating is More Common in the Charlotte Area
- 75% of single family homes in Rock Hill, SC use gas furnaces for heat (US Census Data)
- 77% of single family homes in Fort Mill, SC use gas furnaces for heat
- 67% of single family homes in Charlotte, NC use gas furnaces for heat
Gas service is readily available in the Charlotte metro area and most new home builders over the past 20 years have installed a combination gas furnace with a central air conditioning unit for heating.
Gas Furnaces last longer
You’ll see 15 years quoted a lot as the average life of a gas furnace. With proper maintenance, they can last 25 years. The US Department of Energy puts the expected life of a heat pump at 10-15 years. One industry trade association surveyed its members and came up with 14 years as the average replacement age when properly maintained. There is a very good chance that your furnace will last years longer than your heat pump. However, as long as manufacturers are able to continue to improve efficiency, then waiting 25 years to replace a gas furnace might actually end up costing you money. Gas furnaces are also less likely to break down. They are simpler than heat pumps and are housed inside, where weather and insects don’t impact them like an outdoor unit.
Gas Furnaces Are Often Considered More Comfortable
While both gas furnaces and heat pumps should be able to maintain a comfortable temperatures inside your home, the technology they use does result in some differences in the heat produced. If you like to walk into a cool room and warm it up quickly, gas heat works best. Gas furnaces produce hotter air (120°-140°), so they can bring the temperature in a home up a lot quicker than a heat pump (90°-120°). The cooler air coming out of the vents with a heat pump can also cause the house to feel drafty when the heating system is running, because with temperature drops, air currents can be below body temperature. You won’t run into this problem with a standard gas furnace, but air temperatures on many higher efficiency gas furnaces are much closer to what a heat pump produces. In short, the more efficient a gas furnace you install, the less this is a consideration in choosing between the two types of heating systems.
Benefits of Heat Pumps
Heat Pumps Are Your Air Conditioning Too
Heat pumps serve you both in the winter and the summer. While this can also be a factor in them wearing out faster than a gas furnace, you only have the one unit to replace. Installing a new heat pump can be less expensive than installing a new air conditioning unit and a new furnace.
Gas furnaces burn natural gas and that means that they produce some deadly exhaust gases, including carbon monoxide. When everything with the furnace and venting system is in working order, gas furnaces are quite safe. However, there is never a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning with a heat pump because it doesn’t produce any.
Heat Pumps Can Be Quieter
This depends on where you are in the house. If you are in a room where the outdoor unit sits next to the wall and windows, you’ll still get a lot of outdoor noise. However, the indoor air handler part of a heat pump is generally quieter than single-stage gas furnaces. A lot depends on where the gas furnace is located as well. If you are looking at a 2-stage or multi-stage gas furnace than this actually switches from an advantage for heat pumps to an advantage for that high-efficiency gas furnace.
Energy Costs Are Fairly Even
If you consider a 2,500 square foot home in the Charlotte/Rock Hill area, heading into the winter of 2016-17, gas heating is going to be less expensive when comparing a standard efficiency furnace and a standard efficiency heat pump. Here is how it works out based on energy calculations, based on only the costs of the actual energy used (no fees, service charges, etc):
Natural Gas Heating – $500-$550 per year
Electric Heat Pump Heating – $476-$600 per year
Based on December 2016 rates, homeowners in Rock Hill could see some savings from using a natural gas furnace, while those in Charlotte might actually save a little money using a heat pump. Colder temperatures in a given year will make natural gas heating more efficient because the heat pump will have to add on supplemental heating at lower temperatures. Unless prices of natural gas or electricity in the Carolinas were to change at different rates in the future, the actual cost of running either system to heat your home will be about the same.
Installation Costs are Fairly Even
There are some differences in installation between heat pumps and furnaces. This is especially true if you were to convert your home from one type of heating to another. However, if you are just comparing the cost of installing a new gas furnace or a new heat pump, they are pretty similar. Higher efficiency models will cost you more either way, which is a major factor in cost ranges. Some installations are also more difficult than others because of access to the equipment. Home Advisor tracks installation costs from visitors to their web site and the following two graphics show just how close costs generally are when installing a heat pump vs a gas furnace.
When it comes down to it, there isn’t a clear cut answer on whether a heat pump or a gas furnace is better right now. And looking toward the future, there isn’t anything that would make that much difference in the costs over the life of either a furnace or a heat pump. The U.S. Energy Information Administration expects the price of natural gas to increase a little faster than that of electricity over the next 25 years, but not enough to make one type of heat cost much different than the other.
So unless you are looking at something like a geothermal heat pump, most homeowners just stick to the type of system they already have in their house when choosing a replacement. If you are building a new home and want to stick with conventional heating systems, then in the Charlotte and Rock Hill area, the biggest consideration may be access to a natural gas line.
Want to learn more about heat pumps and furnaces? Check out our heating replacement page or contact us for a Comfort Visit.