Furnace, Heat Pump or a Hybrid: Which Is Best for Heating Your Home?

Published on: January 17, 2015
Friendly HVAC contractor | AC Southeast®

While the Southeast enjoys nice weather for much of the year, homeowners can’t ignore the issue of central heating all year long. And where it comes to heating, more options seem to be appearing on the market every year. If you haven’t upgraded your heating system recently, you might not be aware of the differences between a heat pump, furnace or a hybrid system. But being familiar with these pieces of HVAC technology can help you make the right choice for your home comfort and your wallet.

Gas and Oil Furnaces

A traditional furnace produces heat by burning gas or oil. The heat produced from the combustion is then transferred to air in a heat exchanger, and the warmed air is circulated through your home. Furnaces are an old technology, and many houses whose heating systems haven’t been upgraded in the last couple of decades are operating low-efficiency furnaces.

Current Federal energy standards require that new furnaces need to meet efficiencies in the 78 to 83 percent range, depending on the type of furnace. That means that of the energy put into the furnace, 78 to 83 will become usable heat in your home, with the rest of the energy being lost as light or waste heat.

High-efficiency condensing furnaces can reach up to a 98 percent efficiency, which means only 2 percent waste. These furnaces cost a little more at the outset, but many homeowners find the energy savings and the environmental friendliness to be worth it.

Heat Pumps

Heat pumps are gaining in popularity across the South, allowing homeowners to replace both the home’s furnace and the air conditioner. A heat pump doesn’t create any heat of its own. It simply moves heat from one place to another. In the winter, a heat pump extracts heat energy from the air outside and uses that to warm the air circulating in the house. In the summer the pump can be placed in reverse, drawing excess heat out of your home and exhausting it outside.

Because no heat needs to be produced, heat pumps can reach efficiencies in the 300 to 400 percent range – three to four times as efficient as a traditional gas or oil furnace. And because they can either heat or cool your home, they can simplify an HVAC installation by removing the need for an additional air conditioner.

Heat pumps have been slower to catch on in the cooler parts of the country due to their one main drawback: head pumps don’t heat effectively once temperatures drop below freezing. In below-freezing temperatures, heat pumps face two challenges. They need to raise the home from a lower temperature to a higher one (it’s easier to heat a home to 72 degrees when the outside air is 50 degrees than when the temperature outside is 30 degrees), and there’s less heat energy to collect. This is the heat pump’s balance point, and it can cause the home to become chilly when it gets too cold.

Hybrid Systems

In a hybrid system, a heat pump is paired with a backup source of heat such as an electric heater or a traditional system. Through most of the year, you can rely on the high-efficiency heat pump, while not having to worry about passing the balance point in the coldest months of the year. If the heat pump’s balance point is reached, the less efficient backup system will engage, keeping you as warm as you want.

These systems can be a little more expensive to install, but they’ll bring you high efficiencies and year-round home comfort.

If you’re looking to upgrade the central heating system in your Southeast U.S. home, contact us today at AirConditioningSouthEast.com! We can help connect you will expert HVAC contractors in your area who will help you determine if a furnace, heat pump or a hybrid system would work best in your home.