When it is time to replace your heating system, it is worth looking into alternative options that may improve your system’s efficiency. That is why so many people consider heat pumps, given that they are rated considerably more efficient. Use this guide to understand how these heating systems differ and what may be better for your home.
Generating vs. Transferring Heat
One of the first things to understand is the difference between how they heat your home. A furnace creates heat, whereas heat pumps transfer heat. Let’s dig into more of what this means.
Furnaces generate heat by either using an electrical resistance element or by burning fuel. In cold environments, the most common of these are fuel-burning models, usually using natural gas for fuel.
Heat pumps, on the other hand, transfer heat from the air outside to the air inside. This is the same concept that cools your home with an air conditioner, just in reverse. Even if the air outside feels cool, a heat pump may be able to still pull heat if the coils are colder than the air temperature.
A challenge to running in frigidly cold weather is the outside coils freezing. However, most units have a defrost feature to help deal with this if it occurs.
Another very attractive feature of heat pumps is their multi-seasonal use. The system has a special component called a reversing valve that allows the system to reverse the refrigerant’s flow.
The way a heat pump transfers heat is by regulating the pressure of the system’s refrigerant. When it needs to absorb heat, it lowers the refrigerant’s pressure, which in turn makes it cold. While running on heat mode, this pressure drop happens outside to make the outdoor coil cold. When the mode is set to cool, that pressure drop happens inside to absorb heat and make the circulating air cold.
A furnace only produces and circulates heat, so it is only useful during the colder Colorado weather. If you want relief over the summer, you’ll need a separate air conditioner to provide this service, though it’ll likely still use the same air handler.
Efficiency in Cold Weather
A significant consideration for Coloradans about whether getting a heat pump is the right decision is its ability to handle cold weather. To continue working, the outside coil must remain a certain factor colder than the air temperature. This means that most heat pumps usually start losing efficiency at around 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
The closer the air temperature gets to the lowest temperature the coil can sustain, the less efficient it becomes. To continue providing heat during frigid weather, most heat pump systems come with a backup electric resistance heater. These automatically kick on when the temperature outside is so cold the refrigerant is no longer effective, typically between 25 and 30 degrees.
However, an electric heater is generally the least efficient way to heat your home. That is where dual-fuel systems become beneficial. Instead of an electric resistance heater, these systems have a regular gas furnace. The two are still tied together, so you don’t have to do anything to switch to the furnace. The unit does this automatically at the temperature where the furnace heats more efficiently.
Noise and Space
Furnaces are typically quieter than heat pumps, especially if your furnace is located in a basement. Heat pumps, on the other hand, largely produce more noise, even when brand new. This is caused by the compressor and fans initializing and can irritate neighbors if you live in close proximity.
The tradeoff is the amount of space required for the system inside. A furnace is a risky appliance to run, given the heat it generates. Building codes require a 30-inch clearance around a furnace to protect anything from heat damage. Heat pumps have an air handler and the electric heater inside, but the rest sits outside. Building codes do not require any clearance around the inside components because they do not burn fuel to produce the heat.
Unique Heating & Air Conditioning Inc. has been providing highly rated heating and cooling services to people around Northglenn since 2007. Our NATE-certified technicians provide installation, repair, and maintenance services for furnaces and air conditioners combined with indoor air quality options. Call to schedule an appointment with one of our expert heating installation specialists to discuss the best options for your home.