Heat pump vs electric furnace: which system is best for you and your house and heating services?

When winter is here with us, you want a system that will keep you warm and comfortable,

You, however, want to get something that is energy-efficient.

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Whether you are looking to install or replace your heating system, a heat pump and an electric furnace are viable options. But one will definitely suit you better than the other.

Before we dive into which suits who better, feel free to contact us for our Santa Clarita AC repair service.

Read on as we analyze the differences between heat pumps vs electric furnaces.

Heat Pump vs Furnace: Overview

It may feel weird to compare a heat pump and a furnace. They do not have the same working principle. The most logic comparison would be gas vs electric furnace. We, however, go ahead with the heat pump vs electric furnace comparison, since it it is commonly asked questions by our clients.

One common thing between an electric furnace and a heat pump is that they can warm your house.

If it is in winter, they are both great performers.

Another constant is that you will likely need a heat pump or electric furnace repair in the lifetime of the system. 

However, there are some distinct differences between the two. They differ so much in terms of:

  • heating capacities,
  • energy efficiency,
  • maintenance needs and costs.

We look at the details below.

Heat Pump: How Do They Work?

Heat pumps transfer heat from the outside to the inside in winter.

I know it sounds off for it to draw warmth for the outside cold air. But that is how it works. 

From this, it is clear that a heat pump does not generate heat. It just transfers heat from one place to another.

Also, it is essential to note that heat pump systems reverse the heat transfer process. In summer, a heat pump system can transfer heat indoors and dump it outside.

So, a heat pump cools in summer and warms in winter

Electric Furnace: How do they work?

A furnace, whether an electric or a gas furnace, produces its own heat to warm you.

An electric furnace works pretty much like an air dryer. The electricity gets over coil in the system. Then cool air is blown over the heated element, producing warm air in your house.

Heat Pump vs Electric Furnace: Climatic Conditions

Air source heat pumps have difficulty warming your house when winter gets harsher. Sometimes, when the temperature drops below freezing point, heat pumps will have no more heat to draw from the exterior.

You may need an electric or gas furnace to support a less efficient heat pump system in winter.

A geothermal heat pump may get the work done even in extreme winters. The underground place where they draw their heat has constant temperatures.

On the other hand, even when it is freezing, an electric furnace will not lose its heating capacity. It will keep warming your house as needed.

If it freezes every winter, you are better off with an electric furnace.

Heat Pump System vs Electric Furnace: Energy Efficiency

Comparing the energy efficiency of these two systems is quite complicated as they work on two different principles.

However, if we chose the most energy-efficient of the two, it would be a heat pump. Heat pumps use less energy than they transfer; this makes them super energy efficient.

Note: Heat pumps are more energy efficient in warmer climates.

Electric furnaces will use more power to heat a space. However, this still depends mainly on the efficiency rating of the heat pump.

Home Comfort

You are better off with propane or electric furnaces if you want more comfort.

The air produced by a furnace, both electric and gas, is usually hotter and drier.

If you love more heat in the winter, go for a furnace.

On the other hand, an electric heat pump delivers not-so-heated air that is naturally humid.

If you want warmth all winter long without worrying about extreme temperature drops, get an electric furnace.


Heat pumps are versatile; you can use them in summer and winter. They are a good choice as long as your temperatures don’t get to 28-30 degrees Fahrenheit.

With it, you will not need a cooling system in summer.

On the other hand, an electric or gas furnace only performs the heating function. If you have them, you will need air conditioners for cooling in winter.

If you already have an air conditioner, go for an electric furnace instead of a heat pump. There is no need to have both an air conditioner and an air source heat pump.

Air Quality

It is not all about warming up your house in winter. You also want the indoor air quality to be excellent.

Suppose you are particular about your air quality. A heat pump is much better than an electric furnace.

First, the air generated by furnaces is dry, resulting in drier skin.

With heat pumps, the humidity levels are naturally higher. You may need a separate dehumidifier if you live in naturally humid places. 

Environmental Factors

When you buy your heating equipment, you want to know how its operation affects the environment.

These two both use electricity to run, which all increase carbon footprint.

However, heat pumps use refrigerant liquids to transfer heat to and from the outdoor air. This means it goes a level higher in increasing the carbon footprint. This is taken a notch higher in case a refrigerant leak occurs.

Installation Costs

Heat pump installation is usually more expensive than installing an electric furnace.

For heat pumps, you need to install both indoor and outdoor units. You may also need to install the ductwork if you don’t have one in place already.

However, the cost of running an air source heat pump is lower. Therefore, you may spend more upfront, but it will be recouped over the months.

Life Expectancy

The life of a heat pump is much shorter than that of a furnace.

Heat pumps are used all year round, while furnaces are only used in winter. It, therefore, makes sense for heat pumps to die sooner than furnaces,

Also, electric furnaces have fewer motorized parts compared to heat pump systems. Being in constant motion wears out the parts of heat pump systems.

Heat pumps vs Electric Furnace: Noise Level 

Heat pumps are noisier than electric furnaces.

If you are looking for a heating system that operates quietly, you would better pass on heat pumps. The operation of a heat pump is clanky. The situation is even worse when there are mechanical problems, as there will be all sorts of weird HVAC noises.

Besides, turning the heat pump on and off can be pretty annoying. The clicking and knocking from the compressor are just annoyingly loud.

On the other hand, all you will hear from an electric furnace is a gentle whoosh of air(1). And they are normally located far from the living space, such as in the basement or utility rooms.

If you are someone who cannot just ignore the noise in the background, get an electric furnace as your heating system.

Heat Pump vs Electric Furnace: Sizing

Both a heat pump and a furnace need to be correctly sized. Getting an oversized or undersized system comes with its cons.

It would be best to involve your HVAC contractor in getting the right size heating system.

The technician will measure the volume of air in your living space and compare it to other factors such as:

  • your climatic conditions,
  • direct sunlight exposures,
  • house insulation.

This is to say that you should not perform heat pump installation yourself. Neither should you do it for an electric furnace. Get a professional to do the  job for you.

Heat Pump vs Electric Furnace Key Takeaways

  • Heat pumps cool and heats your house; you won’t need a separate air conditioner,
  • Heat pumps only move heat from one place to another; they do not generate it,
  • an air source heat pump is not very practical for extreme winters (below 28- 30 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Furnaces are more expensive to run, while heat pumps are expensive to install,
  • Furnaces last longer than heat pumps,
  • Electric furnaces are less noisy,
  • Both systems need regular HVAC maintenance, but heat pumps need it more.

Electric Heat Pump vs Electric Furnace Frequently Asked Questions

Is a heat pump cheaper to run than an electric furnace?

Yes, heat pumps are cheaper to run than electric furnaces. First, their heating process does not consume more energy. Besides, heat pumps transfer the heat energy but do not generate it, unlike electric furnaces. The generation of heat is more expensive than just transferring it.

Which is a better heat pump or electric heat?

If you live in extreme climatic conditions, you are better off with an electric heat pump.

However, if you are in a mild or moderate climate, you could easily get comfort from a heat pump.

What are some downsides to a heat pump?

Heat pumps lose their efficiency when their temperatures drop below the freezing point. You might need a backup heating source in such cases.

Besides, heat pump installation is more expensive than furnace installation.

How is a heat pump better than an electric furnace?

One good reason to choose a heat pump over an electric furnace is that you can use it all year round; it does the cooling and heating jobs. In short, you will not need a separate air conditioner for summer cooling.

Are Heat Pumps more energy efficient than electric furnaces?

According to Trane, heat pumps are 300% more energy efficient(2) atop the HVAC brand than electric furnaces. Heat pumps can supposedly transfer 300 times more energy than they consume.

Why don’t most homeowners install heat pumps?

The upfront costs of heat pumps scare away many homeowners. We, however, believe that the high price is worth it. You will have two systems in one and use less money to run the system all year round. Final Thoughts

Final Thoughts on Electric Furnace vs Heat Pump

Heat pumps and electric furnaces are both great options for heating. However, one of them is more suited for you than the other. We cannot pin it down for you; unless you call us on-site to analyze your situation.

You can also do it yourself. If you live in frigid climates, go for an electric furnace. If the temperatures you live in are always mild, a heat pump is good enough.

But this is not enough. Look at other factors, such as maintenance, installation costs, and energy efficiency.

If you need help selecting one between these two, feel free to reach out to us.

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