Is It Better to Use a Heat Pump or Electric Heat?


This is the time of year when people start asking themselves which is best, an electric furnace or a heat pump. If you’re not sure what the differences are, it’s important to learn more about each one because it can make a big impact on your decision. Some people absolutely swear by the use of heat pumps because they have a tendency to use less energy.

Others can’t stand them and won’t use anything but an electric furnace. The thing is, you have to make your own decision when it comes to deciding what is best for you and your loved ones inside your own home. That starts with learning some facts about the similarities and differences between the two.

Heat Pumps

Heat pumps work differently than traditional electric furnaces by transferring air. They essentially move the air around until they can move it from a cooler place to a warmer place through the use of a fan. A lot of people will find that their outdoor air conditioner compressor also serves as a heat pump. The electric heat that you think is a furnace may very well be coming from a heat pump instead.

If that air is generated from the air conditioner compressor, it is in no way an electric furnace. Instead, you are indeed using a heat pump to heat your home. It works like this. During the warmer months of the year, you switch your thermostat to the air conditioning and then put it at the selected temperature.

Whenever the air inside the home becomes warmer than the temperature you have set it to, the thermostat sends a message to the air conditioner compressor that it’s time for it to come on and do its job, which is to cool the air down inside your home. To an extent, it does the same thing during the cooler months of the year, although the compressor itself is not active when you’re using it as a heat pump.

Another way to look at it

Think about it this way. You switch your thermostat to heat and again, you set the thermostat at the desired temperature. Whenever the temperature inside the home drops below that level, the thermostat tells the device outside that it needs to come on in order to warm up the air inside the home. The difference is that it’s no longer operating as a compressor which is capable of producing extremely cold air.

Instead, a fan inside the unit comes on which moves the cooler air inside your home to the outdoors and replaces it with warm air that is created by the operation of the fan itself. That warmer air is then pumped through your ductwork and into your vents in order to heat the house. It can potentially be more efficient because it’s essentially moving air from place to place as opposed to trying to actually change the temperature of the air inside the home, thereby requiring less energy.

Electric Furnace

An electric furnace operates differently than a heat pump. For starters, it’s not located outside the structure in the same unit that houses the air conditioner. The furnace is located inside the home and uses heating coils to create heat that is then forced out into the vents through the use of a fan. The benefit to having a furnace is that the air is typically warmer than that produced with a heat pump.

However, it’s not typically as energy efficient, especially if you live in a climate where the winters aren’t as severe. That means that you need to take the typical winter climate into consideration when deciding on a heat pump versus an electric furnace. The nightly low temperature will usually determine which is best. It’s definitely not a situation where there is a clear winner because one is superior to the other. Instead, it all depends on where you live.

Outside Temperature

There is no doubt that heat pumps are better in some situations, but in others you would do better to go with an electric furnace. If you live in an area where you don’t have that many nights that get below 20 degrees Fahrenheit (did someone say Florida), then you are better off with a heat pump.

Chances are, it will be capable of providing more than enough heat to keep the whole house comfortable and it will cost you less money in the process. However, it’s a different story if you are in a climate that routinely sees temperatures dipping below the 20 degree mark. You almost have to employ an electric furnace in such a climate.

Otherwise, you’ll be freezing all winter long, as a heat pump simply can’t keep up when the outside temperature gets really cold. Furthermore, you’re likely to end up spending even more money with a heat pump than you would with a furnace. That’s because the heat pump will end up running non-stop and still not get the air temperature inside the house to a comfortable level.

While it’s true that a furnace does use more energy (thereby costing more money), you might actually save a few bucks by using one if you live in a location that has fairly significant winters. More importantly, you’ll be much more comfortable. Truth be told, they don’t even use heat pumps in parts of the country that get genuinely cold on a routine basis.

They’re simply not practical. However, people that live in the southern part of the United States will likely find that they can get by just fine with a heat pump, even saving money when compared to an electric furnace. At the end of the day, it’s all about making the choice that is best for you and your family. That will naturally vary from one situation to another. That said, it’s definitely a good idea to explore both options as they relate to your location and the size of your home. Only then will you truly know which option is likely to work best for you.

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