Heat Pump vs. Furnace: Which Should I Install?

Heat Pump vs. Furnace: Which Should I Install?

If you are contemplating replacing your furnace in the GTA, the heat pump vs furnace debate has surely entered the conversation. These two types of home heating systems are very different. A heat pump system does not generate heat; it gathers heat energy from outside air and distributes warmth inside.

On the other hand, a furnace is a heat source using a combustion process to produce heat.

How Do Heat Pumps Work?

A heat pump is a unique, dual-purpose system that serves as both an air conditioner in the summer and a heater in the wintertime. Some use existing air to operate, and others (called geothermal systems) collect and redistribute heat from the earth. 

Air Source Heat Pumps  

All air source heat pumps work using:

  • An outdoor unit
  • An indoor unit
  • A refrigerant line that connects the two units
  • A reverse valve that allows the system to change modes (from cool to heat)

During Toronto’s hottest months, an air-sourced heat pump functions in air conditioner mode. As soon as the temperature drops, it reverses its operation and pulls heat energy from the outdoor air. (Yes, even Ontario’s very cold air!) The secret is the pressurized refrigerant. Utilizing a cycle of evaporation and condensation (happening inside coils housed within both units), a heat pump works to absorb and efficiently transfer heat from one location to another. 

How Do Furnaces Work?

As mentioned, a furnace generates its own heat. How? In most cases, it uses fuel, such as natural gas or oil, to create hot air. 

Gas Furnaces

A gas furnace operates utilizing:

  • A burner
  • Heat exchangers
  • A blower fan
  • A flue (to vent hot gas exhaust)

When the temperature on a thermostat is increased, a gas furnace receives the signal and sends fuel to the burners inside a combustion chamber. A pilot light ignites the burners that, in turn, heat up the heat exchanger. The blower fan moves air around the heat exchanger and sends hot air throughout your home. (Note: Electric furnaces have an electrical ignition that begins a similar heating process.)

Which System Works Better?

We’re all looking for eco-friendly, cost-effective, hard-working, and long-lasting heating systems, right? Gas furnaces and heat pumps tick all the boxes to varying degrees.  

Home Comfort

The heat produced by a gas furnace is typically hotter and drier. And, regardless of the outdoor temperature, a gas furnace continues to produce more and more heat. In contrast, heat pump systems circulate naturally humid warm air that might not feel as hot. And, they do have some limitations; if temps dip below minus 28-30 degrees Celsius, you may temporarily need a backup heating source. Then again, heat pumps are extremely versatile; they also cool your home in the summertime. And, if you have an older home without ductwork, a ductless mini-split system is a perfect solution.

Air Quality

In terms of air quality, the standout is a heat pump vs a furnace. With proper furnace maintenance and frequent air filter changes, you can preserve your home’s indoor air quality. Heat pumps, however, don’t produce carbon monoxide (CO), so you never have to worry about a dangerous CO leak. Also, the hot air from furnaces leads to dry skin. Heat pumps use moisture to heat the air, so the humidity level is naturally higher. 

Energy Efficiency

With climate change and high energy costs top-of-mind these days, homeowners want to know what heating system is the most efficient. Although they are electric, heat pumps use less energy and heat efficiently, surprisingly more so than a furnace. A heat pump can transfer up to 300% more energy than it consumes under optimal conditions. High-efficiency gas furnaces are only approximately 95% efficient. This efficiency means many air-source heat pumps have earned the ENERGY STAR distinction. (Note: Leaks or dust and debris in air ducts will reduce the efficiency of any HVAC system. Be sure to have your duct system cleaned regularly.)

Installation Costs

It might cost more for heat pump installation as compared to replacing a furnace, but it really depends on many factors. Access to natural gas, the equipment and wiring currently in your home, the desired configuration of the new system, the condition of existing ductwork, and more influence the installation price. Of course, a heat pump generally costs less to operate than furnaces do, so any higher upfront costs are quickly recouped.

A bonus – you can get your furnace rented if that works better for your budget.

Life Expectancy

How do heat pumps compare when it comes to lifespan? Because they are used year-round, a heat pump has a shorter life expectancy. In Toronto, a heat pump will last 10-15 years. You can count on a well-maintained gas furnace to last upwards of 15 or, possibly, even 20 years. Furnaces have fewer motorized parts, and use is limited to only the colder months each year.

Save Money With Canadian Rebates

Now is the perfect time to invest in an energy-efficient home heating system because the government of Canada is offering significant incentives to Toronto area homeowners who lower greenhouse gas emissions. Under the Canada Greener Homes Grant, Ontario residents can receive rebates for:

  • Smart Thermostats: $50 maximum rebate
  • Efficient Heating (such as heat pumps): $5,000 maximum rebate
  • Required home evaluations: $600 maximum rebate
    (To be eligible for this program, pre- and post-retrofit evaluations must be conducted.)

To qualify, you need to abide by all the government program guidelines. Follow our Canada Greener Homes Grant HVAC Installation Guide for step-by-step instructions. 

Dr HVAC Provides Expert Heat Pump and Furnace Installation in the Toronto Area

Contact Dr HVAC today for professional installation of a reliable heating system that meets your family’s needs. Our team is committed to providing you with the best possible service and answer all your furnace installation and air source heat pump questions.