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Heat Pump vs Furnace: Which One To Choose?

heat pump vs furnace

Winters in Portland, Oregon are known for their cold, rainy days. Choosing a heating system that is reliable and efficient will help you and your family stay warm when the temperatures drop. When it comes to heating your home in Portland the two most popular options are a heat pump or an electric/gas furnace. This comprehensive guide will line up heat pump vs furnace to help you pick the best one for your family and lifestyle. 

Basics of Heat Pump vs Furnace

Both heat pumps and furnaces accomplish the same goal – heat your home to keep you comfortable on cold days and nights. They accomplish this in different ways. A heat pump uses electricity while furnaces use natural gas or electricity. Each has different factors to consider such as energy efficiency, cost, lifespan, and reliability.

What is a Heat Pump?

In the winter ducted heat pumps work like a reverse air conditioner. It takes the simple idea that it is easier to move something rather than create it, moving warm air from outside into your home. A heat pump has various components that make the system work. The two main components are an indoor air handler unit and an outdoor unit with a coil and fan. Because a heat pump simply moves heat energy from one place to another, the process can be reversed in the summer to cool the interior of your home by removing heat to the outside.

Pros & Cons of Heat Pumps

Heat pumps are great for Portland’s milder weather and are slowly gaining popularity for their energy savings and year-round comfort. 


Because of how heat pumps transfer heat, they are environmentally friendly and energy-efficient, generally costing less to operate in the winter. During the summer, heat pumps reverse the direction of the refrigerant and switch from heating to cooling, absorbing heat in your home and transferring it outside.

Because it can both heat and cool, a heat pump is the only unit you need for all seasons, saving you space in your home. With no combustion or fumes, heat pumps have the potential to deliver better indoor air quality since they do not burn fuel for heating and have no carbon monoxide risks. In ideal conditions, a heat pump can transfer 300 percent more energy than it consumes. 


Heat pumps are less efficient in colder climates when temperatures fall below freezing regularly. To keep your home and family comfortable on colder days your heat pump system may need to have a supplemental heat source to create warmth.

Dual fuel or hybrid heat pump/furnace systems are also an option to help homes reach warm temperatures more quickly on extra cold days. Heat pumps also tend to “blow cooler” than a furnace. Also, heat pumps typically cost more to purchase and install than a traditional furnace and have a shorter life span of 12 to 20 years versus 15 to 20 years.

Additional reading: Heat Pump vs Air Conditioner: Which is Right for You?

What is a Furnace?

A furnace takes a different approach to warm your home, actually creating heat by burning fuel. There are four main components to a furnace: a burner, a heat exchanger, a blower, and a flue for exhaust. The most common type of furnace is fueled by natural gas but reliable electric furnaces are also available. Furnaces burn fuel at a central unit and then blow warm air throughout your home through a duct system.

Pros & Cons of Furnaces

The most common type of furnace is natural gas-powered but electric furnaces are available.  Both types of furnaces centrally heat air at one unit and blow it through your home via ductwork and vents. 


The word furnace comes from the Greek meaning “oven”. Because furnaces are basically giant boxes of fire they heat your home really well. Furnace technology has come a long way since early Americans have burned wood in cast iron stoves. Today, forced air furnaces run off gas or electricity and produce high amounts of heat quickly.

Furnaces are not used year-round, meaning they typically have a longer lifespan than heat pumps. This also means that a furnace needs less maintenance, just a yearly checkup to make sure that it is ready for the winter season. A well-maintained high efficiency furnace is about 98.6 percent efficient. 


Depending on the fuel you use and its local cost, furnaces can be more costly to run. New technology has made them more efficient but since fuel costs vary it can still be hard on the pocketbook. 

If a gas furnace is not installed correctly by a trusted professional they also have a small chance of carbon monoxide leak. Proper installation and regular maintenance will keep furnace problems away before they occur.

Furnace heat also has a tendency to be dryer than a heat pump, causing more dry skin. Additionally, if you want a cooling unit you will have to install a separate air conditioner.

Additional reading: How Long Does A Furnace Last & When To Replace It

Heat Pump and Furnace Similarities and Differences

Even though heat pumps and furnaces have the same goal they accomplish it differently. Heat pumps both heat and cool your home by transferring warm air either into the home or moving it outside. Furnaces, on the other hand, do one thing well – heat your home. Both heat pumps and gas or electric furnaces use a duct system that moves warm air throughout your home to keep your spaces cozy. The main differences between a heat pump and a furnace are the home space they need, the climates they work best in, and energy efficiency.

Deciding Between a Heat Pump or a Furnace

Generally, the climate of the area you live in is a good determiner of whether a heat pump or furnace is best. But there are other questions to ask yourself: 

  • Is cost a factor? Heat pumps are more expensive upfront but operation savings could end up paying for your unit. 
  • Do you want a longer lifespan? Furnaces tend to have a 5 to 10-year longer life span when compared to heat pumps.
  • Is space an issue? Heat pumps are one unit for both heating and cooling. 
  • Do you want warmer air? Furnaces produce hotter air to warm your home. 
  • Do you live in a mild climate? Most of the Portland area has a mild climate making a heat pump a good option. Higher elevations that get colder might do better with a furnace.

Read next: The Best Temperature to Set Your Thermostat to in Winter

How Jacobs Can Help

Deciding whether you want to live with a heat pump, gas furnace, or electric furnace for the next 15 to 20 years can feel daunting. Jacobs Heating & Air Conditioning experts are here to guide you through the process to help you pick the right heating system for your home. Consultants will help evaluate your home to ensure you have a long-lasting HVAC system that will keep you comfortable in all seasons. Avoid extra costs and fewer repairs by scheduling a tune-up for your existing system before issues arise. Our maintenance plans keep your heating system running like clockwork without any stress or hassle. No matter what you need we’re always just a phone call away. You are welcome to review our statement on COVID-19 and how we’re taking precautions to protect you, our team, and our communities.

About the Author

Amanda Jacobs portrait

Amanda Jacobs, Internal Project Manager

Amanda Jacobs is an Internal Projects Manager and 3rd generation member of Jacobs Heating & Air Conditioning. She received her MBA from Seattle University and has worked for a leading HVAC training and consulting firm. When not talking HVAC on the Jacobs Blog, you can find her on the golf course or whipping up her famous vegan chili.