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Should You Replace Your Furnace with a Heat Pump?

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If you’re in the market for a new heating system, you may be wondering if you should replace your furnace with a heat pump. Heat pumps have been increasing in popularity in recent years, and there are some good reasons why. In this blog post, we’ll discuss when it makes sense to replace your furnace with a heat pump and when it’s better to add a heat pump to an existing furnace system. We’ll also talk about the costs and considerations involved in making the switch.

Basics of Heat Pumps

A heat pump is an energy-efficient way to heat and cool a home or business. Heat pumps work by taking heat from one place and transferring it to another. In the winter months, heat pumps pull heat from the air outside and deliver it indoors while in the summer months, they reverse this process, pulling heat out of the indoors and releasing it outdoors.

Additional reading: Heat Pumps 101: How Does a Heat Pump Work?

Forced Air Furnaces vs Heat Pumps

A furnace is a forced air heating system that typically burns fuel like natural gas, oil, or propane to heat a home or business. Furnace systems have a burner that heats a heat exchanger, and a blower then sends the heat throughout a building by circulating air through ducts.

A heat pump does not burn fuel, instead it uses electricity as its energy source. The heat gained from the outside air is transferred indoors during the winter months and outdoors in the summer months.

When to replace your furnace with a heat pump

In some cases, it might make sense to replace an existing furnace with a heat pump. Heat pumps and furnaces use the same kind of air ducts to move air through your home so the replacement is relatively straightforward.

It is important to consider your furnace’s energy efficiency when deciding whether to replace it with a heat pump. If your furnace has an annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) rating lower than 79% and the cost of electricity in your area is low then replacing it with a heat pump that has a high HSPF rating will save you energy and money in the long run.

It’s also important to consider the age of your furnace, and whether or not your furnace shows signs of failing. The average furnace lasts between 15 and 20 years, but requires regular maintenance to maximize that lifespan.

Additional reading: Heat Pump vs Furnace: Which One To Choose?

Do heat pumps work in cold weather?

Unlike other heating and cooling systems, heat pumps don’t generate hot or cold air. Instead, they take heat from the outside or inside air and expel it. Heat pumps don’t work well in areas that get below-freezing temperatures regularly. In areas with an average winter temperature that is below 35°F heat pumps may not be the best choice for heat because of their limited efficiency in extreme cold.

However, this makes heat pumps an excellent choice for moderate climates like Portland. Although it rains a fair amount during winter, the temperature is still warm enough for a heat pump to draw heat from the outdoors and bring it into your home.

Adding a Heat Pump to your Existing Furnace

Some homeowners may not want to get rid of their furnaces altogether. There may be times when adding a heat pump to your existing furnace is a good option for you and your situation.

Can a heat pump be used with a furnace?

Some people choose to have a backup heat source like a furnace in case their primary heat pump has technical difficulties, or if the temperature outside dips well below freezing. Installing a heat pump for use as an air conditioner in the summer is also a great option while keeping your furnace for heat. Heat pumps don’t take up a lot of room, so they’re usually easy to connect to the same system of ductwork that your furnace uses. And if you install a ductless mini-split heat pump you won’t need to worry about the ducts at all.

Do you need a furnace with a heat pump?

It isn’t required to have a heat pump and furnace together but there can be some advantages. In areas with very cold winters, it’s often more energy efficient to heat the home with a furnace and use the heat pump for cooling. This is because heat pumps become less efficient in extreme cold, so having a furnace as a backup can be beneficial. Another option is to have heat strips as a backup. Though they can be expensive to run, they are a more common alternative due to the ductless units being very effecient in below freezing temperatures.

Cost is another factor in choosing whether or not to include a furnace when switching over to heat pumps. If your existing furnace is relatively new and in good condition, then you may be able to keep it and save money. However, if it’s older and not efficient, then replacing the furnace with a heat pump may be more cost-effective in the long run.

How does a heat pump work with a furnace?

Dual heating systems that include both a furnace and a heat pump offer you the ability to use both electricity and fuel to get the most out of both types of systems. The general concept of energy efficiency includes optimizing how we use and conserve energy. By making the energy system more efficient and using better quality fuel sources, a dual heating system can provide cost savings.

A dual heating system is temperature-controlled through a smart thermostat which makes it possible to switch between the electric heat pump and gas furnace as outside temperatures fluctuate. If you want a dual heating system, there are two installation choices: a split system with separate heat pump and furnace components or a dual-fuel HVAC that includes both in a single system.

Replacing your Gas Furnace with a Heat Pump

Converting from a gas furnace to an electric heat pump isn’t a complicated process. However, if an upgrade to your electrical panel is required this can cost upwards of $5,000. Any existing ductwork can be used from the gas furnace but it may need to be inspected and sealed for any existing leaks. A gas furnace replacement involves a few important basics that will vary from home to home:

  • Pulling needed permits
  • Removing and recycling the existing gas furnace
  • Placing an electrical disconnect for exterior compressor
  • Installing a new circuit for backup electric resistance heat strips
  • Swapping out the thermostat

What are the benefits of switching from a gas furnace to a heat pump?

You may not know this, but a heat pump actually benefits your indoor climate in more ways than one. When it’s hot outside, the heat pump helps regulate the temperature in your home by cooling it off and removing humidity at the same time. When temperatures start to drop, the heat pump runs in reverse and produces air that provides a consistent comfortable temperature. If you’re looking for an eco-friendly way to heat your home, a heat pump is a great option.

What are the costs of replacing a gas furnace with a heat pump?

The cost of replacing a gas furnace with a heat pump can vary. A heat pump in the Northwest can cost anywhere from $7,000 to $13,000 depending on the size of your home and the type of heat pump you need. In addition, if you require ductwork or other extra services the final cost could be higher. However, when you factor in energy savings and the potential for tax credits, heat pumps can become a very cost-effective choice.

Replacing your Electric Furnace with a heat pump

If you have an electric furnace you may be wondering if a heat pump is a more efficient way to heat your home. The answer is yes. Because it is simply moving heat, heat pumps are more energy efficient than electric furnaces, and can result in a lower energy bill. In parts of the country, like Portland, with milder temperatures heat pumps are able to do double duty, both heating and cooling your home, resulting in even larger savings.

When replacing an electric furnace with a heat pump you will need to make sure that your existing ductwork is compatible with a heat pump, and that your home is properly insulated. Heat pumps require more insulation to ensure heat is not lost in the ducts or to the outdoors.

What are the benefits of switching from an electric furnace to a heat pump?

The biggest benefit of switching to a heat pump is energy efficiency which leads to cost savings. Heat pumps pull heat from the air outside and transfer it inside, which is much more efficient than an electric furnace. Heat pumps can reduce energy costs by up to 50%. In addition, heat pumps are quieter than electric furnaces and provide better air quality.

What are the costs of replacing an electric furnace with a heat pump?

A heat pump can be more pricey to install initially but over the lifetime of your heat pump you could save money and will improve the comfort of your home.

Replacing your Air Conditioner with a Heat Pump

As mentioned, heat pumps have the advantage that they can both heat and cool your home throughout the seasons. Since heat pumps simply move heat from one area to another, in summer the process is reversed, moving heat from inside your home to the outside. Heat pumps are extremely energy efficient in the summer, using even less electricity than when heating your home. Like a central AC system, heat pumps use your existing ductwork and are a single unit to install rather than two separate furnace and AC units.

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

Best Case for Switching to a Heat Pump

If you have a furnace over 15 years old and are looking for an energy efficient replacement, a heat pump may be a good option to consider. This is especially true if you live in a mild climate that doesn’t dip into freezing temperatures regularly. They are also great for year-round comfort as they can provide both heating and cooling.

Read next: Why Heat Pumps Are Perfect If You Live In Portland, OR

Heat Pump Installation in Portland

Finding the right HVAC system for your home is crucial to your comfort — and for your wallet. Jacobs Heating & Air Conditioning experts are ready to make sure that you have the best system for your home and lifestyle. We will guide you through the decision so you can avoid extra costs, fewer repairs and enjoy a long-lasting system. No matter what you need we’re always just a phone call away.

About the Author

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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.