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What Kind of Heat Should I Use

When installing a new HVAC system, you have a lot of decisions to make. One of the first decisions is what kind of heat to use. Here in the Tennessee Valley, two of the most common options for home heating are electric heat pumps and natural gas furnaces. Each type of heat has its own pros and cons that need to be considered in order to determine which one is right for your home.

First, you need to consider access. While just about every home has electricity, not every home has access to natural gas. If your home doesn’t already have gas running to it, make sure you can get access to it for a reasonable price before you even consider a gas furnace.

Once you’ve determined that a gas furnace is an option, the next thing to consider is climate. Because heat pumps take heat from the outside air and move it inside, they work best in temperatures about freezing, while gas furnaces work just as well in freezing temperatures as in warmer ones. Today’s heat pumps have better supplemental heating than older ones did, but those “heat strips” aren’t nearly as efficient as the heat pump itself. Our mild Tennessee Valley winters tend to favor heat pumps, but if you live in a colder area or want faster heating on freezing nights, a gas furnace might better suit your needs.

And that brings us to the next major consideration: efficiency. Since heat pumps move heat instead of burning fuel to generate it, they are significantly more energy efficient than gas furnaces. However, because natural gas is cheaper than electricity in many parts of the country, that doesn’t always immediately translate into savings on your energy bill. Calculators are available online to help you determine whether the greater efficiency of a heat pump will result in savings compared to a gas furnace based on the specific rates in your region. It’s also worth noting that both heat pumps and gas furnaces come in higher and lower efficiency models.

Another factor in comparing heat pumps with gas furnaces involves the other side of HVAC—air conditioning. A heat pump provides both heating and cooling, so you won’t need to buy a separate air conditioner like you would with a furnace. But because the heat pump runs all year, instead of only during the “heating season,” its lifespan will tend to be shorter than that of a furnace.

Finally, the issue of safety is always worth considering. With a gas furnace, you do have the risk of a carbon monoxide leak. (Since heat pumps don’t burn fuel, they don’t produce carbon monoxide.) Carbon monoxide poisoning can be dangerous and even fatal, so if you choose a gas furnace, it’s very important to make sure you have a working carbon monoxide alarm in your house and that you have the heat exchanger inspected annually.

Ultimately, there’s no simple answer to the question “which is better?” but by considering all the issues, you can make a better decision for your home.