Furnaces vs. Heat Pumps: What’s the Difference?

A gas furnace is often thought to be the most efficient appliance for indoor heating. But is it really?

Heat pumps are becoming a more popular option for home heating and cooling, especially for people who place energy efficiency at the top of their priority list. Many homeowners are still unfamiliar with heat pumps and may be unsure about how they compare to a gas or electric furnace.

In this post, we’ll explore the differences!

Heat Generation

A furnace generates heat in two ways. Gas furnaces burn fuel, such as propane or gas, while electric furnaces create hot air by blowing air through a heating element.

A heat pump draws in heat from the outdoor air and transfers it to the inside. The pump doesn’t generate heat; it absorbs heat and releases it in your home.


Furnaces require a significant amount of square footage inside of a home. One reason for this is that building codes often require a clearance of 30 inches on all sides of the unit for fire safety.

A heat pump is configured similarly to an air conditioner. Part of the system — the compressor — is located outdoors. The indoor component is smaller than a furnace, and since it doesn’t use combustible fuel, no additional safety clearance is required.

Cost of Operation

Since the heat pump does not require fuel to generate heat and needs only a small amount of electricity to operate, it uses much less energy than a traditional furnace. Exact costs depend on your climate and usage, but on average, a heat pump costs about one-third the price to operate when compared to a propane furnace.

Doing Double Duty

A furnace has one job—to heat! But a heat pump warms your home during the winter months and cools it during summer. By reversing the flow and pressure of refrigerant running through the coils, a heat pump also does the job of an air conditioner. The ability to heat and cool makes heat pumps a cost-effective option.

Which Is Best?

There are many advantages to using a heat pump over a furnace, but they’re not for everyone. While heat pumps do still work in cold weather, they may not provide enough heat for those who live in regions affected by severe winter weather. And if your region charges more for electricity than it does for propane or gas, a heat pump may not be cost-effective for you.

If you need a new heating system or have questions about heat pump installation, give Cascade Mechanical a call. We can help you assess which heating solution meets the needs of your home and usage habits.