Whether you’re building a new home or replacing the equipment in your present home, now’s a good time to be in the market for a new energy-saving heating system, whether you choose a heat pump, furnace or a hybrid system. With advances in technology over the past decade, the energy efficiency of new heating systems is higher than it’s ever been.
Whether a heat pump, furnace or a hybrid system is best for you will depend upon your home’s unique circumstances. The following discussion gives a brief overview of the three most common heating systems, as well as some guidelines for deciding which system is right for you.
Traditional furnaces burn natural gas, propane or fuel oil to provide heat to your home. Heat from the burning fuel is transferred via a heat exchanger to the air inside the ductwork, where it’s then distributed throughout your home. The combustion by-products from burning fuel, like carbon monoxide, are exhausted to the outside of your house.
Furnaces built several decades ago had relatively low energy efficiencies, with a large percentage of the heat generated by the burning fuel lost up the flue before it could contribute to warming the house. Modern standard furnaces have energy efficiencies in the high 80s to low 90s, while today’s condensing furnaces, which recover heat from flue gases before they exit the house, have efficiencies above 98 percent.
Rather than burning fuel to generate heat, heat pumps use electric power to move heat from one place to another. A heat pump works like an air conditioner or a refrigerator, except that the heat that’s wasted in those systems is used for home heating by a heat pump. Heat is extracted from the air or exhausted to the air using a refrigerant that moves through pipes connecting it to coils inside and outside the house. The refrigerant is compressed to release heat and expanded to absorb heat.
When in heating mode, an air-source heat pump removes heat from colder outside air and delivers it into your house. This process reverses for cooling mode, moving heat from inside your house to the outside. A geothermal, or ground-source, heat pump works just like an air-source heat pump except that it extracts heat from the ground in cold weather and takes heat from your house and returns it to the ground in hot weather.
Since a heat pump moves heat using a small amount of electricity rather than burning fuel to generate heat, its energy efficiency is higher.
Hybrid systems incorporate a fuel-burning furnace and a heat pump into a single heating system. Automatic controls detect which equipment will deliver heat to your home more efficiently at any given time and will switch back and forth between them as conditions warrant.
Heat pumps are most efficient in mild weather, but they lose their effectiveness as temperatures approach freezing. In cold weather, the hybrid system controls will automatically switch the furnace on to take over from the heat pump. The furnace will provide heat much more efficiently in colder temperatures than a standalone heat pump.
Which System Is Right for Your Home?
Consider these factors as you choose whether a heat pump, furnace or a hybrid system is the best solution for keeping your home comfortable:
- Replacing a worn-out furnace with a new furnace makes sense if you already have efficient central air conditioning equipment sharing the same ductwork.
- If you’re building an HVAC system from scratch, the upfront cost of a heat pump will be lower than the combined cost of a furnace and air conditioner.
- A heat pump fits into a smaller space than the space required by a combined furnace and air conditioner.
- The relatively mild winters in the Greenville area are ideal for a standalone heat pump, but during our occasional severe cold snaps, you will pay more for your heat than you would with a hybrid system or a standalone furnace, since the heat pump will be relying on auxiliary electric resistance heat.
For help choosing between a heat pump, furnace or a hybrid heating system for your Greenville area home, contact J & J Mechanical.