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Are Heat Pumps Really Cheaper than a Gas Furnace to Heat With?

You’ve heard that electric heat is the most expensive kind.  You’ve heard that new gas furnaces are as much as 98% efficient.  And yet you’ve heard that heat pumps can lower your energy bills.  Are heat pumps really cheaper than a gas furnace to heat with?

The answer is yes! Heat pumps can be a cheaper source of heat than gas furnaces.  We say “can be” because both heat pumps and gas furnaces come in models with varying levels of efficiency.  How efficient each one is will affect the side by side comparison.  However, the average heat pump will lower your utility bills when compared to the average gas furnace.  This guide explains why.

Gas Furnace Efficiency

Today’s gas furnaces can be very efficient.  The least efficient models are 80% efficient which means that 80% of the heat created is used in your home while 20% is lost out the flue.  That’s a lot of waste, when you think about it.  These furnaces are fairly inexpensive and so may be cost-effective in warm climates where the furnace isn’t used much and low equipment costs are more important than high efficiency. In cool climates, an 80% efficient furnace will lead to very high utility bills.

High-efficiency gas furnaces are 95% to 98% efficient, a vast improvement over 80%. These furnaces are a better choice for cooler climates and for homeowners who want to reduce their use of non-renewable fuel sources.

Heat Pump Efficiency

When people think of inefficient, costly electric heat they are thinking of space heaters and possibly electric furnaces.  These types of equipment do create expensive heat.  They are 100% efficient – they turn 100% of the electricity into heat – but electricity is quite expensive to make at the power plant.

However, heat pumps DO NOT use electricity to heat – not directly anyway. The do not convert electricity to heat like a space heater. They are powered by electricity, but it is the refrigerant that provides the heat.  All the electricity does is supply power to move the refrigerant through the system. Because of this, they can be more than 100% efficient – much more, in fact.

How Heat Pumps Work

Heat pumps get their name because they pump heat from one location to another.  When heating, they collect heat outside and carry it inside to heat your home.  Refrigerant is the key.  It has the ability to quickly absorb a large amount of heat – even when outside temperatures are as low as 35-40 degrees.

The refrigerant expands in the outside coil of the heat pump and absorbs heat.  The compressor, powered by electricity, pumps the hot refrigerant gas into your home.  It enters the indoor coil in the furnace or air handler where it condenses back into a liquid, shedding the heat in the process.  The indoor coil gets very hot as a result, and the blower fan pulls cool air from your home over it, heating the air and distributing it to the various rooms.

How Efficient Are Heat Pumps?

Today’s heat pumps must be at least 13 SEER for cooling and 7.7 HSPF for heating.  A heat pump with that efficiency level will create about 300% of the heat that electricity alone could create.  The most efficient heat pumps are over 20 SEER and 12.0 HSPF, representing a 500% efficiency rate for the amount of electricity they use.

Now do you see why a heat pump can be cheaper than a gas furnace to heat with?  While electricity is still more expensive than gas, when you factor in the multiplying effect that refrigerant has, it produces outstanding cost advantages for heat pumps.

Cost Savings with a Heat Pump

Heat pumps and gas furnaces both come in models with different efficiency levels.  On average, however, a heat pump will save you 20% to 40% on your utility bills when compared with a gas furnace.  Heat pumps are becoming more popular with each passing year and the energy cost savings they offer is one of the primary reasons for this.

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