You’ve likely heard of both a heat pump and a furnace, but perhaps aren’t entirely sure what the difference between these heating sources are. But knowing the differences between heat pumps and furnaces can help you make the right decision when it comes to heating your home. There are, in fact, several differences between pumps and furnaces, but perhaps the most profound of these differences comes down to what they do (or don’t do).

Furnaces use intermediary fluid to provide heat. This fluid is either air, steam, or hot water. Heat pumps, however, pump heat from outside air. Pumps require a refrigeration cycle (which is the same cycle used for your refrigerator, only in reverse). An outdoor compressor and aluminum fins draw heat from the air and compresses it. The heat is then evaporated into a gas, sent into the house, condensed back into a liquid, and distributed throughout your home.

Heat pumps can also be “ground source” models, meaning they draw heat directly from the ground. These models are generally more expensive.


Furnaces are powered by oil, natural gas, or electricity. Oil and natural gas pose the risk of fires and CO poisoning. Heat pumps run on electricity, which doesn’t pose the same risk of fire or CO poisoning. However, heat pumps can suffer from improperly installed compressors, leaky ductwork and incorrect refrigerant levels. Compressors also can be noisy, so the location of your heat pump is important.


Furnaces have one purpose: to provide you heat. But heat pumps are a bit more expansive than that. They can serve as both heater and air conditioner. That’s because heat pumps use refrigerants. Many homeowners see this feature as a significant benefit, because it allows them to invest in just one unit to provide them comfort year-round.


Generally, furnaces are a less expensive investment to purchase. However, heat pumps are less expensive to operate over the long run. Learning this, many homeowners decide to turn toward furnaces, because they’re fearful of incurring a large charge upon installation. That’s why it’s so important to work with a heating and cooling specialist who can offer you financing options. That way you can make a more informed decision about whether to choose a heat pump or furnace.


Some parts of  the country happen to enjoy low electricity costs. Heat pumps can provide a cheaper alternative to heating – than fuel-based furnaces – in these instances. But whenever the temperature drops below 40º F, compressing heat becomes an issue. In those instances, electric or gas-fired resistance coils kick in (these are like mini-furnaces). But these systems are simply not as effective as a traditional furnace. Thus, the colder climate you live in, the better off you are with a furnace.

That being said, it’s a great relief to know that a heat pump can be your all-in-one system. There are many things to pore over before making your decision. A heating and cooling specialist can help. Contact Comfort First to see how we can help you come up with the best heating solution to meet your needs.