Between energy efficiency, rebates, and installation costs, there’s a lot to consider when choosing a furnace or heat pump to warm your home. Learn more about the strengths of each system here so you can make an informed decision about your home heating needs—courtesy of Cencal Mechanical’s expert team.
Furnaces provide powerful heat for your home during the coldest months of the year, while heat pumps offer versatile heating and cooling from a single piece of equipment. But what’s the best way to heat your California home—a furnace or a heat pump? You’re in the right place to find out.
As your friendly neighborhood HVAC experts here at Cencal Mechanical Heating & Air, we’ve performed installations for new heat pumps and furnaces throughout the Central Valley. Let us help you make an informed decision about your new home comfort equipment by comparing the pros and cons of each system below.
What’s the Difference Between a Heat Pump and a Furnace?
Think of a furnace as a fireplace that’s been upgraded for the 21st century, and a heat pump as a magic box that can make both hot air and cold. Furnaces burn fuel to create heat, typically using natural gas, propane, or oil. Heat pumps, on the other hand, use electricity to move heat from one place to another—from the outside to the inside in the winter, and vice versa in the summer. That’s right; heat pumps can also act as air conditioners in those hot California summers!
But while heat pumps offer exciting capabilities to homeowners, that doesn’t mean furnaces are obsolete. Figuring out what type of heating equipment is best for you comes down to your comfort preferences, fuel availability, your budget, and more.
Pros & Cons of Each System At a Glance
Like everything in life, both furnaces and heat pumps have their benefits and drawbacks. Here’s a quick overview:
- Can deliver powerful heat—even when it’s frigid outside
- Cost-effective if you have easy access to a natural gas supply
- New high-efficiency models can approach the energy efficiency heat pumps offer
- Generally less energy-efficient than heat pumps (especially older models)
- Burning fuel produces carbon emissions
- Not eligible for heat-pump-specific rebates
- More efficient than the majority of central furnaces (especially older ones)
- Use electricity instead of burning fuel (eliminating carbon emissions)
- New heat pump installations may make you eligible for rebates in California
- Slower to provide heat than central furnaces
- Using electricity to produce heat typically costs more than natural gas
- Not as energy efficient in particularly cold climates
Are Furnaces or Heat Pumps More Energy Efficient?
In terms of overall energy efficiency, heat pumps take the trophy over central furnaces. They move heat instead of generating it, which uses less energy. In the right conditions, a high-quality heat pump can transfer over three times as much energy as it uses.
Furnaces, however, are catching up—many new models can be up to 95% efficient. It’s also important to note that some heat pumps have supplementary systems like electric heating elements that they use to produce heat during particularly cold periods, where there is not enough heat available outdoors to transfer into your home. This generally isn’t a problem in the Central Valley—but during freak cold snaps, relying on these supplementary systems can make a heat pump less efficient.
Comparing the Costs of Furnaces & Heat Pumps
When it comes to upfront costs, furnaces tend to be less expensive. A new heat pump from a quality brand usually costs about two-thirds more to install than a comparable central furnace, including parts and labor.
However, the exact costs of installing a new furnace or heat pump will depend on many factors, including:
- The condition and complexity of your home’s existing ductwork
- The quality of your insulation
- The heating capacity required by your home
- The accessibility of the installation location
When you contact us, we’ll be able to provide you with a recommendation based on your needs and give you an accurate quote for the heating equipment that will serve you best.
Long-Term Operating Costs
The lower operating costs of a heat pump can help offset their initial costs over time, especially with the rising cost of fossil fuels. For example, switching from a gas furnace to a heat pump has the potential to decrease your monthly heating costs by over 30% under ideal circumstances—but it’s critical to note that this number can fluctuate significantly depending on current energy prices and climate conditions.
Generally, however, California’s mild climate allows heat pumps to function effectively in the winter and provide consistent savings—especially over older central furnaces. Yes, if you were living in the ice-cold corners of Alaska, a heat pump might struggle to keep up with the extreme cold. But here in the Golden State, where winters are mild, a heat pump can provide comfortable and efficient heating.
When to Buy a Heat Pump or Central Furnace for Your California Home
Given the above, there are distinct circumstances when it makes more sense to invest in either a heat pump or a central furnace. Here are some points to help you make your decision:
Consider a Heat Pump If…
- You want to reduce your carbon footprint: Remember, heat pumps don’t burn fossil fuels like central furnaces do.
- You’re okay spending more up front for long-term savings: If you’d rather pay more now and enjoy lower monthly utility bills, a heat pump could be the answer.
- You’re confident that you won’t face extreme cold anytime soon: This should be true for pretty much everyone in California’s Central Valley—but if you’re really worried about cold snaps, you might be more comfortable with a central furnace system.
Consider a Central Furnace If…
- You have access to natural gas: If your home is already connected to a natural gas line, you’ve got access to a fairly efficient fuel source, and the money you’d save each month with a heat pump might not justify the switch over your equipment’s projected lifespan.
- You pay a high rate for electricity: The downside to not using fossil fuels is that heat pumps can be expensive to run in homes that pay high electricity rates. Since California’s electricity prices are higher than the US average, it’s worth checking with us to make sure a heat pump will be cost-effective for you before buying one.
- You’re worried about record-breaking winter temperatures: Weather can be unpredictable, so if you want a heating system that can deliver reliable comfort in unexpectedly cold conditions, a central furnace may give you more peace of mind.
Other Considerations When Buying New Heating Equipment
How Old Is Your Current Heating System?
Most furnaces become significantly less efficient after 10 years and start to experience consistent performance issues around age 15 or so. If your system is on its last legs or doesn’t heat your home effectively, it might be time to say adios and invest in a new system.
What Kind of Maintenance Will You Do?
Both heat pumps and furnaces require regular maintenance to operate at their best. Furnaces need annual heating tune-ups, while heat pumps should be checked twice a year due to their dual heating and cooling functions (once in the spring and once in the fall).
Can You Qualify For a Rebate?
Heat pump buyers who purchase through Cencal Mechanical can save up to $3,000 on a new heat pump, with up to $750 in utilities, $2000 in tax credit, and $250 instate rebate. We also include 3 years of free maintenance when you get a new heat pump installed.
Choosing the Home Comfort Solution that Works for You
We hope this guide helps clear up the heat pump vs. furnace debate. But remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. If you’re still unsure, Contact Cencal Mechanical Heating & Air and we’ll help you make the best choice for your home. Happy heating, folks!