If you are contemplating replacing your natural gas or electric furnace in the GTA, the heat pump vs furnace debate has surely entered the conversation. These two types of home heating systems are very different. Each supplemental heating system has its own benefits and considerations, making the choice between them an important decision for homeowners.
A heat pump system does not generate heat; it gathers heat energy from outside air and distributes warmth inside. Heat pump technology is both a heating and cooling system, meaning it is a dual fuel system that works year round.
On the other hand, a furnace is a heat source using a combustion process to produce heat. If you’d like cooling during the summer months, you’ll have to install air conditioners to supplement your climate control.
While both a heat pump and a furnace generate heat, both heating solutions have different heating energy outputs. In especially cold climates like Canadian winters, a heat pump is generally not enough to warm your home properly. However, a furnace will not be able to provide cold temperatures in your home during sweltering summers.
How Do Heat Pumps Work?
A heat pump is a unique, dual-purpose system that serves as both an air conditioner in the summer and a heater in the wintertime. An air source heat pump system uses existing air to operate, whereas a ground source heat pump (or a geothermal heat pump) collects and redistributes heat from the earth.
Air Source Heat Pumps
All air source heat pumps work using:
- An outdoor unit
- An indoor unit
- A refrigerant line that connects the two units
- A reverse valve that allows the system to change modes (from cool to heat)
During Toronto’s hottest months, an air-sourced heat pump functions in air conditioner mode. As soon as temperatures drop, a heat pump reverses its operation and pulls heat energy from the outdoor air. (Yes, even in Ontario’s very cold climate!) The secret is the pressurized refrigerant.
Utilizing a cycle of evaporation and condensation (happening inside coils housed within both units), a Mitsubishi heat pump works to absorb and efficiently transfer heat from one location to another.
How Do Furnaces Work?
Before installing a furnace in Scarborough, you want to know how it works. As mentioned, a furnace generates its own heat. How? In most cases, it uses fuel, such as natural gas or oil, to create hot air.
A gas furnace operates utilizing:
- A burner
- Heat exchangers
- A blower fan
- A flue (to vent hot gas exhaust)
When the temperature on a thermostat is increased, a gas furnace receives the signal and sends fuel to the burners inside a combustion chamber. A pilot light ignites the burners that, in turn, heat up the heat exchanger. The blower fan moves air around the heat exchanger and sends hot air throughout your home. (Note: Electric furnaces have an electrical ignition that begins a similar heating process.)
Heat pump vs Furnace: Which System Works Better?
The heat produced by a gas furnace is typically hotter and drier. And, regardless of the outdoor temperature, a gas furnace continues to produce more and more heat. In contrast, heat pump systems circulate naturally humid warm air that might not feel as hot. And, they do have some limitations; if temps dip below minus 28-30 degrees Celsius, it may feel like your heat pump isn’t blowing hot air, and you may temporarily need a backup heating source. Then again, heat pumps are extremely versatile; they also cool your home in the summertime. And, if you have an older home without ductwork, a ductless mini-split heat pump system is a perfect solution.
In terms of air quality, the winner in a heat pump vs furnace debate is the former. With proper furnace maintenance and frequent air filter changes, you can preserve your home’s indoor air quality. Heat pumps, however, don’t produce carbon monoxide (CO), so you never have to worry about a dangerous CO leak. Also, the hot air from furnaces leads to dry skin. Heat pumps use moisture to heat the air, so the humidity level is naturally higher.
With climate change and high energy costs top-of-mind these days, homeowners want to know what heating system is the most efficient. An electric heat pump uses less energy and heats surprisingly efficiently, more so than a furnace. A Napoleon heat pump, for example, can transfer up to 300% more energy than it consumes under optimal conditions.
High-efficiency natural gas furnaces are only approximately 95% energy efficient. This efficiency means many air-source heat pumps have earned the ENERGY STAR distinction. (Note: Leaks or dust and debris in air ducts will reduce the efficiency of any HVAC system. Be sure to have your duct system cleaned regularly.)
It might cost more for heat pump installation as compared to replacing a furnace, but it really depends on many factors. Access to natural gas, the equipment and wiring currently in your home, the desired configuration of the new heat pump or furnace system, the condition of existing ductwork, and more influence the installation price. Of course, a heat pump generally costs less to operate than furnaces do, so any higher upfront cooling and heating costs are quickly recouped.
A bonus – you can get your furnace rented if that works better for your budget.
How do heat pumps compare to a furnace lifespan? Because they are used year-round, a heat pump has a shorter life expectancy. In Toronto, a heat pump will last 10-15 years. You can count on a well-maintained gas furnace to last upwards of 15 or, possibly, even 20 years. Furnaces have fewer motorized parts, and use is limited to only the colder months each year.
One of the primary considerations when choosing between a heat pump and a furnace is the space available in your home. Heat pumps tend to be more compact and require less space compared to traditional furnaces. This can be a significant advantage, especially for homes with limited space for HVAC equipment.
While furnaces are large, you also have to consider that you’ll need an entire air conditioning unit as well to get the same climate control that a single heat pump unit can provide.
Both heat pumps and furnaces require regular maintenance to ensure optimal performance and longevity. Heat pumps involve outdoor and indoor units, and it’s important to keep the outdoor unit clear of debris and ensure proper airflow.
Furnaces, on the other hand, require filter changes, periodic inspections, and cleaning to prevent issues. Regular professional maintenance is recommended for both systems to address any potential problems before they escalate.
Selecting a reputable and trustworthy brand for your HVAC system is crucial. Here are some reliable brands to consider for your heat pump vs furnace decision.
We offer Trane, Goodman, Mitsubishi, Napoleon, Bryant, Daikin, and RunTru. The best heat pumps (within your budget) prioritize energy efficiency, comfort, longevity, and reduced noise levels.
For a comprehensive list of Dr HVAC’s best heat pump brands, check out our list for 2023.
When it comes to furnaces, several well-established brands stand out for their performance and durability. Consider exploring options from trusted brands such as Trane, Bryant, Goodman, and Napoleon. These brands have a track record of producing furnaces that provide efficient heating and consistent comfort during colder months.
Save Money With Canadian Rebates
Now is the perfect time to invest in an energy-efficient home heating system because the government of Canada is offering significant incentives to Toronto area homeowners who lower greenhouse gas emissions. Under the Canada Greener Homes Grant and Canada Greener Homes Loan, Ontario residents can receive rebates for:
- Smart Thermostats: $50 maximum rebate
- Efficient Heating (such as heat pumps): $5,000 maximum rebate
- Required home evaluations: $600 maximum rebate
(To be eligible for this program, pre- and post-retrofit evaluations must be conducted.)
To qualify, you need to abide by all the government program guidelines. Follow our 2023 Canada Greener Homes Grant HVAC Installation Guide for step-by-step instructions.
Dr HVAC Provides Expert Heat Pump and Furnace Installation in the Toronto Area
Contact Dr HVAC today for professional installation of a reliable heating system that meets your family’s needs, whether you go with heat pumps, gas furnaces, or another type of heating system. Our team is committed to providing you with the best possible service and answer all your furnace installation and heat pump questions.