There are pros and cons to both, and the final decision depends upon the local utility cost comparisons for electricity vs. natural gas or other fossil fuels.
Here in Cleveland, where winter temperatures are more extreme (and at a time when natural gas prices are low), it rarely makes sense to install a heat pump. Rather, homeowners can choose to adapt their gas furnace to a heat pump, called a hybrid heat system, to maximize energy savings during both extreme and temperate weather days.
Heat Pump Basics
A heat pump does double-duty, serving as both a heating and cooling unit. It is essentially a heat transfer machine. To heat your home, it extracts heat from outside air, concentrates that energy—thereby raising the temperature—and then transfers this energy to the inside of the structure. The process is reversed during the warm months, in which the heat pump essentially replaces the air conditioner. In this case, the heat is removed from the inside and transferred outside to accomplish the desired reduction in temperature we call cooling. Their compressors can be noisy, so they need to be installed properly and maintained by licensed HVAC technicians.
When temperatures dip below 39° F, it becomes impossible for heat pumps to extract heat from exterior air, so the hybridized mini-furnace system kicks in using electric or gas-fired heating coils.
Geothermal Heat Pumps Increase Energy Efficiency
Eco-conscious homeowners also have the option to install geothermal heat pumps, which place the compressor deep in the ground where ambient earth temperatures are consistent. While the initial investment is steep, it pays for itself over time, providing reduced utility bills year-round. As of 2015, the government is still offering tax credits for qualifying geothermal heat pumps, which can further offset the investment.
To optimize the efficiency of a new heating and/or cooling system, contact P.K. Wadsworth Heating & Cooling. We'll determine whether a furnace or hybrid heat system makes the most sense for your home.