Combining a Heat Pump and Furnace: Is It Possible?

There’s a constant push to get better heating efficiency to both reduce the emissions produced and the energy needed to heat homes. Heat pumps don’t always make sense as the only heating source in regions with frigid temperatures. Likewise, a furnace is often overkill when all you need is moderate heating capacity. Discover why people choose heat pumps and furnaces, and how people are enjoying the benefits of both when they’re combined effectively.

Why People Choose Heat Pumps

Heat pumps have been around for well over 100 years, but really became popular during the oil crisis of the 1970s. These systems use electricity, so they don’t produce any emissions directly. They work like an air conditioner, using refrigerant to absorb heat in one area and expel it in another.

Heat pumps have a reversing valve that changes how refrigerant flows, allowing the outside coil to become the low-pressure side and absorb heat even during cool outdoor temperatures. The high-pressure side is then inside and expels the heat the refrigerant absorbed outside.

The efficiency of heat pumps is well documented, often offering up to 3X better efficiency than furnaces. Some of this efficiency improvement is simply because there is absolutely no heat lost in exhaust like there is with every fuel-burning furnace.

Further, homeowners love the fact that one unit can operate as both their heating and cooling system. This simplifies ownership by only having a single system to maintain. When you make a repair, you know that it’s going to impact both your heating and cooling and you’re not likely to have to put in repairs over both the summer and winter of the same year.

Why People Choose Furnaces

Gas-burning furnaces are the standard heating solution installed in most homes in central Colorado. Furnaces offer sufficient heating capacity, even when frigid temperatures and snow storms blow through the area.

As long as there’s already natural gas utility run to a property, gas furnaces are usually less expensive to install than heat pumps. The process is also usually simpler because you don’t have to run refrigerant lines and install a unit outside the home.

Some people also prefer how furnaces operate compared to heat pumps. Generally, furnaces produce a substantially higher temperature rise, so the air coming from the supply vents feels warmer. This gives the home a comfy and cozy feeling during heat cycles. There’s also the case that furnaces tend to have a longer service life than heat pumps when they’re properly maintained.

What’s The Problem With Heat Pumps?

In order to absorb heat from the air outside, the heat pump’s outside coil must get colder than the air temperature. The colder the air outside gets, the less heat the refrigerant will absorb. In fact, although a heat pump may continue absorbing some heat well into frigid temperatures, the efficiency starts dramatically declining once temperatures dip below freezing.

While daytime temperatures are usually fairly moderate around Littleton, they do become problematic during the overnight period. It’s during this time that you want your heat working most reliably so that you and your family can rest comfortably.

Many heat pumps come with an auxiliary heating option already installed. This is commonly an electric resistance heating coil. The problem with these is that while they are efficient in not losing heat, they expend a lot of energy. In fact, electric resistance heating is often considered by HVAC professionals as the most expensive heating option commonly available. While a heat pump will consume substantially less energy during the day, the electric auxiliary heater will drive up your heating costs during the frigid overnight temps.

Meet the Dual-Fuel System

It is possible to combine a heat pump with a furnace, but only when the system is designed to work that way. A dual-fuel system uses a gas furnace as the auxiliary heating option rather than relying on the electric resistance option. This allows you to get just the heating capacity you need while maintaining the best energy efficiency. Here is what you need to know about a dual-fuel system.

Meeting the Heating Demand

When it comes to heating a home, many people think the key to determining what kind of system to install is based on the air temperature. However, every home is different, and the way it loses heat is unique to that building at that time. Heating your home is more about making up for heating loss than it is about combatting the air temperature outside.

Yes, air temperature is one factor that will affect when your home needs auxiliary heating. However, it also depends on your home’s insulation, the condition of your roof and the number and type of windows you have along with their coverings. Essentially, the more heat your home loses to the air outside, the more heating capacity you’ll need to stay comfortable.

How the Switch Happens

A dual-fuel system is controlled by a thermostat and the system’s control board. It uses two factors to determine when to switch to the furnace. First, it monitors the temperature inside and switches if it detects the heat pump isn’t keeping the home at the desired temperature. The second is the air temperature outside, switching to the furnace when the air temperature drops low enough to cause reduced heating efficiency.

Better Heating Comfort

Part of why people opt for a dual-fuel system is because it provides better heating comfort throughout the winter. You don’t have to worry about making a switch manually or if particularly cold weather will leave your home too cold. Rather, the system automatically manages which heating system it needs to provide the best comfort throughout the winter.

Lower Heating Costs

Heating and cooling accounts for the highest portion of residential energy costs, so most property owners want to find ways to save in this area. While the heating efficiency may not be as high with a gas furnace, it’ll cost less to heat your home during those cold snaps. Conversely, you won’t have the lost heat during moderate temperatures throughout the day. The result of this pairing is that you’ll always use the least-cost system to heat your home.

Fewer Gas Emissions

Aside from reduced costs, a dual-fuel system will also reduce the gas emissions your home produces. The furnace will only run during those times that your home needs the extra heating capacity it offers. This means you’re likely cutting at least 50% of the emissions you would otherwise produce over the course of the winter.

Property owners around Littleton don’t have to look any further than Summit Heating, A/C, Plumbing & Electrical for trusted services they need for their homes. Our expert team provides AC and heating installation, maintenance and repair along with a wide range of plumbing and electrical services and indoor air quality solutions. Call to schedule a consultation with one of our NATE-certified technicians to explore whether a dual-fuel system is right for your home.

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