Furnace vs Heat Pump Systems. What are the advantages of a heat pump when compared with a furnace? It is clear that a heat pump emits less carbon dioxide per unit of heat produced, but the cost for the initial installation is higher. Is the furnace which uses the fossil which is fuel natural gas really so bad? Does the heat pump really provide cleaner heating? And, why do you say “reducing carbon emissions can't wait, or it'll be too late.”
What Goes on in a Heat Pump?
It is not always clear to people who are not familiar with the science and history of heat pumps that they were developed from day 1 to reduce the emission of carbon dioxide. It is principally carbon emissions that are proven to be heating up our planet. This will have dire consequences for mankind if it is allowed to continue. A heat pump is an appliance that transfers the heat from one area from one source to another. In other words, it transfers heat from a cooler part of space to a warmer part of space.
Even a Heat Pump is Not Perfect for Our Planet
A heat pump does not currently produce zero carbon emissions because it needs electricity to run the pump. However, as globally all nations reduce their use of fossil fuels in old power stations and electricity generation moves on to renewable sources heat pumps will become “cleaner”. That's because the power used by heat pumps, running on electricity from the grid, the carbon emissions they reduce will also go down as decarbonization progresses. That's a point often missed in the Furnace Vs Heat Pump debate.
Heat Pump Was Though to be an “Impossible Invention” When First Sold
The invention of the heat pump was amazing to everyone when the concept was first explained in the 1960s because people said that you cannot take something cold, and pull warmth out of it. “How would you use that heat to make another cold thing warm-up?”; they asked. But it was shown to be perfectly possible to do in a heat pump. During heat pumping that “warmed up thing” becomes warmer than the original cold thing, and can be used to heat homes, offices etc! When people started to use the heat pump to heat up their homes it was not believed that this could be possible. They said entropy is an inviolable principle of nature! Everything in the universe gets cooler and heat dissipates everywhere all the time. The entire universe has been running down since it was created and one day everything will turn cold. As that continues, all reactions, eons into the future will slow down to a stop. But, they forgot that science is clever and can (in this small way) for a while (by expending energy in a particular way) reverse an inviolable Law of Nature, namely “entropy”.
However, we all have refrigerators and inside their systems, they have been quietly reversing “entropy” by pumping heat out of the food in the fridge. The pumped heat warms up the radiator wires on the back of every fridge. Yes, a fridge is a form of heat pump, but nobody quite thought of it that way.
In fact, if the original inventors had not thought outside the box about fridges, we wouldn't even be having a Furnace Vs Heat Pump debate, because heat pumping would never have been discovered.
Furnaces Which Burn Natural Gas are Damaging Our World – The Truth
The great majority of furnaces in the US and Europe burn natural gas. The name “natural gas” is to a degree deceptive because most people assume that what is natural is also “green” and in harmony with nature. However, natural gas is just as much a fossil fuel as coal and oil, which once burnt releases fresh new carbon into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide from burning natural gas is almost as damaging as that from coal, or oil, and that's highly relevant to the Furnace Vs Heat Pump debate.
Thankfully though, natural gas is both:
- warms the globe less than coal and oil from the point of view of the fact that releasing each calorie of heat causes less carbon dioxide when using natural gas, and hence for the same heat output, less carbon is emitted
- the result of burning it releases far fewer impurities than are emitted from within the coal or oil, when those are burnt. This means that there is far less air pollution from burning natural gas then when using coal or oil.
Furnaces are OK – Except “Not Renewable” Powered By Natural Gas and Oil
Furnaces are damaging simply because the energy source is not renewable. If a renewable replacement was available for natural gas the furnace in your home could be replaced by another when it is worn out, and there would be no need for a heat pump instead. If that was true I doubt we would even be having this Furnace Vs Heat Pump debate. People have been talking for the last 20 years or so of hydrogen as the new fuel and there are plans afoot in Europe to construct a completely new gas grid distribution for hydrogen. In other countries, including the UK the idea is to add hydrogen in with natural gas, and “renewable natural gas” (natural gas made through the use of anaerobic digestion of organic waste – for example from sewage sludge).
Converting Gas Grids to Hydrogen/ Renewables Can't Happen Any Day Soon
Unfortunately, in all nations, the conversion of gas grid distribution systems to renewable gases and especially hydrogen will take at least 20 years to progress. At the moment solar and wind turbines are used to make renewable electricity. Once enough of those have been built to replace all fossil fuel used to generate electricity for day to day grid supply, a huge quantity of yet more renewable energy will be needed for heating and transport use. In fact, three or more times more solar and wind sources will need to be built to decarbonize heating, transport, and industry and used to electrolyze water and make hydrogen gas to replace natural gas for heating our living spaces and powering all transport.
While the more permanent renewable solution of hydrogen gas grid distribution is developed, heat pumps plus much-improved heat insulation will tide us over. It is often said that hydrogen is “the future for energy”, and so it most probably is, but it isn't here yet! Hydrogen is a much better option than batteries as a 24/7 always available power source. Batteries need rare elements in their construction and present major problems for the environment when disposed of.
Furnace vs Heat Pump – How Does a Heat Pump Work?
There are 3 main components to a heat pump:
- a low-grade heat source, such as a fan to collect the ambient air around a building, or a pump and a loop of pipe buried in the ground in the garden. Swimming pools in the home have also been used.
- a compressor and condenser system to do the heat pumping
- a fan or a water pump to convey the pumped heat into the property. If so designed, this system can also cool the property in summer.
It is a closed-loop system. The most common type is an air heat pump. The air heat pump uses a fan to collect low-grade heat from the ambient air outside the property. A compressor is used in a condenser pump system similar to the workings of a fridge in reverse and releases the heat during the process which emanates as very warm (not hot) water. Just don't get the idea anything particularly high-tech is going on in a heat pump! It is exactly the same principle as a refrigerator. It just works in reverse. The main component is a compressor to compress the gas in the condensing system that will be the energy source to power the system. The heat exchanger is normally a system of warm water pipes laid beneath the floors of the property. An alternative is to provide heat as hot air which flows out via fans into the rooms to be heated. For more information on heat pumps visit: https://sites.google.com/site/groundsourceheatpumpuk/
Air-Source and Ground-Source Heat Pumps
The other basic heat pump in the market is often called a fluid heat exchanger usually fed by water from a ground heat source (Ground Source heat pump). It acts in exactly the same way as an air heat pump. The fluid heat pump will extract the heat from an intermediate fluid, typically water which has passed for example, through buried pipes in the ground, outside the property. This fluid will become cooled as it flows through the heat exchanger, the warmth will then be emitted to heat the property. The cooled water will flow back through the loop into the ground and its temperature will be raised again in a repeating cycle. It is the same principle as for the air heat pump except rather than from the air around the building, the fluid heat pump extracts warmth from the ground. When the heat exchange air is released from a heat pump of both types, it will become warm air.
The Unique Advantage of Heat Pumps Which Double as Air-Conditioners in Summer
Now you might ask, what is cooling and heating? It is when there is a need for both heating in winter, and air conditioning (air cooling) in summer. Heat pumps can do both, although for summer cooling they may need some additional controls. Furnace technology simply can not provide any air-conditioning.
It is important to keep in mind that while heat pump appliances are perfectly easily run in reverse to bring immediate cool relief, there are no guarantees that it will work that way after a long winter if the equipment is not maintained regularly. It is important to make sure that all appliances are kept up to date and maintained. It will give you peace of mind.
Heat Pump Maintenance Versus Furnace Maintenance
Whether you have a heat pump system or a furnace is also important to remember not to panic when you feel that something isn't right. Heat pumps tend to be more complex than a traditional furnace. There is more to go wrong in a heat pump than for a furnace central heating system. For example, if the fluid of a heat pump is not flowing through properly or the fan is not functioning then your heat pump will not function.
Furnace vs Heat Pump – Heat Pump Air Filter Problems
Another cause could be the air filter. The air filter is what removes the dust and other particles that are floating around in the air outside or the air of the room, depending on your system type. With the air filter clogged, you will not be receiving the cooling effect as well as the heat removal. Make sure that you always change your air filter at least once every few months. If you don't it is possible that you will be losing the heat as well as the comfort of your home. There are several other causes of heat pump system failure, but the most common ones can cause your house to feel like a furnace during the summer season.
Furnaces Cannot Do Cooling But Heat Pumps Can…
However, as we have said earlier no furnace will ever cool a home or office, so if you have a furnace you will have to buy and maintain a separate air-conditioning system for the summer. That increases the complexity of your home systems and once again raises the chances of things going wrong and costing you money on maintenance and repair.
You may also find it relevant to know, that it is just as possible for you to experience a malfunction when it's a problem in the furnace. You might feel that the furnace is not bringing you heat, but it is possible that the furnace is not delivering the hot water or air that it is supposed to deliver. This is the main cause for complaint from furnace users, it may also be possible that the furnace water pump is circulating cold water to the radiators when you need hot water for the room heating.
Heat Pumps vs Furnaces and Technical Complexity
On balance, heat pump systems are more complicated than a fossil fuel burning natural gas furnace central heating system. But, as natural gas furnaces have been made to condense for greater efficiency, and gas safety controls applied, furnaces have become more complex and more prone to failures.
When you also take into account that with global warming raising summer temperature more and more people require air conditioning, there is very little benefit in lower maintenance bills from having a furnace. This is because the maintenance costs, including maintenance of a separate air-conditioner, are likely to be very similar.
Heat Pump Materials Used in Manufacture Versus Furnace Construction Material Use
Both heat pump and furnace product can equally be made with eco-friendly, reusable and recycled materials, which can help save the earth and its environment. You can also take note that air conditioner prices vary according to the features they have. However, it is always wise, to pay attention not only to the price you will require, which means that a unit with an additional feature is probably more costly than a unit without the additional feature, both ecologically and in terms of cash expenditure.
Furnace vs Heat Pump – Which is Best for Temperature Control?
There are many reasons for buying an air conditioner, but the primary and major reason is always temperature control. This is the reason why a unit with an additional temperature control summer cooling feature is always more costly than air conditioning without a temperature control feature. If you want to have an air conditioner that controls the temperature with 100% accuracy, you will need to pay around $1,000.00 or more for a unit. There are some air conditioners that can control the temperature with 65% to 75% accuracy. This is less expensive but more complicated to install. A thermostat is a device that is placed in the room to control the temperature.
Why Should I Buy a Heat Pump if I am Not a Green Eco Freak?
There are many reasons for people to buy an air conditioner beyond the intention to be “green”. The main reasons are to have a cool and comfortable room during the summer and winter seasons and to have the protection of the environment. If you want a unit that can control the temperature with 100% accuracy and you want to control the temperature of your room with high accuracy, then you'll need to pay $800.00 to $1,200.00. The best temperature control units are less complicated to install and are slightly less expensive than the less accurate air conditioners, but more expensive than the units that can control the temperature with 65% to 75% accuracy. These units are less costly to purchase but more expensive to operate and are the most expensive overall.
Comparing Furnace vs Heat Pump Systems – The Verdict
For convenience and minimizing the initial installation cost, there is no doubt that a furnace heating system, even with a separate air-conditioner system in the main rooms, wins. But despite that fact society needs to stop using furnaces and go for heat pumping systems in a big way! That's due to the rate at which the planet is warming which is exceeding the rate predicted by scientists even a few years ago. The Furnace Vs Heat Pump debate is becoming more urgent every month. The increased risk from a much more variable and volatile climate is there for us all to see, from melting glaciers to forest fires, drought and floods.
Choosing a Heat Pump System in preference to a new Furnace is not all bad news either. Once installed the cost of running it may be as low as just one-third of your past monthly energy bill, even allowing for the cost of the electricity to run the heat pump system. Over a period of 8 to 12 years, the cost of the heat pump will be recouped in lower monthly power bills.
Now, most will say, “that's too long”.
But if you have children they will tell you 8 to 12 years is nothing to them, because they hope to be around in 50 years and if carbon emissions are not abated now, their lives will be extremely uncomfortable by then…
The verdict: We all should consider installing heat pumps and stop buying new furnaces. Like it or lump it. Heat pumps ain't perfect, but they are the best tried and tested technology to decarbonize home and office heating. The climate change reality is that reducing carbon emissions can't wait, or it'll be too late.