The answer? It completely depends on your climate.
If you live in a warmer climate where winter temperatures almost never drop below 35° to 40°F, we’d say a heat pump is typically your best option. However, if your climate is moderate to cold in the winter (i.e. winter days register below 35°F), you’d most likely be better off with a gas furnace IF your home has access to natural gas (more on that later).
But just to make things fun, we’ll throw a third (and usually better) heating system into the mix: a dual fuel system.
A dual fuel system combines both a heat pump and a furnace together into one heating system to provide homeowners the best of both worlds:
- The cost-efficiency of a heat pump during cool or moderately cold temperatures
- The comfort of a furnace during colder temperatures (sub 40°)
To help you make a smarter choice for your next heating system, we’ll explain:
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How a dual fuel system works
A dual fuel system is essentially a heat pump that uses a gas furnace as a “backup” heating source on very cold days.
Most dual fuel systems are designed to use heat pump heating on days where the temperature is above 35°-40°F. Once temperatures drop below 35°F, the system automatically switches to gas furnace heating.
The main appeal behind a dual fuel system is that it’s “smart”, meaning it will automatically switch to the heating system that is most cost-effective based on the outdoor temperatures.
For example, heat pumps are extremely cost-effective in 40°+ temperatures because they simply transfer heat from the outdoor air inside your home (this process of “heat transfer” uses very little energy).
However, once temps drop below 35°-40°, most standalone heat pumps will resort to using heat strips that are built into the system. These heat strips use electric resistance heating, which is a much more expensive form of heating than the method of heat transfer we described above.
So, if a homeowner only has a heat pump, they’ll pay a lot to heat their home on very cold days.
But with a dual fuel system, the system won’t have to rely on those expensive heat strips on cold days. Instead, a dual fuel system will automatically switch to gas furnace heating—which is a much more cost-effective heating source than the heat strips (but not always as cost-effective as heat transfer).
So all in all, a dual fuel system sounds pretty great, right? Well, in most cases, they are, especially if you live in a moderate to cold climate.
However, there are a few other factors to consider before making your final decision…
Other factors to consider when choosing your next heating system
Whether your home has access to natural gas
Unfortunately, if your home doesn’t have access to natural gas, it’s not cost-effective to choose a dual fuel system. That’s because it’s very expensive to install gas lines to your home and you may never be able to pay back the higher upfront cost of running a gas main to your home to accommodate the gas furnace.
If your home does have access to natural gas, though, and the winter climate in your area sees a good number of days below 35°, a dual fuel system is typically a great cost-effective choice.
The upfront cost
A dual fuel system will typically cost more upfront than either a standalone heat pump or a standalone furnace. This is simply because you’re installing and paying for two systems rather than just one.
That said, if you’re unwilling to pay the higher upfront cost of a dual fuel system, you may just want to go with either a standalone heat pump (which works as both a cooling and heating system) or just install a standalone furnace.
But of course, make sure you consider the long-term savings potential of all your options. A licensed, experienced HVAC professional can help you with this step.
*Keep in mind that if you’re installing a furnace/AC combo in one go, you may see comparable costs to a dual fuel system.
Your comfort preferences
If you’re not interested in a dual fuel system and are simply choosing between a standalone gas furnace or a standalone heat pump, consider your comfort preferences.
If you’re someone who prefers “hot” heating, a furnace is your best bet.
Gas furnaces provide very hot heating compared to heat pumps. Furnaces generate heat by burning gas, which means the heat coming from your air vents will almost always be higher than your body temperature and will feel very warm/hot.
Heat pumps, on the other hand, simply transfer heat that naturally exists in the outdoor air into your home. This means that the air you feel at the vents will feel “cool” because it’s typically lower than your body temperature (but don’t worry, this is plenty enough heat to warm your home).
Keep in mind, though, that the very hot heat produced by a furnace also dries the air out. That said, if you’re not a fan of dry indoor air, a standalone heat pump is probably better for you.
Need professional advice? Michael and Son is here to help
Needless to say, choosing a heating system can be complicated. Thankfully, you have us at your disposal to help make sense of all the options.
If you need advice from an HVAC professional you can trust to provide honest, helpful advice, call Michael and Son. We’ve been serving homeowners throughout Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina since 1976 and we’ve answered every possible question homeowners have about heating systems.
We can help you choose the heating system that makes the most sense for your upfront budget, your heating bills and your comfort preferences. And the best part? During an in-home estimate, we’ll give you all of that information for FREE.
Plus, we offer 0% interest financing options to make the experience that much easier and stress-free.