Forced Air Furnaces vs. Heat Pumps

Presidential Heating & Air Conditioning

Gaithersburg HVAC Contractors


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Understanding the Difference between Forced Air Furnaces and Heat Pumps

picture of houses in the winter using forced air furnaces for heat As fall and winter are approaching, you may think of investing a new heating system. If you aren’t familiar with forced air furnaces or heat pumps, you may not know which system option to choose. To help you make the decision, here are the highlights of each, how they differ, and the advantages and disadvantages of both systems.

Forced Air Furnaces

Forced air furnaces are one of the most common types of home heating systems in the United States. It is a heating system that carries heated air throughout your house. The heat is generated by whatever type of furnace you have in your home – gas, propane, oil, heat pump, or another heating source. Once the furnace heats the air, a fan or a blower pushes the air through the ductwork in your house and out through vents into different rooms. As the warm air is pushed into each room, colder air is forced out through a second set of ducts, called the cold air return system. The colder air is pushed back to the furnace where it is then heated and pushed throughout the house again. The air will circulate this way until the temperature in the house reaches the temperature you set on your thermostat.


The forced air system can use the same ducts that are used for your central air conditioning system. This provides a big advantage to homeowners because they can use one system to completely control the temperature in the home year round. Also, you can operate the blower as a fan in the summer during cooler days without using the air conditioner itself, which can also help you save money. Forced air furnaces are highly dependable and energy efficient.

Another important advantage is you can easily humidify the air in a forced air heating system. Controlling the humidity throughout your home will help improve the indoor air quality.


HVAC contractor inspecting ductwork in a house that utilizes forced air furnaces With forced air furnaces, you need to make sure you keep the filtration system clean and operating efficiently. When purchasing a new system, be aware that your existing ductwork should be clear and capable of handling the new system. The best time to acquire one is when the house is being built and the ductwork can be constructed with it.

Also, be aware that some forced air furnaces have better filtration systems than others. Because this type of heating system can blow dust and allergens into your house, you need to regularly clean and replace the filters. Otherwise, it can lead to poor air quality inside your home.

Another disadvantage is that you can experience occasional blower malfunctions. The blower may be noisy or cease working. It can also add to the energy costs of the whole forced air heating system.

Despite these few disadvantages, forced air furnaces are very energy efficient and affordable. They provide excellent value, which is one of the reasons why they are so popular. As for the energy efficiency of a forced air heating system, note that it largely depends on the type of furnace used alongside it.

Heat Pumps

A furnace burns fuel to create heat. A heat pump does not generate heat; instead, it moves heat from one place to another. This technology is the same used in refrigeration and air conditioners. A heat pump is actually a system that can be used to either heat or cool a home. The equipment needed for this type of system typically consists of two parts: an indoor unit called an air handler and a heat pump, which is an outdoor unit similar to a central air conditioner. A compressor circulates refrigerant that absorbs and releases heat as it travels between the indoor and outdoor units.

heat pump on the side of a house installed by an HVAC contractor It is strange to think that even in air that is too cold, heat energy is present. When it is cold outside a heat pump extracts this outside heat and transfers it inside. When it is warm outside, it reverses directions and acts like an air conditioner, removing heat from your home. In effect, a heat pump is a mechanism for moving air.


A heat pump is energy efficient because it moves heat instead of generating it. Heat pumps are powered by electricity, so fuel isn’t used. The pump provides more uniform heating for the home than other types of heating systems. Electric pumps are also quiet and comfortable to use because the air compressor is usually placed outside the building which helps keep noise levels low.


If you live in a climate where weather temperatures dip below freezing in winter, you likely will need a supplemental heating source. Heat pumps are best for moderate climates, though they have been used in cold climates like Canada and other parts of the world for many years.

In warm, humid climates, you may notice the “dirty sock syndrome.” This is a condition that seems to be caused by either bacteria or fungus. The microbe grows on the heat pump coils and begins to thrive when the coils are wet with condensation. The smell is often described as a smell that is similar to the odor from a car air conditioner when it is turned on after a period of non-use. You can usually eliminate the odor with a variety of remedies, but if the problem is bad enough you may have to replace the coil. However, that is the last resort and is not common.

HVAC Contractor checking a homeowner's heating system The initial purchase price may be higher than other systems, but you may be able to make some of the cost up in savings on energy bills over time. Be aware that regular service is important to keep it operating properly. Electric heat pumps require a fair amount of routine maintenance to ensure its optimal operation.

Contact an Experienced HVAC Contractor to Discuss Your Options

No matter which heating system you choose, installation involves technical expertise and specialized tools. Be sure you work with a qualified HVAC contractor and receive a free estimate to evaluate your needs and determine the best heating system for your home.

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