Although homes in Arizona are often powered by gas furnaces, most newly-built homes use a heat pump system that keeps homes warm in winter and cool in the summer. Use the following information to help you decide which heating system best meets your needs.
How Heat Pump Systems Work
Heat pumps do not create heat as furnaces do. Rather, they extract heat from the air and transfer it throughout the building via refrigerant, a compressor, indoor and outdoor coils, and an air handler. They also cool the building by reversing the process with the appropriately-named reversing valve.
The compressor moves refrigerant through coils that pressurize the refrigerant into a gaseous form before returning it to its liquid state. The air handler is the fan and blower system that circulates hot and cold air, moving it from the unit, through the ductwork, and into the living space. The reversing valve changes the direction of the refrigerant flow, allowing the unit to switch between heating and cooling.
Heat pumps neither create nor destroy heat; they merely transfer it. This is why they are so efficient.
When the system is in heater mode, the coils absorb heat from the air. This heats the refrigerant circulating through the coil, which is then vaporized and released into the building via the air handler.
Even when temperatures fall to 25 degrees Fahrenheit, there is enough warmth in the air to heat a home.
Pros and Cons of Heat Pump Systems
Heat pumps are efficient heating and cooling systems that significantly reduce energy costs, though actual savings vary depending on numerous factors, including local climate, the efficiency of your current heating system, the cost of fuel and electricity in your area, and the size of your heat pump.
They are also durable and long-lasting – up to 15 years according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Actual life expectancy depends on factors such as manufacturer and how well you maintain the unit.
Heat pumps deliver the least amount of heating or cooling during the times when they are needed the most, as they work best in non-extreme temperatures. Some consumers do not enjoy the less intense warmth that heat pump systems provide, although they normally provide adequate heat in the Phoenix area, thanks to our mild winters.
Heat pumps cost more than gas furnaces do, at least in terms of initial cost. However, most people make back this difference over time through savings on their energy bills.
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How Gas Furnaces Work
Gas furnaces heat cool air from inside the house and send the warm air back into living spaces. A furnace ignites a fuel source – such as oil, propane, or natural gas – to produce the energy required to warm the air.
Gas furnaces sometimes have a pilot light, which is a burning flame that sits at the bottom of the furnace. When you turn on the heat, the pilot light ignites the burners and keeps the gas furnace running. The burner area is known as a combustion chamber. When the pilot light ignites the burner, it operates within the combustion chamber until the heating cycle ends.
The heat exchanger, comprised of a series of metal tubes, transfers heat from the burner to the air to be circulated. As air flows into the gas furnace to be warmed, it passes over the heat exchanger and siphons off the heat before circulating again.
The exhaust flue is connected to the heat exchanger. The flue is responsible for siphoning dangerous gases out of the home. An inspection of the furnace flue should be part of a yearly furnace check-up by an experienced technician.
A gas furnace has an air filter across the front of the blower. The filter prevents contaminants and dust particles from getting into the system. Those particles accumulate over time, clogging the filter. Regular cleaning helps keep your furnace running all winter.
Finally, the blower motor distributes the warmed air through the ductwork and into the home. The cooled air then re-enters via the air filters and begins the heating loop once more.
Pros and Cons of Gas Furnaces
A gas furnace is an effective way to warm a home. While some people complain that electric heat is not warm enough, gas heat rarely gets that complaint. Furnaces work even on the coldest nights, without the need of a backup heat source.
Furnaces are also durable and long-lasting, with an average lifespan of 15 years.
Heating bills are typically higher with a furnace, especially over time, as these units become less efficient with age. They also pose more health risks due to improper handling and maintenance. Risks include explosions, carbon monoxide poisoning, and fires. However, electric furnaces are much safer than those powered by oil or gas.
If you live in an older home that does not contain ductwork, the expense of adding it to the home can be substantial. When determining the cost of the heating system, be sure to also get an estimate on the cost of adding the required ductwork.
So, Which Is Better?
There is no single answer as to which is better. If you live in a climate with mild winters, such as we experience in the valley, a heat pump provides ample heat. For those who live in extremely cold climates, however, a furnace is likely the way to go. Of course, you also need to consider the pros and cons. Do you prefer a lower up-front cost or lower operating costs? Are you concerned about energy efficiency? Deciding what is most important to you helps guide your decision.
Isley’s Home Service provides maintenance, repair, and installation services throughout the Phoenix area. Call us today to schedule your free consultation.