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Carolina Climate Control Blog

Install A Heat Pump Or Install A Furnace: Which One Is Right For Your Charleston Home?

With a bit cooler air breezing into Charleston this week, it’s right about time you may be assessing the heating capabilities & needs of your homes’ HVAC system.

Hopefully as you start using your heat setting again, you don’t have any issues — something you probably don’t worry about if you have a comprehensive HVAC maintenance plan.

If you do run into issues, however, you’ll probably be having to make the decision to repair or replace your heating system. Read our post about knowing when to repair or replace your system here if you aren’t sure which one you’ll need for your Charleston home (the post is focused on air conditioning systems, but the same rules apply for your heating system).

Should you go the route of replacing your heating system, you may be presented with yet another question: install a new heat pump unit or install a new furnace?

Generally speaking, most homeowners simply choose to go with whatever kind of unit or setup that was in place previously. This definitely makes sense as the rest of the components of your HVAC system will already be setup for that type of heating source.

Having to replace your heating unit, however, gives you a great chance to look at a few alternative options regardless of which kind of system you are replacing. It may also provide an opportunity for a entirely different setup altogether — more on that below.

To help you review your heating replacement options below is a quick rundown comparing heat pumps versus furnaces, which one may work better in your home and another type of heat source you may not know about.

The Difference Between A Heat Pump vs Furnace

While there are several differences between a heat pump and a furnace, at the core of their differences is the source of their heat production.

As you probably know, a furnace produces heat by running electricity through metal coils or by burning a type of fuel. Your furnace most likely uses gas or electricity if you’re here in Charleston, but other types of fuels used in furnaces include oil, wood and wood pellets.

A heat pump on the other hand doesn’t burn or consume anything to produce heat. As its name implies, it “pumps” heat from one location to another. So in the winter, your heat pump pulls ambient heat from the outside air and transfers it into your home. We go into more detail about how a heat pump works in this post if you want to learn more about its operation.

Obviously, if it gets too cold outside a heat pump will struggle with keeping your home warm while a well maintained furnace will provide consistent heat no matter how cold it gets outside. This shouldn’t turn you off of heat pumps however as the climate in Charleston is such that it rarely — if ever — gets cold enough to limit a heat pump’s heating capacity. Not only that, heat pumps can provide more than just heating operation as we’ll review below.

One-Way vs Two-Way Operation

The other important difference in system types are their usage throughout the year. While a furnace will most likely sit idle during the summer, a heat pump can reverse its operation to also function as your home’s air conditioning system.

Just as in the winter a heat pump will transfer heat from the outside into your home, it can transfer heat and humidity inside your home to the outdoor air.

This two-way operation is part of the reason most Charleston homeowners go with heat pump systems. Having one system to install and maintain simplifies repairs and can lower maintenance costs in some cases. When the primary need for an HVAC system is air conditioning and smaller windows where there’s need for heating, you can see why heat pumps are the obvious choice for homeowners.

If there are Lowcountry winters where the temperatures dip below a heat pump’s viable operation, though, you’ll be happy about having installed a furnace if you choose that as your next heating solution.

Go A Different Direction

“What other options are there other than traditional heat pump or furnace heating systems?”, you may be saying to yourself. The answer to that question lies beneath the ground.

Geothermal heating and cooling systems have been gaining more and more traction as an alternative heating (and cooling) solution here in the Charleston area, and with some of the tax incentives that come with an installation, are becoming much more affordable for homeowners.

Geothermal systems take advantage of the ground’s natural ability to retain a constant temperature; generally between 55 & 70 degrees Fahrenheit. So even while the outside air temperature fluctuates throughout the year, this underground temperature stays roughly the same. The system taps into that warmer energy and transfers it into your home, exactly how the traditional heat pump takes the warmth from the air and uses it to warm your home.

The source of energy a geothermal heat pump (the technical term for a geothermal unit) draws from, however, is much more reliable because of that constant underground temperature mentioned.

This source of energy is also free and virtually infinite. This means the energy you consume to keep your home warm (or cool) is also essentially free & infinite, driving down monthly electricity bills as much as 70% in some cases. So over time, you’ll be able to recoup your HVAC investment; something that takes much longer than conventional systems.

By installing a geothermal HVAC system, you’ll also save on replacement costs: a traditional system will last about 12-15 years, while a geothermal system (the indoor unit) will last up to 25 years. The underground geothermal equipment can last up to 100. (That’s not a typo by the way, the underground components are really are engineered to last 100 years.)

When In Doubt, Ask A Pro

If you’re still unsure on which direction to go with for your next heating system, you can always contact a heating company near you and let them take a look at your particular situation. An experienced HVAC tech should be able to quickly tell you what’s best, what you can and can’t do, and give you a free estimate for your replacement heating system.

We hope you stay warm this winter whichever choice you make for your next heater, and feel free to contact us if you have any more questions about your HVAC system.

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