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If you’re considering replacing your home’s heating system, you’ve probably hear two terms tossed around quite a bit: “furnace” and “heat pump.” In some cases, some people use the two interchangeably, but the truth is that there’s a significant difference between the two. While both of these systems heat your home, the truth is the similarities pretty much end there. And that can be a real problem if you’re considering replacing your heater and aren’t sure which one is right for your home.

On this blog, our team of Sterling heating service experts will go over the difference with you and help you make a better-educated choice regarding which is right for you.


A furnace typically refers to a heating system which produces heat by burning a fuel source. In most cases, this fuel source is natural gas from your home’s gas lines, but some use oil as their fuel source. In both cases, the source is fed into a heating element where it is ignited, producing a flame which creates warm air that’s then pushed out into your home. Think of it like an extremely-controlled campfire, only without the usual odor of burning wood.

Furnace technology has been around for centuries—in fact some old furnaces used coal or even wood as fuel sources for producing heat. However, while the furnace itself may still exist, they’re radically different from those of the old days. Today’s modern systems are remarkably fuel-efficient, heat your home evenly and effectively, and create far less pollution than the old systems did.

Heat Pumps

Heat pumps are significantly different from a furnace. Heat pumps don’t actually produce any heat in the way a furnace does by burning fuel, but rather they collect it from where you don’t want it and move it to where you do. In the case of your home, they collect it from outside, and move it to the inside of your home. Yes, it may seem cold outside, but the truth of the matter is there is still heat out there, and your heat pump is what collects it and moves it inside.

A heat pump works using a heat-transferring medium known as refrigerant. The refrigerant in your outdoor unit is extremely cold, so cold even to the point where a cold outside temperature actually warms it up. Then, when the refrigerant is compressed into an extremely hot gas, it collects even more heat, entering your home at an extremely warm temperature which is then used to heat air that’s forced through your vents and throughout your home. This process requires very little energy to complete, which is why these systems typically have efficiency ratings that are off-the-charts spectacular.

Which Is Right For You?

When the time comes to replace your heater, the question then becomes which system type is right for you? Both of these systems have their advantages and disadvantages, so the question becomes which is best?

The question depends largely on how much you rely on your heater to begin with. If you depend on your furnace for long hours each day for several months out of the year, as many customers do in the Sterling area, a gas furnace is going to be a much better choice. They have significantly longer lifespans than heat pumps in general, and they have fewer moving parts to break down. They’re dependable, require less maintenance and care, and today’s systems are excellent at making the most of the fuel you burn.

However, they do burn fuel, which can have negative consequences on the air in your home and do add a degree of added safety risk (a small one, but still one nonetheless). Likewise, the fact that they do burn fuel means you’ll have to pay for that fuel, and that will mean elevated utility bills.

Heat pumps on the other hand only use electricity, and a pretty small amount at that in comparison to the amount of heat they produce. With low public grid rates and rapidly-expanding solar energy market, electricity is fairly inexpensive and that makes heat pumps ideal to run. Heat pumps are also generally far less expensive to install and run no added safety risk to the air in your home.

But they also have their downsides, particularly when it gets extremely cold outside. After a while, the temperature outside grows so low that there’s not enough heat for the pump to collect, at which point the furnace starts to lose its ability to effectively heat your home. Likewise, with more moving parts and a network of refrigerant to maintain, these systems do require more maintenance and they do tend to break down and need replacement faster.

For more information about installing a new heating system in your home, trust the experts at Donmar Heating, Cooling & Plumbing! Call us at (703) 457-8676 for more information.

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