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Heat Pump or Furnace? Or Both? | Hybrid Heating Systems

by Daniel Estevao on October 14, 2015

Which heating system is best for your home? A heat pump or a furnace? Maybe both? When you are thinking of replacing or modifying your heating system in Washington, it’s important to consider all of your options carefully.

Hopefully, you will learn a lot about different heating methods in this blog (furnaces, heat pumps, and hybrid heating systems), but the best thing you can do is consult with a qualified HVAC contractor, who can provide individualized advice and expertise.

Furnace, heat pumps, hybrid heating

Gas Furnace

A gas furnace uses natural gas or propane to heat your home. Natural gas is usually a mixture of propane, butane, ethane, and methane. LPG, or liquid propane gas, is separated from natural gas and delivered and stored as a liquid in a propane tank. Either way, your furnace uses a flame that burns the fuel to heat the tubes or coils in your heat exchanger.

Heat Exchanger

Your furnace’s heat exchanger gets its heat from the burner by the draft inducer. The metal tubes of your heat exchanger heat up and the blower passes air over the heat exchanger to pass warm air through your ductwork. The harmful combustion gases that are produced get vented away from the home through your chimney or flue vent.

how heat exchanger works

As the blower forces air over your hot heat exchanger coils, it cools down. Unfortunately, your heat exchanger can develop cracks, especially when there isn’t enough air passing over its coils. The problem with cracks in your heat exchanger is that they can produce harmful and potentially lethal levels of carbon monoxide and other dangerous gasses into your living space.

For this reason, and many others, it is important that you schedule annual furnace maintenance in the fall, before you first turn on your heating for the winter.

Efficiency Ratings

Gas furnaces are the most popular heating method in the United States, used in about 57% of American homes. It’s a popular heating method because it can be very energy efficient (59-98.5% depending on age and technology). The efficiency rating of furnaces, or AFUE (annual fuel utilization efficiency), measures how efficient your heating system is at converting its fuel to energy. A high-efficiency furnace has an AFUE rating of 90-98.5%.

That means that if you have a furnace with a 70% AFUE rating and you upgrade to a 95% AFUE furnace, you will end up cutting your gas bill by 25%! Considering that your fuel cost is much greater than the cost of the actual heating unit, it is well worth it to upgrade your furnace to a higher efficiency rating.

Learn more about gas furnaces here.

Heat Pumps

A heat pump can be used to both heat and cool your home. It uses electricity to pull heat from the outside to distribute into your home. To cool your home, it does the opposite – pulls heat out of the interior of your home and distributes it outside, every similar to the workings of a refrigerator. An air source heat pump can extract heat from the outdoors “even when the temperature is as low as -15° C” (energysavingstrust.org).

Read our blog, “How Air Source Heat Pumps Work” for a more thorough explanation.

Watch this video for more information on air source heat pumps:

Efficiency Ratings

Heat pumps use a different efficiency rating than furnaces. Energy efficiency for heat pumps is measured using the heating season performance factor (HSPF) or coefficient of performance (COP). HSPF ratings range from 6.8-10 while COP ranges from 2-4. Learn more about heat pump efficiency ratings here.

Air source heat pumps are very efficient until temperatures drop below freezing. That’s when switching to your gas furnace heating system is more beneficial. In the Tacoma, Washington area, the temperature rarely drops below freezing, but when it does, you end up straining your heat pump and raising your energy costs. In the Lakewood/Tacoma area, we recommend having a hybrid heating system that combines a gas furnace with a heat pump so that you are always heating your home efficiently.

Hybrid Heating, Dual-Fuel Systems

Hybrid heating systems (also known as dual-fuel) automatically adjust themselves to the different temperatures outside. During mild weather, your heat pump generates heat for your home, whereas during harsher weather, your furnace will kick on. For most of the winter (above freezing), your heat pump will be used, but when the temperature drops below freezing, a gas furnace is used.

The good news is that hybrid heating systems switch between your furnace and heat pump automatically, using sensors to detect the outside temperature. A hybrid heating system combines the best of both worlds to keep your energy bill low and reducing your carbon footprint.

For more tips on decreasing greenhouse emissions and saving on your energy bill, follow the tips provided by energy.gov:

Furnace Heat Pump Energy Efficiency

For more information on HVAC systems and what you can do to lower your energy bill, consult our other blog posts on the topic:

If you are still confused about gas furnaces, heat pumps, and/or hybrid heating systems, feel free to contact us at (253) 292-3995. We can diagnose your current heating system and recommend the best options for repair or replacement.


For more information on gas furnaces, heat pumps, and hybrid heating systems, contact the HVAC professionals at Pacific Air Systems.

Call Pacific Air Systems Heating & Cooling at (253) 292-3995 for 24/7 service!

Since 1984, we’ve been proudly serving our communities in Federal Way, Graham, Spanaway, University Place, Steilacoom, Sumner, Lakewood, Puyallup, Tacoma and Gig Harbor.

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