Are you considering making the switch from a furnace to a heat pump?
Furnaces and heat pumps are both heating systems that offer a variety of benefits and functions. As the more modern technology, heat pumps provide homeowners with additional advantages that make them an appealing improvement to consider.
In this article, we are discussing whether or not you should replace your furnace with a heat pump in Nashville, TN. From the different operating principles to the overall energy efficiency, we discuss everything you need to know about how the two systems differ.
Keep reading to discover key information about heat pump energy efficiency, potential tax credits, and more!
An Overview of the Nashville Climate
The city of Nashville is positioned in central Tennessee, a region known for its humid subtropical climate.
Characterized by very hot summers, mild winters, and moderate to severe storms, the weather in Nashville is exactly what you might expect from a southern U.S. city.
Let’s take a look at how each season compares within the Nashville area using data from Weather Spark:
- Summer (June to August): Summers in Nashville are hot and humid, with average high temperatures ranging from the mid-80s to low 90s Fahrenheit (29-35°C). Humidity levels can be quite high, leading to occasional discomfort and making the outside weather feel hotter and heavier than it truly is on the temperature scale.
- Fall (September to November): Fall in Nashville is pleasant, with temperatures gradually cooling down. Highs range from the mid-70s to mid-60s Fahrenheit (24-18°C), making it a comfortable season. Additionally, fall tends to be one of the clearer times of year in terms of rain and clouds in Nashville.
- Winter (December to February): Winters in Nashville are relatively mild compared to many other U.S. cities. Average highs during the winter months range from the mid-40s to mid-50s Fahrenheit (7-13°C). While snowfall is infrequent, it’s not uncommon to see occasional light snow or ice. Heavy snow in Nashville is rare, but not unheard of.
- Spring (March to May): Spring brings gradually warming temperatures, with highs in the 60s and 70s Fahrenheit (15-26°C). It’s a pleasant time to enjoy outdoor activities. As is typical of the season in most places, spring in Nashville brings with it heavier and more frequent rainfall than other seasons during the year.
Before We Begin: What is the Inflation Reduction Act Of 2022?
Before diving into our discussion of furnaces vs. heat pumps, let’s take a look at one major factor influencing homeowners to make the switch to a heat pump — the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.
The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) aims to increase investment in climate-safe technologies.
Along with providing a variety of incentives for investing in and developing clean energy technologies, the regulation also provides a series of tax cuts and incentives for people at the individual level who choose to upgrade their homes with energy-efficient technologies, equipment, and appliances.
Heat pumps fall under this new regulation as an energy-efficient technology and can qualify homeowners for a significant tax credit of 30% of the credit up to a maximum of $1,200 after installing a heat pump. The heat pump must be powered by electricity or natural gas.
Without further ado, let’s discuss the differences between a furnace and a heat pump, and why you should consider making the switch.
What is a Furnace?
A furnace is a heating system used to generate and distribute warm air to heat indoor spaces, such as homes, offices, and industrial buildings.
It is a common and widely used heating appliance that operates by burning a fuel source or using electric resistance heating to produce heat. The primary purpose of a furnace is to maintain a comfortable and consistent indoor temperature during cold weather.
What Does a Furnace Do?
A furnace is designed primarily for generating heat either through combustion or electric resistance.
A combustion furnace burns fuel as a source, such as natural gas, propane, oil, or wood pellets. Meanwhile, an electric furnace works by generating heat via electrical components, such as large coils.
No matter which type of furnace you have, the device will also generally feature the following functions:
- Distribution: Once the heat is generated, it is transferred to the indoor air through a heat exchanger or heating elements. A blower fan then circulates the heated air through a network of ducts and vents, delivering it to various rooms and areas within the building.
- Thermostat Control: Furnaces are typically controlled by a thermostat that allows users to set their desired indoor temperature. When the temperature falls below the set point, the thermostat signals the furnace to turn on and begin heating. Once the desired temperature is reached, the furnace cycles off.
- Safety Features: Modern furnaces are equipped with safety features, such as sensors that detect gas leaks (in gas furnaces), flame sensors, and high-temperature limit switches. These features ensure safe and reliable operation.
If you purchased an older home, chances are you have a combustion furnace, as these are more typically seen within older homes that have not been recently renovated.
What is a Heat Pump?
A heat pump is a heating and cooling system that moves heat from one location to another, rather than generating heat directly.
It operates on the principle of heat transfer and can both heat and cool indoor spaces. Heat pumps are energy-efficient and environmentally friendly, making them a popular choice for residential and commercial heating and cooling applications.
The Pros & Cons of a Heat Pump
For any homeowner considering a heat pump installation, it is important to consider both the pros and cons before making any final decisions.
Here’s an overview of the pros and cons of heat pumps:
- Energy Efficiency: Heat pumps are highly energy-efficient because they transfer heat rather than produce it. This means they can provide more heating or cooling energy than the electricity they consume. They also tend to have high-efficiency ratings (SEER for cooling and HSPF for heating) that can help reduce utility bills and qualify your home for tax credits.
- Heating and Cooling in One: Heat pumps offer both heating and cooling functions, making them versatile and suitable for year-round use. They can save space and eliminate the need for separate heating and cooling systems within your home, adding an extra level of convenience and comfort that makes the investment all the more worthwhile.
- Environmentally Friendly: Heat pumps produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions because they do not burn fossil fuels directly. Using electricity from renewable sources can further reduce the environmental impact of a heat pump. Plus, the lack of fuel use can also mean extra savings in the long run, as you can eliminate fuel refills as an expense.
- Long Lifespan & Better Zoning: Well-maintained heat pumps can have a long lifespan, often exceeding 15 years before requiring repairs or replacements. As for zoning, you can opt for a ductless mini-split heat pump that can heat or cool individual rooms. This level of indoor zone control can help you achieve precise temperatures and increase overall energy savings.
- Temperature Limitations: Heat pumps are most efficient in moderate climates. In extremely cold climates, their heating capacity decreases, and they may require supplemental heating, such as electric resistance heating or a backup furnace. For anyone living in Nashville, however, a heat pump can be the perfect energy-efficient solution.
- Upfront Cost: Heat pumps typically have a higher upfront cost compared to traditional heating and cooling systems. However, the long-term energy savings can offset this initial expense. Additionally, heat pumps do require regular maintenance to ensure optimal performance, which can result in extra expenses if you work with a professional heat pump maintenance provider.
- Installation Challenges: Retrofitting heat pumps into existing homes can be challenging, especially if there’s no existing ductwork. However, ductless mini-split systems are a great option that offer a more flexible installation method and do not require you to complete a costly and time-consuming installation of ductwork in your home.
- Dependent on Electricity: Heat pumps rely on electricity, so power outages can disrupt their operation. Backup generators or alternative heating sources may be necessary in areas with frequent power outages. This is especially important to consider in the winter, when ice or snow may disrupt power when you need it most for heating.
Furnace vs. Heat Pump: 7 Key Differences
Furnaces and heat pumps are two distinct heating systems used to regulate indoor temperatures in residential and commercial buildings. They operate on the different principles discussed above and have varying advantages and disadvantages.
Here are seven key differences between a furnace and a heat pump:
- Operating Principle: A furnace generates heat by burning a fuel source, typically natural gas or oil, or through electric resistance heating. It produces warm air, which is then distributed throughout the building via ductwork and vents. By contrast, a heat pump operates by transferring heat from one location to another and can both heat and cool a space. During hotter months, it extracts heat from the outside air (or the ground in the case of a ground-source heat pump) and moves it indoors. In cold weather, it reverses this process to expel heat from the indoor space.
- Efficiency: Both furnaces and heat pumps can be energy efficient when powered by electricity. However, as a whole, heat pumps tend to be the more energy-efficient option as they can produce more heating or cooling than the energy they consume. Where furnaces have the upper hand is in especially cold climates, where heat pumps are less efficient at heating.
- Heating Capacity: Heat pumps are most efficient in moderate climates. In colder climates, their heating capacity diminishes, and they may require supplemental heating to meet heating demands during extreme cold spells. Furnaces are typically well-suited for providing high-capacity heating, making them effective in extremely cold climates. They can quickly raise indoor temperatures to desired levels.
- Cooling: Heat pumps offer both heating and cooling functions thanks to their operating principle. These devices can adequately and effectively cool indoor spaces during hot times of the year by reversing the heat transfer process and expelling warm air outside. By comparison, furnaces do not have a cooling function and are designed solely for heating.
- Cost: Most older homes come with some kind of furnace system, meaning many homeowners do not have to spend more money initially on a furnace installation. Heat pumps are typically seen in more modern homes, which are often sold at higher price points. Additionally, homeowners who want to make the switch to a heat pump must face the upfront cost of purchasing and installing a heat pump, as well as the potential cost of ductwork installation as well.
- Environmental Impact: Furnaces that burn fossil fuels release greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to environmental concerns. However, modern high-efficiency furnaces are designed to minimize emissions. Meanwhile, heat pumps are considered more environmentally friendly because they do not burn fossil fuels directly. Their energy efficiency can reduce the carbon footprint associated with heating and cooling.
- Installation: Furnaces require ductwork for air distribution, and the installation process can be complex, especially in existing buildings without pre-existing duct systems. Heat pumps can be easier to install, especially ductless mini-split systems. They don’t always require ductwork and can be a more flexible solution for both new construction and retrofitting.
The choice between a furnace and a heat pump depends on various factors, including climate, energy costs, budget, and environmental considerations.
In moderate climates, heat pumps are often favored for their energy efficiency and versatility. In colder climates, high-efficiency furnaces may be preferred for their heating capacity.
Why You Should Replace Your Furnace with a Heat Pump in Nashville
For anyone living in the Nashville area considering a switch from a furnace to a heat pump, the decision can be a big one to make for your home.
Furnaces are not inherently inefficient — it all comes down to the make, model, and age. However, since Nashville is home to many historic neighborhoods, new homeowners are likely working with an older home with a combustion furnace in place.
In Nashville’s climate, both furnaces and heat pumps can be viable heating options. Nashville’s moderate climate does not necessitate a furnace over a heat pump, meaning you can make the switch without worrying about heating capacity in the winter. Plus, the cooling function of heat pumps can help you save more on cooling and air conditioning during Nashville’s hot summers.
The choice may come down to personal preferences, energy efficiency goals, and budget considerations.
Many homeowners in Nashville opt for heat pumps due to their energy efficiency and the region’s milder winters. However, it’s essential to choose a heat pump with a high Heating Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF) for optimal performance during colder days.
Consulting with a heating and cooling professional can help you make the best decision based on your specific needs and circumstances.