Heat Pump vs Forced Air: What’s the Difference?

If you’re considering the benefits of installing a heat pump vs. forced-air system in your home, we have news for you. You can have both! Like furnaces, heat pumps are frequently paired with forced-air systems. Forced air is a delivery system, not a heating or cooling method.

Heat pumps and furnaces are two significantly different HVAC systems. They have different functions, operations, and equipment. One can be used for heating and cooling, and the other only heats. One uses refrigerants to transfer heat, and the other generates heat from fuel. Despite the many differences, heat pumps and furnaces can be integrated into forced-air systems.

Choosing the proper heating and cooling system is essential, given that space heating and cooling account for 51% of the average household’s yearly energy usage. Which forced-air heating system is right for you?

What is a heat pump?

A heat pump is an energy-efficient heating and cooling system that transfers heat between buildings and other sources. Air-source heat pumps transfer heat between indoor and outdoor air, while geothermal heating and cooling systems move heat between the ground and indoor spaces. Most types of heat pumps run on electricity.

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What does forced air mean?

A forced-air system relies on moving air to distribute heat or cold to a house. The air handler’s blower pushes air heated or cooled through the home’s ductwork. In contrast, hydronic heating systems use water and pipes to distribute warmth.

The term “forced air” can apply to several concepts. For example, forced-air heating systems typically include furnaces to heat the air before the air-handling equipment blows it through the ductwork. Air conditioning systems that use forced air distribution are usually referred to by another term, central air. Likewise, air conditioners cool the air before the air handler’s blower pushes it through the ducts.

The key takeaway in the forced-air vs. central air debate is that both terms describe the manner of heating or cooling houses with blowing air. A forced-air system can accommodate a furnace, an air conditioner, or both. Furthermore, a single heat pump can replace a furnace and an air conditioner in a forced air system and do the work of both units.

Forced Air vs Heat Pump

Furnaces and heat pumps differ nearly every way, but both units can integrate into forced-air systems as the primary heater. Both types of heating systems connect to a home’s ductwork and use air as the medium to transfer heat to houses.

Heat pumps and furnaces significantly differ from each other. A heat pump is a heating and cooling system that uses refrigeration to transfer heat between indoor and outdoor air. A furnace is a heater that burns fuel or applies an electric current to coils to create heat.

One way to determine which system is better for your circumstances is by comparing the pros and cons of each.

Forced Air Furnaces

Furnaces are the most prevalent heating system in U.S. households, totaling over seventy-six million. Furnaces have numerous benefits, or they wouldn’t be so common. However, conventional heating methods also have drawbacks.


  • Various types of furnaces–natural gas, propane, oil, and electric

  • High-efficiency models are up to 98% efficient

  • Operation is unaffected by outside temperatures and conditions

  • Affordable to maintain and repair

  • Lower initial and installation costs

  • Produces cozy, high-temperature heat

  • Heats homes quickly

  • Uses standard, familiar technology


  • Unable to provide cooling

  • Energy expenses impacted by fluctuating market prices

  • Consume more energy

  • Require ductwork

  • Produce uneven, fluctuating temperatures across houses

  • Less environmentally friendly

  • Chance of carbon monoxide and gas leaks

Electric Heat Pumps

Electric heat pump popularity is rising due to the significant advantages heat pumps have over traditional HVAC systems. Even so, heat pumps aren’t flawless. Some disadvantages might influence consumers to stick with more conventional methods for healing and cooling.


  • Up to 300% efficient in suitable conditions
  • Uses 50% less energy than electric resistance heating systems

  • Provide heating and cooling in moderate climates

  • No carbon monoxide or gas leaks

  • Easy to maintain

  • Might be eligible for Inflation Reduction Act rebates and taxincentives

  • More environmentally friendly

  • Mild heat that retains the air’s natural humidity

  • Some models don’t require ductwork


  • Affected by outside temperatures and unsuitable for extreme climates
  • Uses more energy when outside temperatures frequently fluctuate

  • Require backup heating in cold climates

  • Higher initial and installation costs

  • Heat feels cool compared to furnace heat

  • Require yard space for outdoor unit

  • Require snow and debris removal from outdoor unit

How to Decide: Heat Pump vs Forced Air Furnace

There is no winner in the forced air vs. heat pump contest. First, “forced air” denotes that the heating or cooling system blows the conditioned air through ductwork and vents. Heat pumps, furnaces, and air conditioners can be integrated into forced-air systems.

We can’t decide which forced-air HVAC system is best for you either. Furnaces and heat pumps operate differently and use different equipment, so it’s like comparing apples and oranges. Furthermore, so much depends on individual situations, such as access to energy sources, regional energy prices, space constraints, comfort preferences, and climate.

You can decide between installing a heat pump or furnace with your forced-air system by weighing each system's pros and cons and considering your circumstances.

How They Work

Furnaces generate heat from fuel. Natural gas, propane, and oil furnaces burn the fuel in combustion chambers. Electric furnaces apply electricity to heat a series of resistance coils.

A heat pump works differently, absorbing and transferring the environment's heat indoors. In cooling mode, heat pumps absorb the indoor air’s heat and transfer it outside. Heat pumps run on electricity.

Energy Efficiency

All things being equal, heat pumps are more energy efficient than furnaces. Heat pumps transfer more energy than they consume and are well over 100% efficient. The most efficient furnaces convert 98% of the fuel they consume into heat.

However, heat pumps and furnaces use separate energy sources with fluctuating prices. Heat pumps run on electricity, which generally costs more than other fuels but consumes less energy than other electric heaters. Furthermore, heat pump efficiency is greatly impacted by climate. Gas furnaces can be more efficient than heat pumps in particular environments.

Lifespan and Maintenance

Furnaces have longer lifespans than heat pumps. Furnaces last 20 to 30 years, and heat pumps last about 15 years. Heat pump lifespan is shorter due to more mechanical parts and the additional wear and tear from heating and cooling houses.

Furnace and heat pump lifespans are also determined by how much maintenance they receive. Heat pump maintenance involves continual indoor and outdoor care, such as snow removal, coil cleanings, and biannual professional inspections. Furnace maintenance is seasonal and includes regular filter changes, occasional flame sensor cleanings, and yearly professional inspections.


Furnaces require indoor space with adequate clearance for repairs and maintenance. Heat pumps require slightly less indoor space with clearance around the air handler, but they also require outdoor space for the condenser.


Heat pumps are better at maintaining consistent indoor temperatures, and they retain the air’s natural moisture when heating. The mild heat from heat pumps might be preferable in temperate climates, but toasty warm furnace heat is generally preferred in cold temperatures.


Heat pumps suit climates with mild winters, averaging 30 to 40°F. Heat pumps lose efficiency below 32°F.

Gas furnaces retain efficiency despite outdoor temperature fluctuations. Therefore, furnaces are more appropriate for climates with cold winters and consistent, below-freezing temperatures. Homes that use heat pumps in cold climates generally include gas furnaces for backup heating, a system known as dual fuel heat pumps.

Heat Pump Forced-air Furnace

Cools your home

Heats your home

Eligible for Inflation Act rebates

Better for mild climates

Better for cold climates

Longer lifespan and less maintenance

Less expensive

More energy-efficient

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Heat pumps

1 comment



I am against the forcing of heat pumps onto the American public because heat pumps are NOT efficient below 32 degrees F. That type of system requires an electrical resistant heating system to take care of the shortfall in required heat. So if you live where winter is often below 32 degrees, your heating bill will be at least twice what a gas forced air system monthly cost. Not to mention the higher cost of the heat pump system. Do the analysis…this article is slanted in the wrong direction!

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